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Making The Leap: Transitioning From Volunteer To Professional

The hard worker with a good attitude and a teachable mind will make the journey from spare time to full time and do well.

By M. Erik Matlock June 14, 2018

Image courtesy of Hany Sadek

I’ve been asked several times about making the transition from volunteer church tech to working in professional audio. The only way I can explain it is to share what worked for me. It was a hard road, but I got in the only way I could.

First, not everyone who mixes at church wants to be on tour or working on installations, but some do. Anyone who has developed skills, ears and attitude for production has already laid the foundation. Add some passion and it’s pretty likely to lead to working with bigger systems and perhaps, a job offer.

Success is where preparation meets opportunity.

We’ve all heard quotes like that. Good motivational stuff under the right circumstances. The reality is that the intersection of opportunity and preparation isn’t in a fixed position. Opportunity is connected, to a certain degree, to privilege.

But if you don’t have a bankroll backing you up or some type of “in,” you just have to work harder and smarter. Don’t let it be discouraging. Just keep moving. If you’re the best mix engineer or monitor tech in town, it won’t stay a secret for long. Work on being the best before looking for the check.

Someone out there needs you. It might be your own church or school, it might be a studio, or maybe a sound company or tour. Slackers abound, but a person with both excellent skills and attitude is a rare breed. If the Bible is one of your guides, consider that Proverbs 22, verse 29, essentially says to pay attention to the skillful ones because they will stand before kings and not be left in obscurity.

We can’t forget about the money. You’ve got bills, right? Volunteering, in itself, isn’t going to keep the lights on. You have to earn income somewhere. I wanted to mix, but I also have this thing about sleeping indoors. I needed to get paid to mix.

So how did I do it?

I volunteered in tech, earned paychecks elsewhere, and spent years doing the tedious and monotonous stuff until opportunity found me. But it didn’t find me sitting in the same room every week, either. I had to offer my time and knowledge outside the safety of that sanctuary. You’re probably going to have to do the same thing if this is your chosen path.

Help with production work at your kid’s school. Go help your buddy dragging a guitar around town. If your passion is wrapped around pulling off perfect production, you’re going to find opportunities to learn and do more. The hard worker with a good attitude and a teachable mind will make the journey from spare time to full time and do well.

One of the toughest transitions in my life was stepping out of the volunteer and staff roles and going out as a freelancer. It’s likely the best shot if you’re working your way into a career. Mine would have gone a little smoother if I had remained a freelancer. I still believe it’s the most logical transition from volunteer to career.

I’ve never done an actual survey, but my best guess is that more than half of the folks in touring sound came to it this way. It’s just about your only choice unless you already know the big dogs and they need someone to wash trucks.

Learn all that you can and get your hands dirty. You can’t mix if you don’t mix. Sure, a lot of the work is going to be with youngsters, cheapskates, and archaic gear, but at least you’re working in your chosen field. Logging the hours. Learning the trade. Earning some credibility.

Not everyone wants to step out of the volunteer gig. That’s fine. If you’ve found what you’re looking for just enjoy it. Just be aware that the ones who are good at it will meet opportunities.


About M. Erik

M. Erik Matlock
M. Erik Matlock

Senior Editor, ProSoundWeb
   
Erik worked in a wide range of roles in pro audio for more than 20 years in a dynamic career that encompasses system design and engineering in the live, install and recording markets. He also spent a number of years as a church production staff member and Media Director, and as an author for several leading industry publications before joining the PSW team.
http://erikmatlock.com

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