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Sage Counsel: Six Rules For Success In This (Or Any) Industry

Touring or local, it comes down to looking at both sides of the equation and an overall bottom line that should be “mutual respect.” Here are some key things that can help in making that happen.

A thread in one of the live sound related Facebook Groups got me thinking about this subject. The gist of the thread was that touring groups often treat the local crew poorly, assuming they either don’t know anything or that for whatever reason, their advice doesn’t need to be heeded. There were examples about old venues with fragile architectural details damaged, local customs that should be followed but weren’t, and a host of other grievances.

I’ve been on both sides of that equation and have seen abuses go both ways. But overall, the bottom line should be “mutual respect.” Here’s my list of six things that will make a difference.

One. If you’re a touring tech pro, don’t assume that the local crew are idiots. Guaranteed, they know a lot, and working together with them in a respectful manner will almost always results in a better product and a better time for all involved. The house crew will know the important issues in the venue, how to deal with local authorities should the need arise and will be a lot more helpful and efficient when treated like peers.

By the same token, if you are the local crew, unless the touring team treats you and your crew disrespectfully, and maybe even if they do, do your best to Zen it out and maintain professionalism. There were a couple of times in my touring days where promises were made by the venue crew in advance and not kept, among other issues. Or, in some cases, there was outright hostility and disrespect for no reason at all. The bottom line is that “they” should not the enemy, so let’s not do things that end up making an uncomfortable situation or worse.

Two. When we’re younger and/or earlier in our careers, a lot of advice is given – like the advice I’m giving now! Some of it is “how to behave in this environment” yet much of it is technical tips. In order to stick around in this business, it’s important to use our own analytical skills to determine, for ourselves, which advice should be heeded, and which may not.

Opinions are often handed out as Gospel, and in many cases, just don’t ring true. Sure, there may be a host of reasons why a particular microphone is “the one” for a particular application. That should never mean that we can’t or shouldn’t experiment when possible. Maybe we’ll find a new “the one” that puts the old one to shame.

Three. To mis-quote Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross”: Always Be Learning. “ABL” doesn’t quite have the same ring as “ABC” (Always Be Closing) but you get the idea. This goes along with point number 2: we must start within the framework we’re given, a framework developed over many decades for many good reasons including safety, efficiency, and simply “how things get done around here.”

However, we all need to ensure that our craft and the industry overall continue to evolve. New technology and new methods are being developed all the time. Imagine working today with tools and techniques from 20 years ago. Then think about how we might be working 20 years on. How will we get there? With all of us learning new things, that’s how.

Four. Be impeccable with your word. This one is really important to me personally, and frankly, sometimes it’s difficult to deliver. Think of it as a feedback loop: when we’re young, it’s a little too easy to promise things that can’t ultimately be realized, despite our best intentions.

As we learn and grow in our chosen field, we get better at being realistic about what is possible and learn not to over-promise. And it’s sometimes necessary to break a promise if the reasons are good enough. That’s when we must “fall on our sword” and tell the truth: “I promised you X, and now it is clear that it won’t happen. However, here are the solutions and options available.” Most customers and colleagues will appreciate the honesty.

Behind all that, though, there must be a genuine desire to work together and get things done. The worst thing we can do is blame our issues on someone or something else. For instance, “this gear sucks” when the real problem is that we didn’t take the time to read the manual.

Five. Learn when to speak up and when not to. This might seem obvious, but I believe it’s anything but. Earlier in our careers, it’s probably best to keep our traps shut and listen, so we can learn the ropes and figure out how things get done and who’s really in charge.

Even then, though, if something unsafe or illegal is taking place, that’s when we should start speaking up. At the very least, we can say “I’m not comfortable with this so I’ll need to leave.”

On one hand, it might mean that we’ll lose our job, or not get called as often. That might not be a bad thing if the organization or people we’re working with are engaging in dangerous activities. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, we have to live with ourselves and despite possibly getting less work, we have to know that we did “the right thing” in a challenging situation.

As we go on in our careers and learn more, become “experienced” and maybe get a little salty in the process (what? never!), we must also know when to keep our mouths shut. Not everything that passes through our brains needs to be said. Perhaps “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is a bit too far, but it’s true that honey attracts more bees than vinegar does.

Nevertheless, there are times when we need to speak out, speak up, and prevent bad things from happening, and since we are more “senior,” what we say has more weight. With that power comes responsibility, though – the young lads and lasses look up to us!

Six. Finally, one of my most common bits of advice for anyone in any job is to “be indispensable.” This can take many forms, but the bottom line is to imagine that your organization is making cuts. Do we want to be in the group that is cut or not?

What kinds of things make us indispensable? Always doing more than asked, always bringing the right attitude to work, being the first one there and the last one out. When others on the team need help, we lend a hand, gladly. If someone messes up, cover for them and help them learn how to do it right. Be a part of the solution rather than the reason for the problem.

With live shows of all kinds returning to full steam, there ought to be plenty of work for everyone. I look forward to seeing you out there on the job!

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