Study Hall

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The Journey Towards Becoming A Professional

Everyone starts at the bottom, but nobody has to stay there.

Here we go again. One more attempt to make life easier for the younger crowd moving into the world of audio production.

For this little foray, I need to focus on a few concepts that separate the true professional from the lowly amateur.

On my desktop is a quote: “There are no rules, except accuracy.” It’s taken from a copywriting training guide I found several years ago and refers to the most important aspect of reporting and writing.

We are generally free to perform our tasks in whatever way we see fit, as long as it accomplishes the original intention.

Within the confines of audio production, we are generally hired for a specific goal. Whether it’s large scale sound reinforcement, system installation or studio sessions, the end result must match the original promises made.

The value of band managers, producers, AV contractors, audio engineers… It all comes down to their ability to accurately meet the needs of whatever artist or client we are hired to support.

None of this is accomplished casually.

My primary value in the industry was found in my ability to communicate. I learned to ask the right questions. I learned to see not only the big picture, but also manage the details that were required to make it happen.

But, like most younger folks just starting out, I had to learn most of it the hard way.

Probably the best training I ever had was in working for an AV crew with an owner who had zero tolerance for excuses. At the time, our confrontations were often infuriating. But he shaped my understanding of thoroughness and accuracy.

Once, after being assigned the construction of a very specific front of house rack for an upcoming show, I was unable to locate one particular processor in the warehouse. Almost an hour of searching left me empty handed and forced to make the long walk to the front office for my beating.

With the grace and composure of the blitzkrieg, he stormed past me and talked smack the whole way across the floor. The crew loading the truck stared in amazement as I was insulted and mocked for giving up without checking one last area.

He walked straight to it and waved that blasted processor in the air to emphasize his tantrum. I was humiliated and outraged by that point. I didn’t consider us friends for a few days afterwards. But, I learned to never open that office door with anything other than a completed task.

Another time, actually my first event acting as a road manger, I was in charge of getting a full band to a major festival and coordinating much of the gig.

It did not go well.

Stopping for gas, about halfway there, the van keys simply disappeared. An hour of unsuccessfully searching left me calling a locksmith to get us back on the road. Fortunately, the jokes about me losing my keys only lasted for about two years after that.

The big issue that little fiasco created was in backing up our scheduled arrival by almost two hours. My carelessness over the keys made us arrive at a remote hotel with six hungry musicians and only one restaurant in the immediate area, which I quickly discovered was closing as we arrived.

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Upon returning to the band to explain the situation, the front man simply said, “you’re fired.” Whether he was serious or not, I didn’t wait to see. I turned on my heels and went directly to the restaurant manager. Explaining my situation as passionately as possible, he eventually conceded and found enough staff to feed the lot of us. Which promptly got my job restored.

The band didn’t want or need excuses. They needed a road manager who didn’t lose things and made stuff happen. Which I effectively became… during that trip.

Nobody wants your excuses.

It doesn’t matter if they are legitimate or not. You are given a task. You are expected to complete it. The ones who do, get more responsibility and work. The ones who continuously return with excuses don’t.

All of this is entry level understanding. Unfortunately, the majority of newbies I dealt with over the years didn’t get it either. When we are at work, I am not your buddy. I am offering you a chance to make a career out of a really cool gig. I am expecting you to do a specific job in a specific way, and I really don’t care about your opinion.

Arguing, telling me how it’s supposed to be done, missing details, goofing off… all excellent ways to avoid promotion.

If you are the new kid, admit it to yourself and deal with it. Everyone starts at the bottom. The graybeard with that fat wallet, he didn’t know which end of a mic to plug in at one time. But he stuck with it and learned.

You have the same opportunity, if you choose to be a professional.

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