Career-building and understanding the “biz of the business” is important for everyone working in pro audio, but perhaps even more so for the independent practitioner, a.k.a., Lone Audio Ranger.
So let’s step back a bit from the technical side and address some equally important techniques that can put you in control of the work you want and strategies to help you get more of it.
Hiding In Plain Sight
When it comes to “getting the gig,” being selected from a large pool of qualified people is a privilege that’s earned. And how that opportunity is earned is the foundation of a successful career. I believe it boils down to six things: talent, taste, hard work, professionalism, personality and perspective.
One of my first high-level touring clients initially hired me as the monitor engineer. Weeks before the first leg started, the budget revealed only one spot: a merchandise seller. Although not the situation I was hoping for, and having zero experience hawking t-shirts, I took the job anyway – and took it seriously. I worked hard and sought to learn as much as possible.
A week into the run, a personnel change led to the offer of an additional position as tour manager. Faced once again with a role I had zero experience with, I took the gig, taking on this new opportunity with just as much determination as “t-shirt hawker.” Over the next several months, my responsibilities grew and came to encompass the roles of tour manager, merch seller, stage tech, and yes… monitor engineer.
It turned into many years of wonderful work, learning, great music, and fun. Eventually I even made my way to the stage as a player, which was the cherry on top. The biggest lesson was simple yet profound: trust myself – my potential, my confidence and my work ethic. You can know what’s around the corner if you let yourself take a peek.
Seemingly obvious, but it’s a must to communicate that you exist and are available for work. Never has it been easier to leverage technology to do this. Resources such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like offer powerful ways to tell your story, and to cast a wide net while doing so. Being able to communicate to potential clients who you are and what you do helps greatly.
Via an online presence, you can communicate your experience, qualifications, and your personality. It’s important to always leverage social media in a professional manner. Create and maintain an informative website focused on the image you want to project, with qualifications to back it up. Don’t forget to make it as easy as possible for anyone interested to contact you. All social media activity can flow back to this destination.
Further, it’s always good form to pass along through these channels ideas and information you’ve come across that could be helpful to others. (Dave Rat, to point to one example, does this extremely well, and I strongly suspect it’s worked out quite well for him.)
Remember, the ones making the hiring decisions think first of who they know, and then next, who’s made an impression. Make every effort to be in those memory banks, and for all of the right reasons.
Like many, I can be an introvert. The sight of the ubiquitous “networking event” usually has me thinking of walking in the other direction.
Although helpful to some, particularly extroverts, these staged get-togethers can seem forced. For introverts, it’s a true chore to talk with strangers, exchange the obligatory business cards, and trade rusty gig stories.
Yet networking comes in many guises. (In fact I’m networking with you right now.) We may not know each other personally (yet), but you can find me easily if you want, and I’m willing to provide help in any way possible regarding “things pro audio.”
The social media tools noted previously also offer great (and ever-expanding) networking benefits, and there are also like-minded online groups and industry forums to participate in.
Even simply meeting up with some local fellow “sound nerds” for a drink or a meal can open up new prospects. We work in a business that’s made up of talented, creative, hard-working people who for the most part are very open to sharing knowledge and opportunities.
We can be totally into audio but that doesn’t limit us to just mixing a bar band every week at the local pub, touring year-round, and everything in between. Tech skills are valuable in other environments, so it’s a solid career move to step out of the audio box a bit and apply those skills to related fields. Learn the basics of operating today’s video switchers and lighting consoles, or delve into teaching and writing.
Modern technology offers so many resources to learn new skills to make ourselves even more marketable. Take this challenge and reap the benefits.
Like What You Do?
Although obvious to most, being passionate about work is paramount, because our relationship to that work is what guides attitude, work ethic, the ability to handle stress, and problem solving. We all have days, weeks or even months where we may question our career path, usually stemming from the time and physical commitment it takes and how those both relate to financial reward or even simple satisfaction.
When this happens, my approach is to step back a bit to identify why I’m struggling. Is it truly the overall job, or is it a specific gig? Maybe things have become mundane? Was someone difficult to work with? Answers to these questions provide peace of mind while helping us align ourselves with the types of people and organizations that best fit our particular interests and goals.
Respect & Follow-Up
We should know the essentials of the gigs we’re walking into. Don’t assume that new clients understand our technical world. One of our goals is always to make the ones who hire us look good for hiring us.
And sometimes it’s overlooked, but the relationship with whomever hired us doesn’t end with the paycheck. A simple follow-up email to every client should be standard practice. In some circumstances, asking for a quick overview of their experiences with our work in return can help toward building a powerful portfolio of happy existing clients to show to prospective new clients.
What Are You Worth?
This is a tough one because the amount charged for work can be relative to specific geographic areas, competition, and the overall specifics of a given market. But it’s important to really analyze what our time is worth, and then set a fair rate to charge within those specific circumstances. Try to be consistent with what you charge clients, and never “nickel and dime.”
In addition, don’t fall into the trap of pricing yourself out of opportunities that, although initially low-paying, could turn into a long-term opportunity and revenue stream. Look at the potential of what something might become. (Recall what happened with that young fellow once hired by a tour to sell merch.)
After following these principles for a few years, I realized I was able to do more of the work I liked, and more often, because those who made the hiring decisions were specifically choosing me and what I could bring to the table. And that’s a privilege I don’t take for granted.
Our talent, experience and personality is the name of the game, far more important than the gear we own or have available. I’ve always tried to put into perspective how fortunate I am to spend my time (and get paid for) doing something I love while building and maintaining a solid reputation. I wish the same for all Lone Audio Rangers.