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Wave Theory: Using Sound Waves As A Metaphor For Present Circumstances

In the real world, waves - much like careers - will inevitably encounter boundaries, be they walls, floors, ceilings or pandemics.
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It’s no understatement to say that the pandemic has had a devastating effect on live events; it was one of the first industries brought to a halt and will probably be one of the last to return. To make matters worse it happened virtually overnight, catching many people unprepared for the complete and utter cessation of work – and the financial implications that quickly followed.

Many of us who work in live events forged our careers in the freelance arena operating in the “netherworld” of the self-employed, a domain of uncertainty where the chain of work is often ephemeral as we lurch from one job to the next without any clear idea what we’ll be doing in a year’s time (if anything at all). While this can be challenging and difficult, many of us thrived on the constant change, deriving great joy and stimulation from an itinerate existence.

Some people chose a more solid path that often involved working for the same company in a fixed location that guaranteed a steady paycheck and a level of job security that actually allowed planning for the future. Others oscillated between these two states.

Then the pandemic struck and we were all forced to hunker down to deal with the immediate impact of not only losing all our work, but also having to confront the clear and present danger of a major health threat. In trying to make sense of the consequences of this unprecedented event I find myself using sound waves as a metaphor.

Audio Analogy

Imagine your career as a sound wave moving through a free field. If it’s well established with a steady job or a healthy portfolio of high-profile artists then it resembles a high-energy wave forging forward with strength and resolve.

Alternately if you have yet to make a name for yourself or secure a solid chain of work then it resembles an inherently weaker low-energy wave. The study of waves in a free field can be useful from an academic point of view, but in the real world, waves — much like careers — will inevitably encounter boundaries, be they walls, floors, ceilings or pandemics.

We know that when sound waves encounter a boundary one of four things occur: refraction, transmission, absorption or reflection (Figure 1). When the pandemic first hit many of us confronted it optimistically – sure a lot of work got cancelled but a lot of it merely got postponed. Hope existed that we could deal with the situation and after a suitable hiatus return to how things were before. We were hopeful that our careers would be refracted in the same way that sound is refracted around a small boundary such as a column or pillar.

However, the fact that it’s now six months later and little has changed only goes to show that the pandemic boundary is larger and more substantial than we initially hoped.

Some people discovered that their careers possessed enough energy to be transmitted through the boundary – some energy was lost as they moved from one medium to another but they were able to continue working and earning (albeit it often at a reduced rate). Unfortunately, this is quite a small, select group and the number is unlikely to grow significantly any time soon.

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The vast majority of us have had to deal with the fact that when our careers encountered the pandemic boundary, the energy was completely absorbed and everything came to an abrupt halt. Many of us have fallen back on our rainy-day savings, some have benefitted from government assistance, grants from private organizations and/or the generosity of artists. The level of support has been unprecedented and has often been the only reason many of us have been able to pay our bills for the past six months, but all indications are that this level of support is unlikely to continue – so what can we do?

This is where the metaphor breaks down slightly, but for those of us who find our careers have been absorbed by the pandemic boundary, our best choice is to actively choose to have them reflected instead.

Making A Choice

Reflections are a fundamental part of all the sounds we hear, they give life to otherwise dry performances and can both elevate and enhance whether they be naturally occurring or artificially created. We could choose to have our careers reflected completely back on themselves, maybe returning to a job we had before we chose to dedicate our lives to live events. This path comes with the obvious advantage that we already possess the skillset and experience to hopefully put us head and shoulders above others seeking similar work.

We could also see our careers reflected sideways into something different, a job delivering food or groceries to those in need, which must be one of the few employment growth areas of recent times. Likewise opportunities exist in online order fulfilment as many more people turn away from physical shopping to embrace buying online.

It might initially be difficult to accept such a major career swerve, but such a move may well be necessary to keep the bills paid and will not be forever.
As time goes on we’re learning more and more about the virus while developing better methods for mitigating the spread, particularly in enclosed environments – which just so happens to be where most live events occur. This means that if we hang in there, the possibility of merely refracting our careers is back on the table as drive-in and socially distanced live events become increasingly possible.

It’s inevitably going to add an extra level of administration and a change in working practices backstage, but there’s a glimmer of light at the end of this particular tunnel and many of us are keen to get back to doing what we do best.

The important thing to realize is that all of this is temporary, things will eventually return to normal, and live events will come back in their full and florid glory. If we have to reflect or refract the path of our career to make that happen, then so be it.

People who work in live events are a resilient and resourceful bunch who consistently amaze me with what they’re able to achieve on a daily basis, so I have no doubt that we’re all up to the challenge.

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