This Sound on Sound article provides some great advice towards building a career within the events industry as a live sound engineer. It’s written by Jon Burton, FOH engineer for The Prodigy and regular SOS writer. It covers a great deal about getting that first foot in the door and making that transition from being a small-time engineer (like me), to securing worldwide tours with superstar artists. It’s also rather thought-provoking too, as you’ll soon find out.
Some useful topics are mentioned, including an important one: How much currency does a First Class Super Duper Honours Degree in Live Sound Engineering hold? How far can that bit of paper get you? The obvious answer to that is – Not very much, you must prove your worth through practical exercise and namedropping… There are useful some case studies, too, of people first starting out mixing their high school shows, who now tour the world with household name artists.
Among these points, there are some general tips which I picked up too, along the line of “How sycophantic can you get before you start to annoy someone?” If you approach someone in hope of getting work, you must accept they’ll play a game with you – they know you’re wanting work off them, so it’s about saying and doing the right things. I’d like to say I’m as natural and genuine as I can be when talking to, well, anyone, but when you’re stood in front of someone who could end up paying your salary, then you may find yourself saying things which will help them favour you. It’s all a mind game, let’s face it.
Although I’ve probably engineered 100+ live shows and 75+ clubs, I’m still very much a rookie as most of these were carried out in the same two venues. I realise that (through past threats) the work will not be there forever, so I should be always looking further afield for more options, keeping a wide but close spread of contacts.
It’s also been on my mind recently – how the hell am I meant to sustain having a girlfriend/friends/wife/kids if most live events occur in such unsociable hours? I’ve always been against the 9 to 5 idea, but coming home from work at 11.00pm every night is only asking for trouble. I must work out what line of work suits my lifestyle best i.e. touring, music venue, theatre, and focus down that path to maximise my potential.
I also learned something which I thought never existed – an agency specifically for live sound engineers! Darryn De La Soul runs Soulsound and being an experienced engineer herself, she gives her advice towards aiming for that first big break:
“Say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way. Work for free if you have to; you never know who you might meet at that voluntary gig. Watching Cash In The Attic is no way to get your phone to ring.”
Darryn has also been confronted about her gender within her workplace. Sure, it’s predominantly a male trade just like joinery or bricklaying (and to be honest, her name does read as male), but I didn’t think it was that obscure – enough to write an article about it? Anyway, it’s quite cool to read about her experiences and how she reacts to any of the issues raised about her sex.
Some more wise words are expressed, regarding the importance of looking professional:
“Have a good Internet presence. Privatise your Facebook photos of drunk nights out, and present a more professional self. Join LinkedIn. Get a professional email address: Hotmail is for kids and inevitably ends up with you spamming everyone in your address book, so switch to something more professional.”
Funny, that. I better start working on my website and blogs, get rid of all my incriminating photos and stop selling myself as ‘firstname.lastname@example.org‘. Thanks Darryn!