Got into a proper tiz the other day, wondering what the hell I’m actually going to do with myself after I leave uni. Lucky as I am, I’ve already got steady-ish work in a number of places, but when I have no loan to depend on and, eventually, a family to feed (don’t worry, I didn’t think that deep), I’ll have to think a little wiser about my decisions. As I’ve experienced already, live work can slowly eat away at your home and social life.
I’ll warn you this is a random post, but I vividly remember back in school when we were like 10 or something (Primary 6?), we were made to plan out our life goals and possible career paths. Since I was typically football-mad around that age, mine was focused on being a professional footballer (HAHAHA).
For a bit of fun, here’s roughly what I said –
Age 11 – 18: Work hard within my town’s youth football club, training every week and playing matches and tournaments every Sunday. Actually gain an education as a backup plan.
Age 19 – 35: Be a professional footballer earning a six-figure salary (?!), enjoy a fulfilling career gaining a credible reputation on and off the field.
Age 35 – 55: Retire as a footballer, become a football manager and coach.
Age 55 – 65: Become a presenter/’pundit’/commentator/general Yoda of the game because I’ll have, by then, become a national figure and enjoyed a broad, successful career.
How naïve and innocent. And hilarious.
But come think of it, that was an important lesson learned – we must continually set goals (no matter how crazy they sound) and always look to the future.
Here’s what I’m getting at –
Age 11 – 17: Get an education at secondary school, enough for university. Follow interests in music – excel in class subjects, learn instruments, do grade exams, play in school bands, found own bands, gig lots. Realise career as a musician isn’t as sustainable as first dreamt – Wait, who’s that guy behind that big confusing thing with all the buttons and lights? That is cool. Those mics look really nice. All this gear is making me a little horny. Holy shit! The sound of those subwoofers playing my favourite drum and bass record is awesome! Can I follow you around and learn what you do ’cause I want to do it too?! [You get the idea…]
Age 18 – 21: Go to uni, gain a degree in specific interests i.e. music industry. Get more experience within live sound engineering and event technicalities. Find work in small venue – realise the ins and outs of freelancing. Work work work. Study study study.
Age 22 – ??: Work as a professional live sound engineer. Tour the world and sail the seven seas enjoying a fruitful career, mixing for the stars, rock ‘n’ roll man. Keep interests in studio engineering as will need those skills throughout and in possibly later life.
That awkward age where people get married and start families c. Age 30: Depending on my situation by this point, and given my girlfriend hasn’t dumped me because I’m always working late/elsewhere, I may have to rework my plan more efficiently/on the fly.
Age ?? – 55: Keep recording project studio in the back burner (if they still exist in the late 2030s) begin to trade in studio engineering. More sociable hours and less physically grinding.
Rethink the whole live touring thing. Should probably have a family or whatever by this point. Revert back to venue work, maybe start my own sound company/work for one, carrying out more background/consultancy/teaching roles. Become a head tech within a concert venue. How many live guys can still lift amp racks past the age of 60?
Age 55 – : Definitely wind down with any live work. Become an educator at an institution and play out the rest of working life with the reward of a guaranteed salary…
Obviously I got a little ahead of myself there, and maybe it’s a little personal, but you can see what I’m trying to do. It’s not impossible to achieve all of the above, and it’s always good to set high standards. It’s a matter of observing other people in this trade that I’m close to, and seeing how they fair.
In later years, I can see my responsibilities at home flying out the window if I’m not careful. Will need to balance my work out so that I can be flexible when need be. For example, if I have a kid, I’m able put touring on hold, and work with a local sound hire company. When they grow up, go back to touring/etc. until I become too old and then become a tutor or whatever. I dunno m8.
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!
Quite a few things, really.
MMP – Good News!
Taking on a pretty big project – probably biting off more than I can chew. It basically involves me writing a module on live sound and teaching it to a group of six students from The Academy of Music and Sound. Got the go-ahead a few days ago after a meeting with their head, Jonathan Tait. It was a brilliant meeting and it went well – I was quite nervous because he was calling the shots whether I can use his students or not. He welcomed the idea with open arms and offered his full support – great success!
He took the email I prepared and circulated it around the Academy, to which I’ve already had 9 responses! I now have to take all applicants and filter them down so that I have at least one drummer, bassist, guitarist and vocalist… Might be tough as I haven’t had any drummers reply yet!
It was an uplifting feeling though, that people are interested in working alongside me, however now I must rise to the challenge I’ve set myself. I aim to work hard at this for the next few months, and will begin teaching the module in January. My biggest worry is that I don’t get enough work done, resulting in a disappointing end product. The last thing I want to do is let these guys down and create a bad reputation for myself…
Wee Red Bar
I’m forever busy working at the amazing Wee Red Bar, at the Edinburgh College of Art. Absolutely love it there and it’s the perfect venue for a young live sound engineer.
During busier months, I was used to doing up to 3/4 shows per week but now I’m down to 1 or 2. Suits me better anyway for when uni work sets in – tend to get carried away with work!
There’s been some cracking gigs happening the past couple months. Some of these include:
Hector Bizerk was probably the most memorable. They rocked up from another gig in Glasgow to play on a five band bill *shudders* with a 15-channel tech spec. I had 10 minutes to: reverse the previous stage setup, frantically rip apart the stage box for a whole new patch, throw extra D.I.s and mics in, set up their gear/electronics AND line check the entire setup, ready for their unique hip hop sound. Was one of the quickest changeovers considering, however they sounded fantastic as they’re a great act and really nice guys.
After a rather controversial change of hands in Cabaret Voltaire‘s operations, I’m back working there doing club shifts. Technically, everything’s changed in terms of control and overall sound. We have no mixing desk and outboard now, just a few switches controlling the amp levels of each room. All the lighting is automated and without a desk, meaning there’s no creative control over this. It’s a shame because even the little things like the timed flashing of par cans or building up a heavy strobe effect all makes a positive difference to people’s nights. Now, it’s too bright and colourful in the club, making it look cheap and cheesy. As for the sound, well, don’t get me started.
I’m still regularly playing bass with northeast ceilidh band, Ceilidh Stomp. We’re very busy in the wedding season and also with parties/fundraisers. I play with some great musicians including Liam Flaherty who first got me involved with the band. Clare Penny runs the band and is a ridiculously hardworking woman – definitely the most organised band I’ve ever been in! As I find myself performing less and less, it’s great to have gigs lined up as I’m busier with other work, and it’s a great source of income!
Getting things going with Bertrand. We’re an alternative rock four piece and have been together for a while now. I’ve been in the studio doing a bit of recording with drummer Ben where we laid some tracks down, also experimenting with a few different ideas. Hopefully in the next couple months you’ll have some proper recordings to listen to, as we only have demos with MIDI drums at the moment. We played at The Wickerman Festival in July and have just been to The Third Door supporting The Glitch. Anyway, yeah, I hope to begin tracking more of our songs soon. Stay tuned!