Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stick To What You're Good At

I'm not writing this one to discourage anyone from trying new things.  If anything I want people to push themselves into new areas and learn new skills.  But if you're wailing away at something and just not catching traction you need to learn when to say when and go do something else.

By way of example I've got a story from back when I was mixing a lot in small clubs.  There was a great little scene going on and kids were writing their own stuff and other kids were turning out in droves to pay to hear it.  Consequently a few other kids were making pretty good money promoting shows and I was making pretty good money teching them. Years previously I had promoted a small music festival that was pretty successful on a local level and thought my chops as a promoter were pretty good.  So I made a run at it with a friend.

We lost about $800 on two shows and decided to hang it up.  We got out before we got too far in the hole and moved on a little wiser.  I watched some others stick to it like sick gamblers at the slot machines, loosing money show after show.  Then there was this one promoter who just had the golden touch.  There was one night where she paid all the bands and techs in cash and left to get picked up by her mom while counting $1600 profit into her plastic Hello Kitty purse.  She was about 15 at the time.

So there you have the spectrum.  I'm laying those stories out as a warning as to what can happen if you beat your head against something for too long.  This is not to say that you should lay something aside if you don't get it right away.  Perfecting my skill at monitor mixes took years and is in fact still under way every time I mix.  On another note, I like playing with electronics but it's can be frustrating for me because I'm very haphazard about the way I study, think and do projects.  There's a big difference between struggling with a widget I'm trying to build and yet still deriving some satisfaction from it and a singer who's been trying to make it in the biz for 35 years while waiting tables the whole time.

In the end I guess I'm saying that it's actually important to waste your time on some things.  Sometimes you'll get it and take off flying, other times it will be a long process that my never actually end.  The key thing is to look at your progress and your level of enjoyment as you go along and decide how much of your precious time you're going to waste.  As a kid starting out, time was all I had and I invested heavily in trial and error to begin work on my craft.  Now that it's my vocation and I have mouths to feed, a lot more often I'm looking to other professionals who have already traveled the road I'm on so I can save some time and get back to business.

Something else I've been working on for years is recording.  Live sound and studio work are two distinctly different lines of work despite the fact that the equipment is somewhat similar.  But in today's industry the lines are blurring and the live engineer is having to track more and more.  Right now I'm still in the working-on-it phase.  I can turn out a decent product but when something heavy duty is on the line, I'm going to defer to someone who's better at it for the sake of the project.   "Stick to what your good at" is another one of those rules that you should always stick to... except when you don't.  Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to a sticky situation, but pushing yourself that way can pay off big time if you survive.  So unless you're thrust into that type of situation, think very very carefully before you volunteer.

Above all, stay open to the input of others.  They may have a clearer picture of your situation from an outside vantage point.  They may also be able to contribute usefully to your body of knowledge and help you step over things that are blocking your path.  The best policy is to remain humble and open, even if you don't take someone's advice it's still good to listen to it.  It's pretty typical to run into a sound guy that gets all defensive when you bring up a problem he doesn't know how to fix.  Much better to admit you know nothing and instead state that you'll fire up the learning process and try to get to the bottom of it.

Till next time my fellow Brethren of the Knob and Fader.  Keep those requests for articles coming in, and stories to share are always welcome and will likely get their own regular section shortly.

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