Saturday, March 31, 2012

Working - Part 2

In a post a couple days ago I started in on getting started in the business.  The second part of this post is going to elaborate on a couple other topics that have come up before.  
First and foremost I think the thing that makes someone in this business valuable is the skill set they bring to the table.  The phrase "jack of all trades, master of none" is a good fit here.  Even in the areas where I claim expertise I still can't claim mastery, there's always room for improvement.  In addition to my mixing skills I also frequently wind up stage managing, lighting or doing any number of things for a show.  I've been a carpenter, painter, seamstress, stage hand, electrician, and the list goes on and on.  Even though I didn't deliberately sell myself as having those skills, when the opportunity to put them to work came up and I didn't hesitate to jump in and the folks that hired me didn't forget down the road.

To be a little more specific let's just look in the audio realm. I've written before about how studio work and live work are really two different pursuits but more and more the live engineer is going to be asked to take some tracks, whether it's a CD-R of the two-mix or a multi-track extravaganza for a live album.  It might even be taking some live gear and a recorder to a practice space and laying some tracks down for an album.  How you treat your gain stages when you're feeding amp racks is a little different than when you're feeding recorders, especially if they're digital.  This is where you need to be on top of your signal routing.  You may even need to come up with some pretty creative solutions so you get a balanced recording and don't overload.

Looking a little deeper, if you're a live engineer and you're setting out to record an album there's a good chance you haven't got everything you might need in your mic box.  It's not impossible to do a good job with a bunch of dynamic mics from a live rig, but knowing how to use condenser mics is a big plus.  If you're borrowing some, do your homework.  That's not just looking up the specs on a website, try and get into the forums and find out how people are using them and any tips and tricks they have, also what disasters they've created.  Beyond that, how you handle your dynamic processing and spatial effects is completely different in the studio.  In short, it's usually pretty easy to tell when a band had a live mixer do a record for them, so it's well worth studying up on the studio side of things before you dive in.  Concert audio floats off into the night and is gone, but a record is forever.  Make sure you're doing the best work you can if your name is going on one.  Studio technique can just as easily transfer into the live realm so it will be time well spent on more than one count.

Moving out of the audio realm, it's a good idea to be familiar with lighting equipment.  If you're any good at mixing you're probably pretty good at getting your head around the material that the band is playing, even if you've never heard it before.  It can be a real pain to have to run lights while you're mixing a rock show, but it can also be a real joy when you get to fill in for a lighting guy and really get into the visual elements of a show.

Beyond that, understanding how a show goes together, both in the setup and run can put you in a great place to lend a hand.  A lighting guy I work with parlayed his way onto a tour based mostly on the fact hat he knew his way around DMX and could coil cable nicely.  Something as simple as that caught the attention of people who were in a position to get him on the road.  He's pretty skilled in lighting, but it was just pitching in on gigs as a helper that got him his break.  That same lighting guy and I would often team up to stage manage small festival stages.  Helping a day's worth of entertainment go off without a hitch is a big added value to a promoter and we've gotten a ton of repeat business out of just a little effort.

I frequently get asked to mix charity events and when I quote them a price they say they were looking for the PA to be donated.  I'll hold my price down for a charity event, but I'm not in a position to work for free.  They'll usually ask if I can come down any if they provide help.  My response is usually that I'll need twice the money and two extra hours if I have help.  Helpers who can't coil cable and don't know the difference between a two-fer and a turn-around just aren't any use on a busy stage, even if I'm the only one working on it.  Bad helpers can easily screw up the next gig for you if they put things away improperly or in the wrong place.  Don't be that kind of help.  If you don't know what your doing just watch until you do, then you can contribute. Being able to pitch in without getting in the way is about the best talent you can bring to a gig.  I'm never going to claim that I'm a rigger, but I can join someone who is and help rather than hurt their progress. 

This post keeps getting longer and longer.  I was hoping to get to advertising and resumes but I think that will have to wait for the next one.  Until then my Brethren of the Knob and Fader, consider what you can bring to the table, maybe it's something you have never thought of as a marketable skill before.

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