Monday, April 2, 2012

Working - Part 3

In the first two posts in this series I covered getting into the business and how to maximize your value to the client.  In this post I'm going to cover resumes and advertising.  
The first question is: Do you even need a resume?

I have only ever submitted a resume once in my life to secure employment, and even then it was pretty much a formality.  I was already a lock for the job because of word-of-mouth references and the fact that I could prove my usefulness.  I've maintained a resume for years, and it is a useful thing to have.  If nothing else it's fun to look back at what I thought were important accomplishments ten or fifteen years ago.

But the point is, as you've seen in the case of my lighting guy in the last post, you can get pretty far in this business just by being useful.  It's not necessarily who you know, but who you impress.  It can be something big like putting up a great mix on a festival stage, or something little like helping a touring crew coil their cables (Nicely!).  I've built my business not just on being good at mixing, but at being ready to help with anything at all that comes up in the course of a gig.

If you are going to sit down and write a resume you have to realize that in a lot of cases you're going to be trying to sell yourself to someone who is going to read a lot of resumes.  The simple fact is that three single spaced pages of your every accomplishment is going straight in the pile and they'll move on.  You need to find a way to set yourself apart right away at the top, back it up with some proof that you've been working on your craft, and that's it.  I used to start mine off with something like, "I've been getting ready for this gig my entire life." or "Plans, schedules and egos don't matter, the show is everything." (You can have those, royalty free.  Just send me some swag from your new job when you land it.)  Then when you move on to listing your accomplishments, skip trying to be an encyclopedia.  Put a few of the best ones on there, try to show your diversity a little, and don't bother trying to pad it out.  If you're a newb, own it.  Move on and talk more about your philosophy but don't bullshit.

Once you have your very short resume crafted, the thing that will really make it do some work for you is to have someone who will move it to the top of the pile.  If you're trying to get a job mixing at a club, invest some time and get to know the people there.  Help out, strike up relationships.  You may be able to land that job without ever bringing your resume out at all.  Myself, I've gone to mix as a BE (band engineer) and left a card with the house guy.  More than once I've been called up to mix whole events at those same clubs.  One guy was ready to leave the key under the mat for me and we'd only worked together for one set!

Even if you're not after a job it's a good idea to get in the habit of bugging people that work in the area you want to get in to.  Most people that work in production watch half witted guitar players get all the attention while they sit in the dark and take abuse.  Many will be more than happy to let you look over a shoulder, then help out, then take over.  You'd be surprised.  If you're willing to put up with a few stories you can learn a lot of technique just hanging out with a house engineer after a gig.

Moving on to advertising.  I never have.  I've always had plenty of work just from word of mouth.  I've got a good logo and it's plastered on my shirt and my stuff.  People come to good sounding gigs and if they don't hit me up directly, they have an easy time tracking me down.  The one thing I did in terms of promotion was switch from business cards to stickers.  Promoters still get cards but bands get stickers.  I've gotten more than a few calls from somebody who was on a festival stage that I mixed, left with my sticker on their case and called me first when they needed a guy down the road.

But if you do go after some advertising, be it in print, on the web or what have you, be careful how you set yourself up.  If your ad makes it look like you can deliver the goods for an arena show you had better be able to produce.  You can also set yourself up badly if you offer blowout deals.  Doing work for half what the competition charges can do two things.  You'll either get labeled as the cheap guy in town and have difficulty raising your rates down the road, or nobody will hire you because they expect to pay a certain amount.  You'd be distrustful of a 48 channel mixer that only cost $1000, your potential clients aren't going to look at you twice if you're charging $300 for services that everyone else in town is getting $800 for.  That's not to say that introductory offers aren't a bad idea, but you have to spell things out pretty carefully so you don't get burned or passed over.

Beyond that it's pretty important that your advertising look good.  It seems like everybody with a laptop these days considers themselves a graphic designer.  Flip through the local ads in a paper or browse the web a little and you can easily spot the evidence of this.  For example, I used to do a lot of small coffee shop gigs.  Staring at a bulletin board one dull night my eyes passed over thirty pieces of paper and only one of them got my attention.  I could tell from across the room what it was for.  The logo stood out and it wasn't cluttered with useless information.  So get some help with your design, whatever it is.  

This doesn't mean you need to pay for it though.  A lot of musicians are good graphic designers, either by trade or as a hobby.  When you spot one that is, make friends and offer to trade services.  Do a gig in exchange for a logo, record a demo for a website.  Figure out an appropriate amount of work for each side to do and you can both come out ahead.  Just be clear about expectations.  If they're really good and can whip you up a super logo in a short amount of time, that doesn't mean you get to just slap together a demo.  You need to do a good job in return, even if it takes you a while.  But define the project, you don't want to find yourself sitting through the seventh mix down and they don't want to tweak the margins on your website for the twentieth time.

The last thing to do is figure out how to hit your target audience.  I took a pass on placing print ads in entertainment publications because I didn't want to drive all over the state to mix pretentious bar bands.  I can do that right in my own back yard and I've made a pretty good buck at it.  So I didn't waste money chasing clients I didn't want, I spent a few bucks on stickers and shirts and that was it.  But if your business model doesn't have a gas tank anywhere in it, you might want to look at internet options that can take your business world wide.  If you've got the chops to do a great job mastering records in your mom's basement there's no reason the next big hit in Borneo can't have your name in the credits.  The world is full of studios in out of the way places that have giant clients.  The best ones likely came in by word of mouth, but if you've got to put food on the table you may need to figure out how to corner the market on post production for car commercials to fill in between big jobs.

Finally getting to the end of this I'm not sure I've made it any clearer or easier.  When so much depends on chance interactions, the only thing you can really do is just try to cultivate contacts everywhere you go.  You can't count on it, but you can always hope that when someone you know gets big they'll call you up.  Be on the lookout for every chance and increase the odds.  I've gotten more than one gig because someone in line behind me at a store saw my logo on the back of my shirt. And lastly, diversity, diversity, diversity. If you're mixing live, work on your recording chops, if you're recording, work on your skills as a producer.  Anything you can learn and develop into a skill will put you one step closer to landing that next gig.

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