Coming up on nearly 3 years of mixing FOH 4 out of every 6 weekends this issue has become something I have needed to keep on top of. Whether or not you are in the studio, at FOH, mixing monitors, or doing whatever job you do, I feel like it will always be tempting to fall into a rut of just doing what it takes to get through the event, firmly planting yourself in mediocrity.
There has been more than one incidence in my time serving the church, now approaching 18 years, when I have been given more responsibility as I have improved and perhaps not carried that initial excitement and passion on throughout my time in that role. For the first few weeks after each “promotion” I get excited again, improving constantly, fixing problems, paying super close attention through every part of the event, and just doing a great job. However, after some time, I could feel myself settling in, getting comfortable, and just resting on my momentum. I fall into a rut. I was still creating great balanced audio content, taking good care of my gear, and doing a good job, but I wasn’t pushing myself to grow and allowing myself to be challenged. I think there was a part of me that I was being content but I looking back on those times and realize that I wasn’t being content, I was being lazy. I was created to do what I was doing and I wasn’t using all my gifts to their fullest capability.
Looking back on how I get out of that rut I can see a few habits that I think we as sound techs all need to be aware of so that we ourselves can stay ahead of the curve.
- Humility – This might be a little counter culture because of how most people see being humble but I truly think that we should always work with the mindset that we all have something to learn. Think about it, did you ever feel like you were standing on your heels when you were just learning your craft? Did you ever think that you are stagnant when you driving in to volunteer at that one event just so you can learn from that one sound guy? No, not at all. We all knew that we wanted to learn and absorb so maintaining that mindset is so important as we go about our careers. I put a lot of myself into what I do, both in team pride but also in personal investment. For that reason, I don’t see criticism like I should, I put on blinders sometimes and see it as an attack rather than a friend who is just trying to make sure I’ve taken something into account. It’s important for us all to take criticism well not only so we can grow but mostly so we can keep open lanes of discussion from the people we are working for or with. If we respond to every piece of advice with frustration or anger, people will simply stop talking to us thinking it will never matter. As audio technicians, we need to have the opposite attitude. People need to be able to come up to us and ask questions and see how things are without fear of frustrations. Plus, if we are approachable and take criticism, we allow ourselves to be pushed and grow, keeping us active and not stagnant.
- Keep a Log – I have just a simple text document that I put things in that I have noticed need to be fixed. Than, when I have some spare time, I look to that list for how I can improve what goes on in my mixes. If I’m really busy, I may not get to fixing too many problems but I try to make it a goal to just fix one problem every week. If I can do that, at the end of the year, I’ve solved 52 problems. Think about it, just one problem solved a week puts you 52 steps farther down the road if we can just do that one thing. I think this also prevents resentment from artists and fellow technicians over problems that just never get solved.
- Take Breaks – I think it’s important to take actual breaks where you hand off your responsibilities completely to someone else. Whether in the studio, on the road, or on Sunday mornings, find someone on your team who can do what you do to give you a break every now and again. I mix FOH 4 of every 6 or so. Those other two weeks I am “supervising” and just making sure everything is sounding good. I usually take time this week to walk the room a bit during the service and walking around back stage, getting perspectives I wouldn’t get when I am limited to the console the rest of the time. That sixth or seventh week I try to schedule myself a break. Whether I just spend time with family, come in and just attend the service, or go somewhere else, I’m not doing what I usually do. This makes me want to mix again, and quite effectively. I come back from my one weekend off thirsty again which has been a healthy cycle for me to maintain.
- The Right Mindset – I recently was made aware of this article (go ahead and click on the link and read through it, it’s short). It talks about how we as technicians, regardless of what phase of production we are in, need to have as our mindset. The writer talks about his dream gig and how he tries to approach every event, whether big or small, with great gear or shoddy gear, every gig he walks into he shows up as if it was for Paul McCartney. Do do you this? Is every event or recording you make treated as if it was for your favorite A list artist? Is every service you do treated with the same importance as if it was Christmas or Easter?
- Push Your Team – Often we are influenced by those around us. If someone on the team acts a certain way and someone else starts acting that way it won’t be long until that potentially bad habit runs rampant. So there are two priorities here, the first is surrounding yourself with the people you’d like to be like. If you want to be an approachable person, surround yourself with people who you see as approachable. Secondly, don’t be afraid to call out mediocrity around you. Obviously, timing, relationships, and wording matters here, but if someone on your team is just sitting back and not pushing themselves, call them out on it, with respect and expect others to do this to you.
- Push Yourself – This one for me is easy. If I have a problem with a clear solution there is little to stop me from just fixing the issue. My fear of failure rarely holds me back. If I need to take my whole patch bay a part to fix a problem and get organized I will. I will plan well and make sure all my ducks in a row but when it’s time, you won’t find me thinking twice about getting started. While it’s important for us to not let fear keep us from improving it’s also important to not let laziness do this either. If you need to spend a few hours one week just playing around with an FX send you haven’t been happy with than make the time and do it don’t wait until you have nothing to do (trust me, in the audio world there is always something to do). If you need to setup a meeting with a co-worker to plan ahead on somethings so when the event or recording is happening you aren’t running around like a chicken with its’ head cut off than make it happen. If you have been using a plugin where a simpler tool would work better but you just use that preset because it’s easier, take the time during rehearsal to go about it the right way and get yourself started down a path of improvement not stagnancy.
Hopefully these six habits to start will help you as much as they have helped me. What do you do you do to keep growing to stay out of stagnancy? Let me know in the comments below. If you like what you are reading please feel free to subscribe at this link.