There is a simple way you can get more work as a live sound engineer, which is by doing what no one else is willing to do.
Two words: cat circus! (Just kidding…mostly.)
- Be the go-to guy by continuing to build relationships with clients and referral sources outside of work.
- You can do this through systematic followup in 1 hour/week.
- Challenge yourself to build a list of 150 business contacts over the next 6 months.
As an example, let’s look at two live sound engineers and their shared client.
Live sound engineer A and B are both great at what they do. They care about delivering excellent service and client C feels good about working with both of them. Every time client C works with A or B, she thinks, “I really like them. I hope I get to hire them in the future.” Cool!
Fast forward to the future
Client C has an important event coming up and needs to hire the right sound engineer. In an ideal world, she would compare all potential service providers and choose the best one for the job based on a barrage of highly accurate criteria. As we all know, that isn’t often how it happens in the real world.
In the real world, Client C is going to call sound engineer B because sound engineer B is the last person she talked to. For better or worse, the audio industry is based on personal referral. And personal referral is a fickle mistress.
You might be thinking, “I guess sound engineer B just got lucky.” Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t. Maybe sound engineer B was the last person client C hired, so they’re fresh in her mind. Or maybe sound engineer B understands that personal referral is a fickle mistress and can only be wooed through repeated memorable interactions, so they put a reminder in their calendar to follow up with Client C one month after the event. At that point she will likely still remember working together, but may have otherwise forgotten B‘s name and the project they worked on together.
Imagine if sound engineer B does that for every client they work with. What if they also do that for every colleague they meet and anyone who refers them for work? Over the next 6 months, B’s network would grow exponentially and they would create enough demand for their services that they can start saying no to some of the work they don’t like and yes to more of the work they do like.
Sound engineer A continues to do great work, but hasn’t moved beyond the twice a month gig at a local concert venue while continuing their part-time retail job. Here’s a surprising thing about sound engineer A: they feel like they’re hustling. They have been sending their resume all over town and applying for entry level positions at production houses and posting on Facebook: Hey everyone, I’m available if you hear about any gigs.
This is what one of my students recently referred to as the Baby Boomer Strategy. Think about your parents. When they were your age it may have been enough to simply drop your resume on a few desks and your phone would start ringing. You could get picked up for a tour because you were at the laundromat at the right time (yes, this really happened).
Back then supply was low and demand was high. As the industry continued to grow, so did the supply. Now there are lots of live sound engineers who want the same job. I really feel for sound engineer A. I think it sucks for someone to work hard to develop a valuable skill and not be able to use it.
What can you do to stand out?
If supply and demand have changed and it’s no longer enough to just send your resume around, what can we do? You could focus on improving your service delivery. That’s the first thing most people think of. Maybe you disinfect every vocal mike before putting it in front of a performer. Maybe you are super enthusiastic about helping musicians have a great time. Or maybe you do something more like sound engineer B. Something that no one else has thought of or been willing to commit to.
I’m talking about making repeated, memorable interactions outside of the gig. We all know this works inside the gig. With clients that we see often the relationship grows naturally and we are top of mind with that person. But there is a systematic way for you to become more like sound engineer B, using only one hour each week, and I can guarantee it will get you more of the work that you want.
You already know doing the work that other people aren’t willing to do is a good way to distinguish yourself. If you are willing to push boxes, hang lights, gaff cables, stay late, arrive early, and get coffee, you’ll get more work.
Here are some real world examples:
- Mike did this by working all night techno parties that no one else would.
- Aleš did this by doing the first gig for free to test the relationship and generate good will.
- Mauricio Ramirez did this by showing up early to test the polarity of every driver in the sound system before sound check.
Maybe you are doing something like this already, and that’s a great start. Now think about all of the time that you are not at work. If you are not seeing Client C regularly, they will forget about you. Why? Because you can only really manage 150 social relationships at a time.
Have you heard of Dunbar’s number? Robin Dunbar is an anthropologist that has done research into the cognitive limit on relationships that humans can effectively manage. In short, you may have 1,500 “friends” on Facebook, but there are really only 150 humans whose names and qualities you have memorized and will come to mind quickly when you need them.
You need Client C to be one of your 150 social relationships and vice versa. You might think it’s magic, but it’s not. It’s a numbers game. The more meaningful contact you have with someone, the more likely you are to enter their top 150. You might still think it’s all luck, and I’m not going to fight you about it. I’m simply going to suggest that you do whatever it takes to expand your luck surface area. And one way you can do this is by putting in a little more work on the business side.
The two step process
- Create a list of 150 of your most valuable contacts.
- Make sure that your latest contact is never more than two months.
Let’s look at a couple of quick case studies.
- Anthony M. dreamed of being on tour but he was stuck in a warehouse sorting cables. Starting in the fall of 2016 we embarked on a systematic process of research and relationship building, and six months later he was on tour with Cirque du Soleil.
- Freyja L. was doing some pretty big one-off gigs hanging sound systems for tours coming through London, but she wanted to take it to the next level and be on tour herself. She had built a great network, but was waiting for the phone to ring (and hustling like sound engineer A). Through our work together she started following up with the people in her network in a systematic manner. One of the first people she reached out to offered her a gig, and this summer she’ll be on an international tour with Pearl Jam.
Building your list
Our industry is flooded with a lot of wanna-be rock stars. I’m going to suggest that you adopt a more pragmatic view of your career and go after what you really want. Maybe get excited about being a kick-ass entrepreneur instead.
Whatever you decided to pursue, you can do it by setting aside an hour a week to work on your list. That’s it. You’re not going to build a thriving business overnight.
Start by going over all of the events you worked on during the past 4 years and highlight the ones that you truly enjoyed. Identify who hired you for the events, who referred you to that person, and any colleagues, artists, and management you met along the way. If your answer is “I don’t know,” find out. Then reach out.
Up until now you have relied on chance to bring you together with these people again, but I want you to have more agency over the opportunities coming your way. I’ve been helping people adapt this system to their own business for a few years now and I can tell you this: when you start getting close to 150 contacts, things change. Not only do more opportunities start coming your way, but you start to really understand how the whole machine works. You’ll have created a system that you can tweak over time until it delivers results that matter.
Build a list of 150 valuable business contacts over the next 6 months.
Let’s review our assumptions:
- The audio industry is based on personal referral (for better or worse).
- If everyone in the world knew about you and your great work, you’d be booked solid.
- You can increase your likelihood of getting rehired and referred by continuing to build relationships outside of work.
You’ve already been doing this on accident your entire life. Now all you need to do is figure out a way to repeat it regularly. I’m not talking about turning into a robot. Don’t waste your time with fancy automation solutions and CRM software. Just set reminders so that you no longer rely on happenstance to bring you together with your most valuable contacts.
Choose your own adventure
Now you have a choice to make. You can either set out on your own, or I can help you. You have all the tools you need to go it alone. You’re smart. You know how to make a spreadsheet. You know how to pick up the phone. You don’t need me for that.
Here’s the entire plan laid out for you: over the next 24 weeks, once a week, spend 1 hour adding another 7 people to your list and following up with anyone you haven’t connected with in 2 months. You might write out a schedule for yourself like this:
- Week 1 – On Sunday March 14 at 11am add contacts 1-7 (past clients) and follow up.
- Week 2 – On Sunday March 14 at 11am add contacts 8-14 (colleagues) and follow up.
- Week 3 – etc.
If you are going to go it alone, you can go ahead and get started and I will be happy to hear about your progress by commenting on this post.
But if you’d like a little help getting started, you can download the valuable contacts spreadsheet here.