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Competition Versus Cooperation

By Dave Kuhn / April 24, 2015

The live audio field is historically a very competitive business. Those that get far and have long careers in this business have to have skill and a passion for the job beyond just a paycheck.

Before the advent of schools geared toward the audio field, live engineers came up thru a difficult “apprenticeship”—sweeping the warehouse, loading trucks and fixing cables—before ever getting near a console. Others worked long hours for little or no money in local clubs and churches honing their skills and learning by doing.

This atmosphere sometimes led to a very competitive relationship with other struggling engineers. Getting that plum gig with the touring act or world-class venue meant beating out a lot of other up-and-coming mixers. In many cases, an “every man for himself” attitude would prevail. An attitude that can become part of a touring engineer’s “modus operandi”.

Those of us that have spent our career touring have most likely seen this kind of competitive spirit come into play on the road. For instance, many of us have witnessed the headliner’s engineer make life a little more difficult for the opener’s folks than necessary.

But what advantage, if any, does this competition give us? Don’t we do better work and learn more when we co-operate with each other? For instance, say the monitor engineer has better luck using a specific mic on an input. If the FOH guy balks and insists on his favorite mic, the opportunity to discover a new and possibly better mic is lost. If, on the other hand, they co-operate then the monitor mix is more likely to please the artist, and the FOH guy has a new tool in his tool box. Everyone enjoys a better performance.

Is there any room in the touring environment for some healthy competition? What about, say, a festival situation? What, if any, would be the advantage of handicapping an opener’s audio options to make the headliner’s life easier?

In reality, trying to make another act “fail” so that your act “succeeds” helps no one, and only brings down the whole concert experience for everyone.

In the festival situation, it is often the best time to learn and trade new tricks and techniques with your fellow engineers, and not compete with them for more SPL or a “better” sound.

In my current working environment I often find myself working for more than one artist in a year. This means that I need to find a suitable engineer to substitute for me when I have two possible gigs on the same day. Experience has taught me to surround myself with talented, like-minded engineers that are trustworthy. People that have your back and can be depended upon to honor their commitments. Finding these types of people depends on co-operation and trust, two things that can be hard to cultivate when you are competeing with someone.

If you would like to have a career that spans decades, the best thing you can do to learn and promote yourself is to co-operate with others in your field. Share your successes and failures in a non-competitive environment and you may find yourself not only advancing your career, but also making life-long friends along the way.

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