BY ROBERT SCOVILL
A couple of months back, I was chatting with a very close friend of mine who was out on one of the summer’s blockbuster tours. Now it should be noted, that this friend of mine of many years now is not “of the audio persuasion”, he resides on “the other riser” … if you know what I mean. Now normally, I don’t reveal publicly that I actually converse with the “lighting folk”, let alone call them friends, but in his case, I do make an exception from time to time. Actually, I think he might be a closet audio guy.
At any rate, we have known each other for years and a central part of our relationship is to “wind each other up” at every opportunity. On this day he called to tell me that while on the tour he happened to be chatting with the FOH mixer for the tour (See what I mean? Audio guy wannabe!) and somehow my name came up in the discussion. Apparently the conversation concluded with a closing salvo from the mixer along the lines of – and forgive me, I’m paraphrasing here – “I think my mixing skills are on par with Scovill’s, he’s just a better marketer than I am … “
I nearly spewed coffee all over my desk and monitor screen as we both burst into a sizable giggle about it all. Now, I got the feeling that my friend thought I was going to be really angry or offended by this. But after the giggling subsided, I blurted out a “well … duh!”
Okay, I know … you’re scratching your head right now and saying “what the heck is he on about now?”
Well, consider this; as live sound engineers we are challenged throughout our careers with building a profile in a business where NO ONE we are trying to convince to hire us actually knows our names, or what we’ve previously done in the form of our work unless we tell them. We also have little-to-no way of demonstrating our abilities to a potential client while we’re trying to get the gig, unless they’re actually at a show etc. And, we do this all without representation. We do it all on our own. We are the talent, manager and booking agent all in one.
So, given the magnitude of that challenge measured against the fact that I’ve been fortunate enough to remain steadily active and employed in this crazy business since I was a teenager, and add to it that in my time I’ve been blessed with more recognition in the form press coverage and industry awards than I’ve probably deserved, then, yeah, I fully accept the moniker of “adept marketer”.
The skill—and rest assured, it IS a skill—of career management has served me very well. And guess what, it would likely serve you very well too, if you would devote even half as much time to it, as you do to getting that elusive kick drum sound. Being labeled a good manager and promoter of your career is not a knock, it’s a compliment.
But, after the giggling subsided and I cleaned up the spewed coffee, I remember being really struck by the thought that there was this air of “real mixers don’t need to promote or market themselves” in his comment. Hmmm … interesting. That thought took me right back to a few “engaging” conversations I had when I was operating my own record label and producing and scouting talent.
Many of the acts I was scouting and developing were very young, but even with the ones that were “seasoned” (read as: “had been chasing the dream for a long time”) there was this naivety in them that “ oh, we don’t need marketing man … our songs are great, we’re going to be huge”.
There it is, right there, right? “The idea that if we “stoop” to promoting our work or ourselves, it somehow compromises our integrity” … “ i.e. marketing and promotion is for the less talented and less noble” … Really? … REALLY?
I remember during this time having a lengthy discussion with one songwriter in particular and asking him “Dude, I mean, do you just see yourself sitting in your bedroom with the window open, playing your songs over and over, waiting on some label executive to just be driving by in your neighborhood with his car window down in the hope that he might stumble upon a good songwriter in the neighborhood? I mean, check this out; even if that IS your approach, believe it or not, by doing so you’re actually marketing yourself, you’re just doing a piss-poor job of it.“
Now, for us behind the scenes types… If you’re under the impression that you can rise to any significant level in the music production world without the skill and willingness to promote your wares and negotiate your own deals, you’re simply dreaming.
If you HAVE made it to any meaningful level of success and are under the impression that you’ve done this based soley on your audio skills, without any element of self-promotion … you are either delusional, or … you have not even come close to reaching your actual potential.
However, if you have mastered the skill of self management, meaning the ability to promote YOURSELF and YOUR SKILL SET, then the career, financial and profile heights you can reach simply have no ceiling.
All of that said, your skills, and more importantly, the results you achieve with those skills have to be front of mind at all times and job one, otherwise you’ll have very little to offer that is actually meaningful to promote. Promotion without an actual product will not get you very far.
The prioritizing of promotion in lieu of skill and accomplishment can be very tempting for folks just entering the field, especially in the social media driven world that we live in today. But here’s a word of caution for you folks just entering the market, especially you guys and gals just out of audio schools. Get out into the world and work anonymously for a while until you become sufficiently accomplished. Don’t be in too big of a hurry to step right into the spotlight. This is especially true in live sound where you may not actually want many people to know who you are, or what you’ve done with regard to your early efforts. Know what I mean? Save those stories for later on after you become more established. By then those stories will be “charming” ☺
Just as knowledge in and of itself can be very hollow without experiences to give it context, marketing and self-promotion is just as shallow and potentially damaging without the actual skills to back it up and give it context when it’s time to perform.
Okay, so what is the secret to promoting yourself and your skills gracefully? Meaning; not coming across as some egomaniacal buffoon, or newbie know-it-all that appears to be shoving everyone else out of the way so that you can grab the spotlight. Well, what I’ve always been taught is that you don’t advance by shoving other people down or out of the way. You advance by lifting other people up and then having them in turn help you up. By doing so, you actually let those you help, do your “marketing” for you.
Here’s a prime example of what I mean. Now, I’d be the first to freely admit that I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career. I’ve been allowed to hang out and absorb advanced audio techniques, and maybe just as importantly social skills, from some of the greatest mixers – both live and studio – the business has had to offer. And here’s the thing; I’ve yet to meet ANY of these VERY accomplished men and women who were not willing to share everything they know about what they do. They’re confident enough in their own abilities and future to not be threatened by those who will one day potentially compete with them. It’s a great example of leading by example and being a servant to your peers and your industry.
I was taught at a very young age from a father figure in my life that; “leadership is a servants role; true leaders serve anyone who will allow them to do so and they serve even those that won’t. Faux leaders on the other hand, sit back expect everyone to serve them”
What the example set by these true leaders has encouraged me to do in my career is freely and willingly accept the role to share the “what, where, how and why’s” of my experiences in the business with any one who will listen. i.e. “this is what I’ve learned, this is where I learned it, this is how I do it and this is why I think it just might help you.”
So, if by doing that, it defines me as more of a marketer than it defines me as a mixer … well then yeah okay, mea culpa; guilty as charged. And ya know what? Funny thing, the more I share, and the harder I work at my mixing AND my career management efforts; i.e. marketing … the luckier I seem to get. Hmmmm …
Like I said, “duh!”