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You gotta love live sound

You have to love it for various reasons. Although many have a love-hate relationship with it, there are many things we can learn from it, and it’s even more true if we are partly working in it. Of course I’m somewhat biased because although in full time I’m a post-production engineer I continue to work in live sound in a freelance basis. I gathered some of my experiences that may help post guys in achieving better results, because like it or not, although it is vastly different from post work it is still an adjacent industry working with sound.

You won’t find many similarities in these jobs but I’m certain that each can learn a few things from the other, even if someone really hate live sound. Probably these profoundly different workflows and situations give the real means that can help us to develop very useful skills in the other part of the industry.

Make decisions and stick to them

Probably the biggest advantage one can learn from some live sound work is how to make decisions in tough environments. Amidst the often frantic tempo of live sound gigs you simply won’t have time to contemplate on things. Your aim is to rapidly find the best solution even if you don’t have all the necessary information, even if the information you have is not accurate or not detailed enough. No one will wait for your well thought-out plans, and if you don’t want to make many people furious, you should really try hard to put things into the proper order.
But wait, how can I make such good decisions if the information I get is inaccurate?
Well, that’s the hard part which gets better if you gain more and more experience but only if you really pour yourself into the process. The plan don’t have to be dead accurate, but must be plausible.

The point is to learn to make serious decisions based on very incomplete information. How is it helping you in the post world?

It helps you to be very focused yet still very open minded about the upcoming problems you might encounter for example during a mix session. Obviously you won’t always have the right answer for the given problem, but as you gradually getting better in this decision making process, your success rate will go up.

Adopt, adapt and improve

Just as the famous scene from Monthy Python. I know it may sound confusing, but you have to be able to drop your plan at the right moment. I know that a few lines above I just suggested to make a decision and stick with it, and it’s true. But it’s equally important to develop your 6th sense and realise if something is not working or won’t work, so you need another solution. In this scenario if you cling to the wrong plan, you can ruin your chances very quickly. It’s really a double-edged sword. On one hand you need to make decisions and try to stick to them, on the other hand you should never forget the possibility that you might have chosen the wrong path. In this case the best solution is to throw out your bad plan, and as quickly as possible, choose another solution which would seem to work in the given situation.

I know it’s a bit vague, maybe even daunting, but in reality it’s not rocket science. If I want to really simplify this I would say: learn to be sober in frantic situations and learn to recognise and correct your own mistakes. That’s it. In my experience live sound is a very good learning field for this.

However quick shouldn’t mean rushed. When you’re in a tough situation which need to be solved immediately and you surrounded by sleep deprived, testy, nervous people, try to stay calm and focused. It’s easier to say than to do it, but again, with some practice you’ll become better at this. How can this really be any help in the post world?

In my experience every director, sound supervisor, etc. become more confident in your work if you remain calm and constructive even amongst the biggest challenges. Obviously this does not mean that you don’t care, quite the opposite: you must care enough to develop this skill so you can solve, or at least suggest possible solutions for the given problems.

Don’t afraid to fail

Again, live sound is probably the perfect training ground for this. Anyone who did many shows know that sometimes we fail. Maybe we have a very bad day, or the PA is horrible, or the venue is a nightmare and you don’t have enough time for soundcheck. At some point in your path, you’ll fail. The show will go on, you’ll feel very bad about it, but I suggest you to get used to it, or at least don’t be afraid of failing. This is very important. It’s never about your own ego. It’s about the gig, show, film, fx, production, etc. If you’re not willing to leave your ego at the door, than you’ve chosen the wrong industry doesn’t matter if it’s live or post sound.

No matter how big cliche: learn from your mistakes or fails. The question is not that how can you eschew any mistake, but how you treat them or what you learn from them. Honesty is the best here. Even if someone ridicules you for it. The worst possible strategy is try to hide, deny your fault or try to lay the blame on somebody else.

“My ego comes pre-shrunk”
Randy Thom

Be fast

Learn to be a fast pace operator. In order to efficiently solve problems or able to do a full sound check rapidly, you need to be technically prepared. If you struggle with the console, constantly adjust the wrong channel because you forgot to select the right one, you’ll be in a very bad position. This is very, very important in post production too. Learn the tools. If the equipment you try to use is an obstacle, then you need more practice. I realise that no one can know everything, but as in every job, there are basics, special workflows, shortcuts, general system knowledge. If you lack at some areas here, try to improve them “offline”. Even if it seems bitterly boring, practice even basic things until you feel that you would execute the task no matter what may happen around you.

It’s like language. If anyone try to learn a foreign language, there is a point where the person’s active vocabulary is smaller than the passive one. So while I understand an article for example, cannot eloquently tell the story to others, because my active vocabulary lacks. What should I do then? Practice, practice and practice. It’s the same in the audio world. Simply put, it’s not enough if you heard about Pro Tools, you must be able to operate it. And you won’t be able to operate it properly if you only tried it once or twice.

Remember it’s fun

Never ever forget that this job is tremendous fun. Really! Despite all the hard things, all the sleep deprivation and long hours. Consider these things:

  • you always learn new things
  • meet new people (clients, colleagues)
  • work on funny, serious, evocative, good, etc. material
  • you can be creative (actually you must be!)
  • always challenged so you won’t be ever bored

These are just a few highlights because there are so many it would fill multiple long blog posts. Grit is what makes you better day by day. Stick with the upcoming problems, put effort into the solutions and it will be good fun and a real good learning experience too. At least in my opinion of course.