Ok, well, you failed the first test. There’s no such thing as a get rich quick scheme gone right, and the internet savagely preys on poor, unsuspecting dreamers to feed their click-bait web of lies. Don’t do it! Scroll away….scroll away!! While I cannot provide you with riches and stardom (please see my stack of student loan debt for details), I can provide some insight on building a recognizable name for yourself in this industry. Remember that everything takes time, and everything takes continued effort, but Future You will thank Past You if the Present You puts in the work.
Pay Attention and Stay Alert
This step is possibly the most crucial step, and at the low, low price of $0, it’s pretty easy to achieve. Sound technology is ever and rapidly changing. Just when you’ve learned the latest console, it’s not the standard anymore. There are also many versions of the same thing, and learning those differences and how each is applicable in specific situations is vital.
One thing most sound engineers have in common is a love of gear talk. It’s a little bit annoying, but if you’re new to the industry, use this power for good. Stand near these people and absorb their conversations. Why does Engineer A prefer Sennheiser to Shure? Engineer B likes the CL5 for FOH, but the M32 for monitors. Why? Keep a small notebook or your notes app handy. When people in your world start using buzzwords that you don’t recognize, note them, and when you have time, go to the interwebz to research! Challenge yourself to learn something new every day, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll be able to jump in on the next Audio Battle of the Brains.
Join All The Groups
So, this is the digital version of Pay Attention and Stay Alert. My entire facebook feed is puppies, babies, and all the audio threads from the millions of groups I belong to. New to ProTools and need to learn some tricks? Join the Avid ProTools Users facebook group. Is your QL1 stumping you? Ask your friends in the Yamaha Digital Console Users Group. There’s a convenient search bar at the top of your facebook page, so even if you don’t know what to look for, start typing keywords, and something will pop up.
The thing about these digital groups is that some people are just full hot air, to put it nicely. You’ll have to learn how to separate the useful from the useless, and this happens by cross-referencing and fact-checking. Conversely, the more you hang out in these groups, the more you will start to notice the same names contributing to the conversations. You want to be one of those names. Don’t just join groups for areas where you need help, join for areas where you are a master.
Can you mix on any DiGiCo console with your eyes closed? You need to join that DiGiCo Users facebook group! Spread that knowledge! People in that group will start to recognize that you always have helpful advice, and will even starting tagging you on posts they know you’ll be able to help with.
No, I am not suggesting that you give your services away for free. Dealing with all of the “Oh you have a studio wouldn’t it be fun if made a record for free” of the world is something we all deal with (which another blog subject entirely). I’m suggesting that you share your brain and a little time with the world. A few years ago, I was on the Sound Commission meeting at USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology), and the Commissioner said he needed some new people to step up and help with a few projects they were starting. I added my name to the list, and a few weeks later, I was contacted and asked to serve on the jury for the USITT Sound Commission’s Paper Submissions on Current Practices and Research in Sound. My job is to help get the word about this program out, read submitted papers, offer feedback, and vote on which articles I feel are worthy of publishing. I do not get paid for this job, but I think it’s enjoyable, I learn a lot every year, and I have aligned myself with the other jury members, who are all stellar professionals in this industry. Many websites look for contributing bloggers (SoundGirls), and this is also an excellent way to spread the knowledge while also boosting your name recognition.
I am embarrassed to say that I have only just published my website, elisabethanneweidner.com (see what I did there?) about a month ago. I’ve got this neat little analytics app embedded into my website that tells me when people visit, and where they’re from. That small notification dings all the time, and sometimes I’m like, “Oh, Panama City, FL. That’s my mom…again.” Then there are times when I get dings from someone in Amsterdam, or London, or Ontario, and that makes me feel like I’m reaching a worldwide audience.
Website building, these days, is very easy, especially with the help of one of the many website builders like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace that are available at a variety of price points—including free. I use Wix, and so far, it’s been great. I did upgrade to a paid version that included my domain. Once you get that thing set up, get your friends to help you blast it all over the World Wide Web. List your website EVERYWHERE. Put it on your facebook, include it in your program bio, print it on your business card, make it part of your email signature.
One week after I published my website, I got a call from a production company offering me a job I did not apply for, and they said they obtained my CV from my site. That’s how you do it.
Networks, Schmoozing, and Conferences
You need to go to as many conferences as possible. They are an excellent way to network with other people in your industry, and they always have a lot to offer in the form of continuing education. Now, I know what you’re going to say—Conferences and travel are expensive. Yes, you are right. But there are many ways to help alleviate some of the financial burden. If you work in education, there are often programs available for funding “Continuing Education” trips. Talk to your HR Department, and see if any financial support like this is offered at your company. SoundGirls provides annual scholarships for education and continuing education as well as the SoundGirls – Gaston-Bird Travel Fund.
If you live in Los Angeles or Las Vegas and only need to worry about getting a conference pass, seriously ask the internet. I have never once paid for a NAMM pass. I’m always able to get one from some friend that works for some company that is a vendor at NAMM, and SoundGirls offers members NAMM badges every year. You know all those facebook groups you’re joining now? Ask in there! If that’s too creepy and forward for you, check out the list of vendors that will be attending the conference of your choice, and let them know you are interested in volunteering at their booth. Many vendors look for conference volunteers, and will only ask you to work a few hours for them in exchange for a conference pass. Once you’ve figured out how to get to the conference, talk to everyone, attend everything.
I was a late USITT bloomer, but when I finally went to the first one, I was blown away. I learned so much (and even got to test) a bunch of new gear, I got so many new ideas on how to improve my performance space and shop stock, and I met/networked with so many people. I still get emails from the sound designer friends that I met at that USITT passing along design contracts they were unable to take themselves. That’s what networking is all about.
Along the lines of conferences, participate in meet-ups. SoundGirls regularly has meet-ups all over the country, as does TSDCA, ASCAP, and a host of others. If you don’t know the people in those groups, they don’t know you, and they need to.
Here’s the most obvious, and my final piece of advice: Do a good job. When you go to work, do good work. Or even better, do great, fantastic, exemplary work. Word of mouth is always going to be the thing that humans rely on the most. As someone who does regular contracting, I can tell you that I will lean toward someone who was recommended to me by a trusted friend or colleague over McRandom person who sent 400 other companies and me their resume.
You need to be reliable, pleasant to work with, and good at your craft, but none of those things will matter if no one knows who you are. So get your name out there, and do good work. I hope to see you out in the world.
Elisabeth Weidner: Elisabeth is a sound designer, composer, and engineer based on California’s Central Coast. She holds a degree in Commercial Music from Florida State University, and has been working professionally in the live sound industry for over 15 years. She is currently the Sound Director and Resident Sound Designer/Composer for PCPA, Pacific Conservatory Theatre, where she started as the resident FOH Engineer. She has composed two full length young audience musicals, and is always working on the next one. Elisabeth also freelances as an audio/video technician at a local concert venue and as a West Coast sound designer for theatre.
Read Elisabeth’s Blog