I have written before about the need to have a back-up plan for when times are tough What’s Your Plan B. We literally work in a gig economy and there are plenty of reasons why you might not be able to make ends meet solely through audio. Whether it’s an injury, family illness, recession or global pandemic keeping you from working, or you simply want a bit of a change for a while, knowing you have an alternative job you can fall back on (preferably one you can do in any health, from anywhere) can be invaluable.
Unfortunately, we in the live music industry like to think we’re a totally unique, ragtag bunch of misfits, who’ll never be able to stick a “normal” job. I’ve been told many times that the only way out of live audio is to move into a less physically demanding role that is still in the industry, like production management or an office job with a hire company (or death!), because our talents are so idiosyncratic and we just don’t fit in anywhere else. This exceptionalist mentality can even extend to calling people outside the industry “muggles” or even “civilians” like we’re a band of magical Navy SEALs. The bad and good news is we are not as special as we like to think. If you’re considering an alternative career or just supplementing your income, there is hope. You already have plenty of transferable skills that you can use to your advantage. Here are just a few of them:
You’re self-motivated: If you’re a freelancer, you know you need to hustle for every gig. You organise your own education and training, network like your life depends on it and keep up to date with industry news. Even if you’re a full-time employee you will still do most of these things. At work you are task-orientated, managing your time and prioritising your workflow without direct supervision so everything is ready for doors.
You’re hard-working: You work long hours in a job that is both physically and mentally demanding and you take it in your stride. Have you ever had to sympathise with a friend who complained about having to do a nine-hour shift in retail? Or someone who had to stay in their office until 8 pm to finish paperwork? All the while thinking about the forty-five hours you had put in over the previous three days? Of course, every job has its own challenges, but long hours are not something you shy away from. Neither is lugging heavy flight cases across a field or literally getting your hands dirty pulling cables.
You’re a team-player: While you can be trusted to get on with working by yourself, you also have plenty of experience as part of a team. You’ve probably worked with difficult colleagues, in tough circumstances, and still made the show a success. If you’ve led an audio crew or worked with stagehands, you have evidence of leadership and delegation.
You’re flexible: When was the last time you did a gig where everything was exactly as you expected it to be? Channel list updates, technical faults, late arrivals, and spontaneous changes to the schedule are part of our everyday lives. Similarly, you might be patching a festival stage one day, doing FOH for a conference the next, and fitting mics for a musical the day after that. We are used to change and know how to adapt to each situation.
You’re smart!: Even if, like me, you don’t have a formal qualification in audio, you have a massive working knowledge of acoustics, electronics, and software management. If you can read a console manual and stay awake through the whole thing, let alone understand it, you’re doing better than a big chunk of the general population. It’s easy to forget that we deal with some pretty complicated topics, but we do, and often in very challenging and time-constrained circumstances.
You’re an experienced troubleshooter: This is where all that frustration over technical issues was worth it. If you can look at a setup, imagine the signal flow in your head and work through each potential point of failure, you can look at the big picture in any situation and think about potential solutions to problems. Attempting fixes in a calm, logical, and methodical way, and keeping track of what does and doesn’t work, can be a highly useful but surprisingly rare skill in many work environments.
You’re multilingual: You are so fluent in tech-speak you don’t even notice it anymore. However, perhaps, more importantly, you can also talk like a normal human and can speak client. Good communication skills are paramount in any job, and they don’t solely involve talking. Effectively listening and truly understanding what’s being said is just as important, if not more, as making yourself understood. Being able to interpret and respond to nerd-speak or a musician’s complaint that their monitors sound a bit too.. you know… green… or floooshy…, or effectively and diplomatically translating what the issue is to the non-technical end client, is an incredibly valuable talent that can be applied to countless work scenarios.
You’re calm under pressure: Gigs are some of the most stressful work environments in the world: extremely tight time constraints, expensive and complicated equipment that could ruin the whole gig if any failure occurs, and rooms full of intoxicated and excitable crowds. It’s like if someone had an hour to prepare their big presentation for corporate while being jostled by drunk people who keep spilling their beers on the keyboard. We deal with that level of acute stress on a daily basis, and we’ve learned to remain calm and think clearly throughout.
According to this Forbes article, The 7 Transferable Skills To Help You Change Careers, the seven most sought-after traits in job postings are technical skills, communication, critical thinking, multi-tasking, teamwork, creativity, and leadership. If you can solve a technical issue, work with your department to fix it, and keep your client updated on your progress while keeping soundcheck rolling, you’ve just demonstrated all seven of those traits without even thinking about it.
Whether you’re looking to change career or just diversify a little, you already have a solid skillset to help you. Listing your strengths accompanied by real-life examples can show potential employers how you’re a better fit for the position than they might think from simply seeing your job history. This article from the UK job site Indeed has good guidelines for how to adapt your resume (CV) for a change of direction. Our industry might be very unusual, but that doesn’t mean we’re doomed to become institutionalised. Of course, we’re all special and as unique as snowflakes, just like everybody else, but we can be rehabilitated to adapt to “normal” jobs. Find something that interests you and give it a go. You can always re-enlist in the magical Navy SEALs if it doesn’t work out.
Beth O’Leary is a freelance live sound engineer and tech-based in Sheffield, England. While studying for her degree in zoology, she got distracted working for her university’s volunteer entertainment society and ended up in the music industry instead of wildlife conservation. Over the last ten years, she has done everything from pushing boxes in tiny clubs to touring arenas and spends a lot of her life in muddy fields working on most of the major festivals in the UK. She has a particular passion for flying PA, the black magic that is RF, travel, and good coffee.