Get and Keep That Gig
By Simon Byrne.
I used to run a decent sized production company in Canberra. Our bread and butter was corporate AV events but we also did a lot of music industry gigs. At our largest, we had 22 full time staff and about 20 more casuals on the payroll.
I have to tell you, being personally responsible for paying out more than $20,000 in payroll every week really gets your attention! Labour typically accounts for up to about 50% of a company’s outgoings, yet only 40% of the charge out. That means that whilst employees are absolutely essential, they are a liability if they are not bringing value to the organisation and must be properly managed.
An employee obviously needs to be able to carry out the duties required of them. This is expected of any employee, that aside what are the attributes an employer is looking for? In my view, a great can-do attitude is super important. When the pressure is on, the last thing you want is added grief from your own team members!
The boss wants and needs people that are totally reliable and this is driven by positive attitude. Attitude extends to dealings with the client. Clients of course appreciate good gear, but what they really notice are the people that make or break a good gig. A good attitude helps the employee progress their career as well. Every job might be the one that leads to your dream gig so it makes sense to have a positive can do attitude on every gig that you do. A good attitude is a win for the organisation that you work for, a win for the client, and most importantly a win for you.
As an employer, I can tell you that difficult staff are a liability and won’t be called on when better people are available. There is just too much pressure in our industry already to tolerate staff who create more of it.
Our industry is demanding on our time and the work is often on during unsociable hours. Good reliable staff make themselves available for the ugly shifts too. The load in, pack down and load out are just as important as the show itself.
When the show is finished, the Production Manager may have been working for 15 hours already and really appreciates it when the load out goes quickly and safely. Stay healthy and well rested for work. The days are long. Admittedly back-to-back gigs may make it tough to get as much sleep as you’d like, so in those situations stay as healthy as you can.
Self-imposed problems will limit your options dramatically. Turn up to a gig under the influence of alcohol or drugs and you can kiss your job goodbye. No Production Manager responsible for the safe delivery of a job, or the rest of the team wants someone working alongside them that is unsafe.
Never burn bridges, it is amazing where people end up in 10 year’s time and you might need to work with them in the future. They may even offer you your dream gig!
So where are the jobs? We are an industry of networks, therefore you need to get in front of the people who make the decisions on hiring. I don’t think I have ever heard of someone getting a job in this industry without someone knowing someone.
Casual work is the way most people get into the industry. If you prove to be a good worker you will undoubtedly move forward and more responsibility is put your way. This often leads to more permanent gigs and your career goes from there.
There are quite a few groups on Facebook where people advertise for crew. Get onto to these, get some work and make some new contacts. Whilst I mention Facebook, is there anything in your profile that may be problematic? You can guarantee that any employer looking to put on full time staff will have a quick look at the candidate’s Facebook profile.
Corporate is where most of the bread and butter work is. It is more reliable but let’s be honest, can be boring and the times can be ugly. Getting up at 04:00hrs to have a gig ready for a doctor’s breakfast meeting is not that enticing. Being corporate though, it is consistent work where you can hone your skills and the pay is better at the entry level.
The music and theatre side of things is much more interesting, but harder to get into at a high level. There is less consistent work around so there isn’t as many opportunities for full-time careers. People who want to work in this part of the industry should not be discouraged, just be mindful that you might find yourself in some lean times and plan accordingly. Who knows, that pub band you’ve been mixing could take off and so does your career!
The crewing services can be a good way to get in. Australia has some great crewing services and they often need to fill their books when the big gigs are on. You are expected to work really hard and efficiently. You get to learn how a big show runs as you get involved in some of the biggest events around plus you get to make contacts. Be prepared to be shouted at. Don’t worry, it’s not personal. Crewing services are demanding of their workers, they have to be. They play a huge role in getting a gig up and running on time and they take great pride in getting it done right and quickly.
Formal (paid-for) courses – is it worth it? In government and education sectors, maybe, because formal education is more valued in those. However, not for getting a gig in the private sector. Unfortunately the production industry has had a chequered past in terms of industry training and it hasn’t always delivered graduates who are better than the rest. There is no doubt that formal education makes you a better operator with a balanced perspective, but it is not an entree into a choice role.
Here is the thing; most of the senior people in the industry did not start their careers with a stand-alone course. That being the case, it is hard for them to visualise how a candidate is likely to be a better team member because they’ve done one. It is easier to simply give someone some shifts and see how they go.
Some forward thinking companies such as AV1 in Sydney are introducing traineeships. Entry level staff get on-the-job training combined with formal education at TAFE. This is a great model because the employee gets the best of both worlds; the formal education backed up with real world experience and some pay. It’s good for the employer too because they develop staff in ways that work for their operation. This is should be the model for the future.
Internships. I’m also a fan of limited internships but it has to be real and not for unreasonable periods. Your time has a value but trading your time for knowledge is probably worthwhile as long as you are getting that knowledge.
If you are a good proactive learner, you will get more paying work.
A formal agreement setting out each party’s expectations is essential for these arrangements. Self-education is invaluable and the resources on the web are vast. The more you can learn, the better operator you will be, the more useful you’ll be and the more enjoyment you’ll get from your work. Once again there are quite a few Facebook groups for all facets of the industry so get involved in those too. I’m constantly impressed by the depth of knowledge in Facebook groups.
The gig not floating your boat? Moving on is best for you and the employer. I’m a believer that everyone seeks out their own path in this world. If you are not happy with the direction of your career, change it.
Be ambitious and drive your career. I’ve watched the generation behind me and I’m delighted that a couple of my ex-staff are now mixing world class acts out of the US and UK, and several others have their own production companies. These guys and girls were smart, had the right attitude, furthered their education themselves, and of course were ambitious.
This article first appeared in the print edition of CX Magazine May 2018, pp.54-55. CX Magazine is Australia and New Zealand’s only publication dedicated to entertainment technology news and issues. Read all editions for free or search our archive www.cxnetwork.com.au
Related reading from Juliusmedia:
Biz Talk – Contractor or Employee? It Makes a Difference
Published monthly since 1991, our famous AV industry magazine is free for download or pay for print. Subscribers also receive CX News, our free weekly email with the latest industry news and jobs.