Being Invisible to Get Noticed
Everyone wants to get ahead in their line of work. It’s how we have been raised, it’s what life coaches, motivators, influencers, social and mass media are telling us - if you are not bettering your career and making new opportunities for yourself, then you are not even stagnating, you are being left behind. So we all keep pushing for the next big tour, the next bigger band, larger production, better gear. However, the funny thing in the live audio business is that although being proactive when finding work is desirable, sticking out when you are actually doing your job might be counter productive.
Who is behind the console?
Let’s start with the most obvious one - if your work warrants people to actually notice the sound, you are in trouble. If we are mixing FOH, our sacred calling is to be the invisible bond between the stage and the audience. We are there to provide the illusion that what is being created on stage is magically brought to the ears of the listeners and is exactly what the artist intended. The moment we do something that break the illusion, we get noticed. Forget the obvious suspects like feedback, even an improper choice of a reverb can sometimes ruin the experience. The minute the majority of the crowd is bothered by your artistic choice is the minute you have lost the game.
Here is the bad news: there will always be people that will comment on the sound, no matter how well you think you did that night. After all, we are very personal and subjective when it comes to perceiving sound. And here is the good news: the vast majority of the audience will have a much lower standard of what constitutes a “good sound” than you. We have been programmed for years to dissect, analyse, compare, and judge what we hear to the last molecule of air that hits our eardrums. We obsess over that second tom that just doesn’t sit well or that delay cue on the vocal that we have maybe missed. And we absolutely should, because that is our job. But for the rest of the audience, the stakes are much lower than that, meaning that they usually react only to severe anomalies in sound rather than to the minutia we obsess about.
So your objective in that scenario is not to have people turn their heads in your direction. Sometimes it can’t be helped - the act will do something they shouldn’t or the gear is just not there to match the needs. But for everything else, making sure nobody knows how you look at the end of the gig should be your mission statement.
Who is on the team?
There is another, even more important aspect of the invisibility that could further or hinder your career path - standing out in the team for bad behaviour. You never want to be the person that is arriving late to a call and be singled out for that. You don’t want to be the one that has to borrow gear or accessories to do their job all the time. And you definitely don’t want to be the grumpiest apple of the bunch all the time. You should always try to be a part of the team and not stand out in any negative way. When you are a part of a team, you are considered a valuable member. Once you start becoming visible by taking shortcuts or being unprepared for shows, then your “visibility” will warrant a missed call back. It might sound counterintuitive to not try and stand out in front of your bosses, clients, organisers, but the goal here is to make things happen either before someone even asks for them or without much fanfare when the request comes in. I think there is a reason that we all wear generic black on stage and behind the console. It not only hides our presence from the crowd, but it also signifies our ultimate modus operandi: you should work extremely hard to conceal your work from everyone in the end. If I don’t see a cable on the stage, someone has done their job well. If guitars appear at the exact moment you need them as if by some Harry Potter magic, someone is being professional. If an artist never asks for a monitor correction during a gig, it’s another win for the stealthy team. And ultimately, that is always what we should be aiming for.
If you want recognition and praise, you might want to reconsider your career options. Because live audio crews at their best are like efficient ninjas: they all wear black, you never know they were there and when the job is perfectly executed, they disappear silently into the night. People will never know what obstacles you had to overcome to set up a show, and they never should. That is why being invisible can sometimes be your best option of getting ahead in our line of work.