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Accepting gigs beyond your skill level


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I've noticed quite a few postings lately with people asking very rudimentary questions. I often wonder if these questions arise when someone has a gig the next day and they have found themselves in over their head or if they are simply preparing themselves for the day when they do have a gig where they will need that knowledge.

I wonder why people accept gigs that they (should) realize are beyond their experience and skill level?

From time to time we all find ourselves in new situations where a little help from our friends is needed. Nothing wrong with that. However, when people are accepting gigs as a sound mixer and then asking questions about basic signal flow, gain structure, and cabling I find that rather frustrating.

These thoughts go hand in hand with the apprenticeship idea. In order to learn we each glean the knowledge of those who came before us. That may be in a school setting, working for free on no-budget student or indie projects, or by working as a sound utility under someone more experienced.

That learning should be done in a non responsible role where mistakes don't jeapordize the entire production. Intern, utility, PA, etc.

Productions don't want to pay sound mixers higher rates when their experience doesn't back it up. Productions are lowering their standards because they don't know any better and they don't know what good sound is. This stems from inexperienced people passing themselves off as experienced sound mixers and charging low rates just to get a gig or because they have no idea what an experienced mixer does/should charge.

I don't believe there is a simple solution to this issue. The issue, I believe, boils down to an individuals' integrity and personal responsibility. If you don't have the knowledge and experience, don't take the gig.

www.matthewfreed.com

Production Sound Mixing for TV, Films, and Commercials

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Good luck with that attitude. Most of us learned this job by doing it, few of us had real classroom training and not many had any sort of real apprenticeships. You ask questions, do some research and have at. If you survive you've advanced a notch. If you screw up you lose a client. This all was a lot scarier pre-internet--if you didn't have good contacts with experience in the biz you had to either call up a more experienced mixer and eat some crow to ask a few questions or hope that someone at one of the audio shops might help you. Nowadays you can post questions here and elsewhere, and if you are unpretentiously polite, specific and lucky you'll get the info you need very fast.

phil p

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I also learned by doing it and by reading as much as I possibly could...and by asking questions of everyone I could. I still ask questions when I realize I don't know the answer.

I started off doing music recording and live sound about 15 years ago. I was asked a handful of times to mix at a studio with an SSL 4056 G+ console and I turned down the sessions until I was confident I could do a good job. For those sessions I didn't feel comfortable I gave the client the name of someone who would do a good job and then I assisted on the session. This allowed me to learn the console without destroying my name with the client. Down the road, when I was confident I could navigate my way around the mixing desk and deliver a quality mix, I accepted gigs as the lead mixer on that same console. I could have accepted those first sessions and the client would not have known I wasn't up to the task...until we were un the room. That would have ended badly for everyone involved.

When I hear of camera ops who can't focus properly or hold a shot...or a sound mixer who doesn't know the very basics of signal flow I wonder why that person felt it was ok to accept the gig?

www.matthewfreed.com

Production Sound Mixing for TV, Films, and Commercials

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However, when people are accepting gigs as a sound mixer and then asking questions about basic signal flow, gain structure, and cabling. I find that rather frustrating.

And then there's the people trying to do complex jobs with an ME66 and a Zoom recorder. Or the guys lashing a $50 mike on the top of a Red Epic. Or people who don't have a clue about timecode or workflow. Lots of scary misinformation out there.

I like to think that that part of the industry naturally settles to the bottom, and successful producers will eventually figure out that you get what you pay for. But a lot of this is coming from many sides, affecting editors, visual effects people, sound mixers, re-recording mixers, colorists... you name it. Way too much $100/day stuff going on. I don't mind that with, say, a student film, but I'm offended when somebody attempting a serious commercial production goes in this direction.

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People accept work they're not qualified to do for two reasons. Money and experience. If they pull it off, they get both.

I think the bigger issue is why they are hired to begin with. Oddly, the same two things. The person hiring wants to save money and doesn't have the experience to know better.

Most the time, both parties end up getting what they need, but the person hiring hasn't actually learned anything. That'll come when the cheap mixer fails.

I don't expect this is different in most businesses that don't require documented training.

I have turned down jobs that I didn't feel I was equipped to handle properly. My reputation is important to me, and I didn't want to fail. But starting out, I took jobs because I needed the money, and felt confident I could pull it off. One such call came as a video guy when I was asked if I could do compositing and editing on set with FCP. I said "of course"! The next day I borrowed the program and bought "FCP for Dummies". The next week I started a three month visual effects unit on a $100m+ feature. It worked out fine, but it wasn't without some stressful moments.

Robert

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I hear you MFA. Those guys are out there, and unfortunately they seem to be everywhere working in every aspect of our lives. One of my biggest personal peeves is the parts guy at an upscale auto dealership that simply doesn't have a clue of how to find parts on the computer.

I've accepted that that's just how some people are, they con their way into jobs they don't really know, and I would guess that those individuals probably apply themselves in the same manner all day long, in every aspect of their lives—too bad (a good time for the saying, they rise to their level of incompetence).

I try not to let these guys bother me. Unfortunately, however, I do find myself working with them more often than I'd like. I handle it by keeping in mind to constantly outdo myself, and eventually those guys slip behind and fall to the wayside. In regards to these kinds if people taking jobs they're not ready for, I think this 'phenomenon' is never really going to end. And its everywhere! Like an epidemic out there in public. The saving grace for the rest of us (in film sound), I believe, is that their success falls into a kind of Darwinian scenario: for anyone who hires without doing proper research is only asking for trouble. The project will either sound poor, or the guy'll slip on standard protocol and find him/herself being called out (I seen this, and know boom-ops who refuse to work with certain mixers because of the mixer's lack of [fill in the blank]). Eventually, these guys that never do 'get it' weed themselves out of the game (or work a frustrating career). As well, I'm pretty sure these people asking rudimentary questions aren't competing with the A-list sound teams (or are they?). Are they competing for B-list jobs? Here I believe there're reasons why B films/projects are what they are in the first place—but there are too many to list (one of my personal favorite quotes: If you can't afford to make a film right, you shouldn't be making films!).

But like RPS said/did, there are guys out there with competence who need the work and just haven't done it yet. And if they're a good study, they can make it through relative unscathed.

On the other hand, I've often pondered how some workers (I use the term loosely) managed to get on some of these set, especially union gigs. Too bad we don't have competence requirements for membership, only days worked.

Sorry, but I tried coming up with a good zoo-animal analogy to close with here, something like "even a zoo animal shows up for food...," but that just doesn't make any sense.

Doug

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Here are just a paltry few of the things a professional sound mixer should know:

* What post needs and why

* Boom microphones (which, when, where, and how)

* Mic rigs

* Lavs (which, when, where, and how)

* Lav rigs

* Signal flow

* Level matching

* Impedance (matching and bridging)

* Decibel relationships

* Ohms Law and all its variations

* Masking effect

* Phase relationships

* Phase cancellation

* Comb filtering

* Standing waves

* Room nodes

* Average signals

* Peak signals

* Connectors

* Adapters

* Headroom

* Filtering

* Compression

* Limiting

* Time code (and all its variations)

* Camera variations and options

* Set protocol

* Craft services location

Then, there's the experience to know how to apply all the above and so much more.

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And I would add to John's list above some painful lessons (the first two taught to me by a boom op):

* basic lighting issues (and how to avoid boom shadows)

* endurance & stamina

* hum and ground loops

* power & grounding issues

* RF interference and Intermodulation

I love the job because there's much to learn on every shoot, and every project is different. Juggling the personalities, the logistics, and managing to stay one step ahead is a terrific challenge, and it's very enjoyable when you can make it through the day, knowing you made a positive difference.

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Speaking as someone who has fallen into production sound work, I'd say that I was able to leverage a lot of my knowledge from studio-based audio production and basic troubleshooting techniques over knowing the n-th degree of sound reinforcement/theory. That said, I look at the bullet lists above and measure up pretty nicely, though I wouldn't consider myself an expert at all of them (except perhaps the "craft services location" part).

The other stuff on the list are things I'm actively learning and researching. Sad thing for me is, I have neither the time nor the personal network to spend on apprenticeship/internship. I have to make a living, and as I said, I find that being in production sound is almost always about solving problems.

My two cents.

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Last year, I got two "mixers" from LA fired the first day of production.

They bragged a lot about all the shows the have worked on as mixers.

I realized they are full of shit when I got them to help me build the sound bags from the rental gear. They had no idea what they are doing and could not name a single piece of gear.

I spoke to the other A1 and told him that I would rather quit then spend almost 2 months with these idiots.

So we came out with a plan:

Give them assignments that same day and have them fail.

We sent the first one to a hotel for quick interview.The guy did not take any batteries, breakaway snake and even headphones.

The Cam Op and one of the writers were really pissed off.

We sent the second one to setup SMQVs on the first 8 talents. We gave him a list with frequencies for each name.

The idiot was wiring the lavs "on hot girl models" from the bottom and had no idea how to switch the SMQVs on.

Quick conversation with the producers, quick call to LA for replacement and they were both fired that same night.

Funny story:

A week later one of the replacement mixers was fired for screaming at everybody including the main boss.

REPLACED

A few days later the other replacement got fired for not only getting drunk at work but stealing a bottle of Single Malt scotch from the engineer.

REPLACED

What pissed me off the most about these 2 months was I took a lower daily rate because of a promise to work on a major ABC show that the same company was producing.

Never got it because they hired people from south america "Venezuela of all places" on work visas.

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Here are just a paltry few of the things a professional sound mixer should know:

* What post needs and why

* Boom microphones (which, when, where, and how)

* Mic rigs

* Lavs (which, when, where, and how)

* Lav rigs

* Signal flow

* Level matching

* Impedance (matching and bridging)

* Decibel relationships

* Ohms Law and all its variations

* Masking effect

* Phase relationships

* Phase cancellation

* Comb filtering

* Standing waves

* Room nodes

* Average signals

* Peak signals

* Connectors

* Adapters

* Headroom

* Filtering

* Compression

* Limiting

* Time code (and all its variations)

* Camera variations and options

* Set protocol

* Craft services location

Then, there's the experience to know how to apply all the above and so much more.

I would add knowing model and names of gear.

If you don't know what a 442,744t,mkh416 ect is you might be anything but a sound mixer.

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I had a gig last summer, small indi feature. I get introduced to XXXX am told he is going to help me with what ever I need.

I am working off a cart and his first question is what is that, looking at the Lectro Venue on my cart and stated he has never heard of Lectrosonics. Claims he does sound with a boom pole and a zoom. I pretty much did the gig on my own which was fine to me. My help xxxx mainly struts around with the only way I can describe is his hips are out of joint and his head is 5 times bigger than it should be. He is wearing a big black tool belt with a roll of blue masking tape hanging off it. With the tag left on so I am sure he can return the tool pouch to Home Depot at the end of the shoot. We give him the job of slating ( with my Deneke ) after he mumbles each take and then struts off to craft services filling his pie hole. On one shot we call for slate and he CAN"T find it. He set it down and can't remember where. I sound off at him and he gets defensive. I basically told him to pull his head out of his ass. I have enough work to do without looking for my gear at the end of the day. Needless to say he was gone the next day and production apologized to me. I don't mind people fresh out of college that are really trying to learn and be productive but the xxxx have no excuse being on any set.

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I would add knowing model and names of gear.

If you don't know what a 442,744t,mkh416 ect is you might be anything but a sound mixer.

Ya.... I see what you're saying, but honestly I think it's more valuable to be able to know what the tool does, what it's capable of, and be able to figure out how to operate it. What's the point in knowing that a 442 is a mixer, when you can't figure out how to operate it?

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Ya.... I see what you're saying, but honestly I think it's more valuable to be able to know what the tool does, what it's capable of, and be able to figure out how to operate it. What's the point in knowing that a 442 is a mixer, when you can't figure out how to operate it?

I am sorry but IMHO if a person doesn't know what 442,744t,ucr411 and um400 are I doubt he or she will be able to do the job.

Unless he or she was a mixer who just woke up from a 12 years coma and knows the basics.

I have seen how an excellent live and recording engineer struggles with production sound.

"- What? ??? No word Cock? I stick the lav on the clothing? WIth what a gaf tape? Something is wrong with my boom pole. It makes noise. Why not use Shure wireless? They are the best. Isn't the microphones supposed to point straight to the mouth? It is a lot harder when there is no loud instruments covering the voice."

I am not saying they can not learn on the job but if some body shows up for work saying : "I have never seen this small mixer. Looks cool." I would be very pessimistic .

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Ya.... I see what you're saying, but honestly I think it's more valuable to be able to know what the tool does, what it's capable of, and be able to figure out how to operate it. What's the point in knowing that a 442 is a mixer, when you can't figure out how to operate it?

I think the point is you'd be hard pressed to find someone who knows how to operate a 442 without knowing its called a 442... these are really basic components (industry standards) and unless someone's been in the jungle for the last 15 yrs. mixing on a CS104 (great

little mixer, BTW -- especially before the 442 came around) with a bunch of Vega's, then they should probably know what a 442 (etc.) is. While it is possible, a knowledgeable mixer who didn't know what a 442 is would definitely be the exception these days.

Anyhow, great thread -- I know I took gigs early on that I probably had no business doing -- total trial by fire... pulled it off though... yeah, steep learning curve... I kinda miss those days in a weird way.

~tt

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I must be the idiot you guys are talking about, because I wouldn't know a 442, from a 747. But, I do know how to spell Denecke! :wacko:

Nah Rich, you're the exception -- you probably don't do a ton of ENG-style / bag work... would have no reason to know a 442 from a 747... hint: they both have a bunch of switches and knobs, but only one of them will fit in a bread box. : )

~tt

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I think we all took jobs above our realistic level to build up the skills to get to where we are now. That is a part of what pushes us to be better sound mixers.

How far do you push yourself before you are destined to fail or can you pull it off. That is the question we have all had sleepless nights over.

I can not blame new soundies for wanting to push their limits, or doing jobs outside of their limits in order to establish themselves. Nor do I blame them for under charging, for the above reasons and often they know no better.

It sucks when we loose out on jobs to people who aren't up to the job. Some of those people will fade away and some will step up to be some one we will be proud to work alongside.

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