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What are You….Really???

Aaron “Cujo” Cooley

Let us not beat around the bush. Things are tough right now. The marketplace is flooded, the jobs are far-flung, under-budgeted, under-funded, scarce, or just plain being run by fools. Add to that the fact that recording technology has advanced by light years in the recent past and it seems that the whole universe is conspiring against you and your efforts to make a living. Equally true though is the fact that there are many in the business that are doing just fine, with plenty of work for the foreseeable future. A fine lesson would be to learn what it is exactly that differentiates one group from another.

A common complaint is that wages for a mixer are in the basement. Examples are the countless ads for a “sound guy” for as little as $100.00 per day with all the gear. It might read like this :

“Sound mixer needed for a fantastic feature crewing up now. Be a part of a fabulous creative team working in a fast paced environment with all hands on deck. The budget is tight, but we have a fantastic DP and will be releasing this project on the festival circuit. The budget is tight, but we include credits and food with your deal.

Pay $100.00 per day with equipment.”

It’s a valid complaint, but not a valid excuse. I have no pity for those who take these jobs when they complain what a crappy gig it turned out to be. No professional worth his salt would take a gig like that. Many ask - “How do I compete with that? ”—This my friend, is the wrong question.

The real question is: What ARE you? – Depending on what you are is important to the response for this job.

Are you a mixer, a recordist, or just a button monkey ? – Depending on the job, you have to choose one. Mixers get paid big bucks, recordists get paid medium bucks, and button monkeys eat tuna subs. Whichever one you pick is fine, and it’s ok to be any or all of these at different times or different days, but understand the parameters of the chair you are sitting in.

To be intellectually honest, the ad above is not looking for a mixer, a recordist, or even a sound guy. They are looking for a button monkey to hit record when the camera turns on and hopefully not fall asleep between takes. Sounding good is purely by accident. I would suspect that anyone reading this lesson is past that level of qualification, but you never know.

If you are working with a 2 channel recorder, a basic lav, and a boom, yes I guess technically you can mix the two, but really you are equipped and working as a recordist and your pay will reflect that. Depending on your ability, you might even be a button monkey and get paid even less. Fact is, the job that hires for this type of gig doesn’t want a mixer, they just probably don’t know what to call it. You have to decide for yourself if that is what you will be that day and be savvy enough to recognize the difference in pricing for that particular product package.

Conversely, there are guys who have a wad of Daddy’s money and gear who claim to be mixers. Life isn’t fair all the time. Deal with it. They might get work that you are qualified to do and they might get paid well for a time, but soon their skills (or lack thereof) will move them on down the line to relative obscurity leaving a hole for the upwardly mobile to move into. Will you be ready ?

It is important that you recognize that zero or near zero jobs will never go away. They are as constant as the sun rising and setting. There will ALWAYS be people to fill these jobs. The ONLY thing that changes is who these people are.

The reality is this. YOU need to examine YOUR business model and move on the work that is in YOUR realm of expertise and equipment. Know what you are worth, and take the work that applies to you.

Chances are that you are not one of the select few that will get a 100 million dollar gig…Chances are equally strong that you don’t need a 100 dollar gig either.

Keys from this lesson:

Be intellectually honest with yourself

Zero or near zero jobs will never go away

What is the job --- Really.

What are you --- Really.

Take the work that is YOURS and don’t worry about the rest.

Cheers and happy mixing my friends !


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" They are looking for a button monkey to hit record when the camera turns on and hopefully not fall asleep between takes. Sounding good is purely by accident. "

not meaning to hijack this lesson, as it is a good one, but I've been wanting to say something that I think goes well here...

We frequently lament here on jwsoundgroup.net, that these folks will not get "good sound" for these projects because they do not pat well... there is another huge factor about these shoots that will probably result in the production sound being poor, no matter what they pay, or who they hire: these folks do not know how to make a movie!

No one, regardless of what they charge, how much experience they have or what equipment they use will be able to produce professional quality results, let alone fulfill the unreasonable expectations of these wanna-bee's.

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While I agree that SM makes a valid point, I think he paints with too broad a brush. Experience, ability, and success isn't necessarily an "all or nothing" situation -- it's a sliding scale.

However, there is often a correlation between pay and the experience, dedication, and ability of the people helming the project.

Good lesson, as usual, Cujo.

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