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Breaking In, How? (Greenie Question)

William Hirsch

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Hello! My name is William, and my question is a simple one, albeit over-asked. 

How does one get into the industry?

I mean this in the most general sense. Should I start low and work my way up? Should I just buy a bunch of sound gear and pray? There seems to be so many paths to take, but I am unsure and honestly scared. I don't know what I'm doing and would love to hear what other people have done, and what's worked and what hasn't.

My Current "Plan"

My current plan is to move to Georga in the coming year, specifically Atlanta. I thought it would be best to try contacting people that are already in the industry, asking if they need any help with a Sound PA or Utility. I am willing to wrap as many cables and get them as much coffee as necessary. Hopefully, one day I can buy some of my own gear and start actually working as a Mixer/ENG on various productions. I don't see that as happening for a long time though.

Does this sound like a good plan? Or would it unprofessional to just contact people already in the industry asking for work? What do you suggest I change about my current "plan of attack"?


Thanks for your help!

~William Hirsch

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I'm not living in the US so I'm not 100% familiar with the work ethics, but a few universal things come to mind:

Do you have a formal sound engineer education? Knowledge is easy to carry and a good education will give you a good ground for more advanced learning and provide you with the basic skills to get started. And you don't have to invent the wheel all the time, "just" learn the tricks of the trade from professionals. With an education in the back, you will feel more confident when doing your first couple of professional jobs. Also, if you're lucky, the education will get you in contact with local professionals, maybe one of them might become your patron/mecenat in the future.

Figure out what kind of sound engineering work that you would like to do the most, because that's the job that you will do best. It will take some time to figure out and you need to try a bunch of different job until you find what does it for you. :-)

Even if you're a rookie, you don't have to tell everybody all the time. Sure, you shouldn't exaggerate your skills because that might bite you in the back down the line, but you don't have to diminish your skills either - that might create nervousness in the team. "I'll look it up" is a better reply than "I don't know". ;-)

Don't be afraid to fail, trip over, hit someone with the boom, cast a shadow in the face of the main character, miss a line, forget to change batteries etc. Just apologize and learn not to do the same mistake again. And again, and again and again. Failing is the best way to learn.

When the pressure is on people can loose their heads, don't take it personally. Do what I do, hit them with kindness. Nothing is more disarming than kindness, even if you know you're right and they're wrong. Who cares...just get the job done.

ALWAYS be on time, nothing is more annoying than waiting for people, especially if they're rookies. :-O

As much as you will be judged by your work skills, you will be judged by your social skills, so work on them. One way to get into a team fast is to be curious what the others do at the set, check out the audio connections on the camera but don't fool around with the camera, ask the camera guy if he needs some help with the light stands or offer to stand in position to check the light and angles. Get the conversation going. Be inquisitive and curious, but also know when to back off when people are busy.

When you've done some jobs and gotten some confidence, when you get the chance, do the jobs that scares you. The jobs that you think that you might not be able to pull through. Because they will keep you on your toes and make you even more confidence. God forbid should you fail, well then it will be a valuable learning lesson that can't be taught in-class. Also, these kinds of work will move you up the ranks (if in nobody else's eyes, well then in your own eyes).

Regarding equipment, I think you should try to work with professional rental gear as much as you can, because that's the best way to learn the gear (and the workflow). There's nothing wrong with running around with a Zoom recorder, a Rode shotgun mic and a G3 system, but IMHO that kind of simple setup will easily get in the way of your work and might potentially cause problems for you. But, if you really have the urge to get your own setup, do start with a used SD442 or similar mixer, two G3 systems and a boom and shotgun mic. And take it from there. You will of course be more attractive to indie film makers and small corporate film gigs if you have you're own equipment.

If you get your own equipment then practice. Walk around with headphones and swing the boom at home or at a friend's place, try chasing a conversation with the mic, fool around with hiding a lav mic next to a shirt's button etc. Get to know your equipment.

When you start out looking for jobs, be prepared to answer the question: "What can you do for us?" in twenty words or less.


The best of luck! :-)


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The reason this question gets asked a lot is because there is no answer. Or rather, your answer will be different from everyone else's.

Pretty much everything you said is good except for buying gear and praying. Rent or borrow gear until it makes sense to buy. If you want to work on big shows, get on big sets. Find the balance between observation and action. Be useful and indispensable. Find the right time to ask questions. Be early. Propose solutions instead of just identifying problems. Always look for ways to be worth more money, and learn to ask for it. Most of all be safe and have a good time - it can be a great job and a great life!

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my question is a simple one, albeit over-asked. 

and what has been the response when it was asked previously?  It was probably the same.


Don't be afraid to fail, trip over, hit someone with the boom,

But, if you really have the urge to get your own setup, do start with a used SD442 or similar mixer, two G3 systems and a boom and shotgun mic.

I agree with everything Norén said, but i think you should absolutely avoid ever hitting someone with the boom.  Getting in as close as possible, sure.  but that can be learned with caution and practice.  I've never hit someone while trying to get within inches of their head.  Always remember safety first.

And I'd caution against using analog mixers for new production sound mixers or one man bands.  Yes, I understand why it was the norm for decades and why it's always suggested, but the modern requirements for a shoot (and especially for small, cheaper gigs) will always prefer to have ISO tracks on decent gear over a mixed signal with great preamps on fewer tracks. But this is another topic.

Contacting professionals in the area is a great idea.  Even if to shadow them for a few days, it makes you contacts and gets you experience.  And you definitely want to know as many of your fellow mixers/sound people in your market as you'll be working with them in the future.  So yes, move to where there's more opportunities for work.

Great advice has always been to shut up and listen.  People dont want to be bombarded with questions about things that can be easily looked up.  Ask only when you feel you can't find the answer on your own.  That's when you'll truly gain the most from a mentor, but going back to Norén's point I really agree on - build your social skills.  You wont work unless people like to work with you.

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