The first money I ever made from sound work was £20. This was whilst shadowing the senior engineer who had decided for the last band that he would rather be propping up the bar than riding the faders.
He left me in charge of the desk and paid me the twenty at the end of the night. Twenty quid for one band? This seemed like ludicrously easy money and I thought to myself, “if only I were willing to work a whole shift for that £20. I would have more work than any engineer in a five mile radius”.
The thought, however, was fleeting. There was no way as a professional engineer (with a fancy schmancy bit of paper to prove it), was I going to work for less than minimum wage just to get a foot in the door. Nobody ever got anywhere by selling themselves short.
This unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the attitude of many other young engineers in the city desperate to start their careers by whatever means necessary.
Admittedly, my first few months at The Maze were unpaid but then it wasn’t real work. I watched the other engineers work, learned the equipment. I had never really expected the exercise to lead to a job and I appreciate I have been lucky.
Since working as an engineer, I have seen many other engineers offering to do the same work that I do for a fraction of the price.
It is an unfortunate case that there are some unscrupulous promoters who are willing to overlook an angry desk of red clip lights and waves of irritating feedback to avoid paying the going rate of decent engineer. In some cases, this is the largest part of their expenditure for an evening. This has led to well meaning inexperienced students rocking up and charging half what a professional would charge.
But how else to get a chance! I hear you cry.
Okay, okay, jobs in sound are not exactly falling from the trees. Trying to get a residency like I have is a combination of right place/right time, perseverance and knowing the right people but undercutting is not the best way in, trust me.
Do you think that once you have got to grips with equipment that the promoters you’ve been working for will double your fee? Do you believe that once you’ve started to use compressors and effects to great artistic effect that new venues will be willing to pay the going rate after you’ve been charging £30? Nope. It’s not going to happen.
And not only are you taking work away from other engineers who have been working hard to establish a name for themselves, you are effectively screwing the future of your industry by driving down the average fee. The same principle applies to any creative industry- be it photography, dressmaking, or web design.
It is hard to get a foot in the door. I know this and I do sympathise but undercutting your rivals is not the answer.
You are responsible for setting the foundations for a stable industry for yourselves and many newbies to come. Don’t cover the ladder with grease before you’ve even started climbing.
Nottingham! What do you think? We’re a small city with a limited number of venues and everyone has to get their foot in the door but… how can you get in? How do you increase the size of the market? Will the Creative Quarter help this? Let us know what you think.
Tara Rawson is a local sound engineer, vocalist and events promoter for Roller Derby team, Hellfire Harlots.