Taking Your Audio Career And Business To The Next Level

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Each audio person has a unique set of experience, education, aspirations, and motivations, different from everyone else. Consequently, each of us is likely to answer the “why” question a little differently than the next person.

What makes us tick? What motivates us? How does the answer to the question “Why am I in the audio business?” relate to my career and business plan?

Let’s explore the issue of defining your audio business mission, vision, and values.

Five Motivations

Whether full time or part time in audio, your motivation is likely to fall into one or more of the following categories:

  1. Make a living. This ranges from “pay the bills” to “get rich.” Some people are motivated primarily by money or financial need. Everyone needs some source of income. For those of us who are not already independently wealthy, the prospect of making a living doing something we love (like working in audio) is attractive ­ a positive motivator.

  2. Fulfill a dream. “I’ve always wanted to do something in audio,” or, “If only I could be in the industry doing sound full time…” Some of us may want to see the names of our clients on the marquee, on records or in the Billboard charts. Others aspire to business or technical support roles but still desire to be involved in audio as a career.

  3. Create a legacy. “When I’m gone I want people to remember my work (or influence on the audio industry.)” Looking a little further into the future, some of us are motivated by the idea of creating a company or a body of work that takes on an identity or a life of its own.

  4. Benefit other people. “Take care of my family,” or, “Inspire others…” Some of us focus on our immediate family and friends while others are driven to benefit the broader industry, community, or society as a whole.

  5. Adrenaline rush. “There is no other feeling like the energy coming from a crowd during a show.” This applies whether you are on stage, backstage, or in the audience, and it can also be a positive motivator.

A possible sixth category is “all of the above.” See how this sounds to you: “I’ve always wanted to do something with audio that will benefit mankind ­ the big audience out there. If I’m successful, I’ll make a good living along the way and be remembered as a positive influence on the world. When I hear the applause during a show, I remember what it’s all about ­ great music and great sound.”

Sound idealistic? Maybe so, but a whole lot better than, “Oh well, I might as well get a job in the live sound factory because it’s better than working the counter at McDonald’s for minimum wage all my life…”

Profit Fundamentals

Here’s a simple formula that drives all businesses: revenue minus expenses equals profit.

Profit is simply the money left over after a business pays the costs of doing business. If you’re essentially a one-person sound business, profit also represents the money that is available to pay for life: food, housing, clothing, recreation, education, etc.

Some audio people are put off by the concept of profit, feeling that the idea of having something left over after “working hard for the money” is evil, tacky, lowlife, non-artistic, anti-art, or whatever pejorative word comes to mind. Here are some observations on this situation, gathered over a 30-year period.

• Unless you’re independently wealthy (some are, but relatively few), the need to make money is a motivator for live sound people.

• The general public buys concert tickets, records, merchandise, and related material created by musicians ­ and supported by audio people and promoted by the industry. Fans “vote with their pocketbooks,” meaning they buy what they like and come back to the shows, venues, and acts that they enjoy on a repeated basis.

• To judge whether a specific musical performance is “good or bad” from an artistic standpoint is largely subjective. What appeals to me may or may not appeal to you, and that’s OK. Diversity keeps things interesting. However, quality sound can be measured objectively and enhances audience satisfaction for any show.

What’s the point? Audio integrity, business integrity, and commercial success go hand in hand. You don’t need to compromise quality or artistic values to make money in the live sound business.

Also, simply being commercially successful does not assure positive reviews by the critics, or any other measure of success. Top selling tours don’t necessarily win technical awards. Remember, I’m talking about the mainstream here, not the exceptions publicized by the media.

Statement Of Mission

A mission statement answers the question “Why are you in business?” Whether you’re a self-employed rigger or roadie, crew member, owner of a small audio business or in a management position in a larger firm, the answer to this question is the foundation for your strategic planning. And again, it applies whether you are full time or part time in live sound.

Guidelines for writing your mission statement:

• Strong mission statements are usually one or two sentences long. I’ve seen mission statements that have gone on to two or three pages of cryptic single spaced text. Longer ones are flawed, in that you and the people around you will not remember them and may not put emphasis in the right areas when it comes to planning and taking action.

• Short mission statements are often supplemented by clarifying comments. These most frequently take the form of “vision statements” and “values statements.” This is a good way to deal with the temptation to make your mission statement too long.

• Vision statements describe your view of the future of the industry or market. Vision statements are part predictions, part trend analysis and part context information.

• Values statements are your code of ethics, or the operating principles that are fundamental to your business and unlikely to change over a long period of time. If you work alone or own the company, your own values can be asserted in your business.

If you work for someone else, it’s important to make sure that your personal values are reasonably aligned (congruent) with those of the organization. This helps prevent problems, but more importantly drives the business in a positive way.

Writing Is Liberating

A rule of thumb in strategic planning is “if it’s not written down, it’s not a plan.” Sure, you have to think through the issues, and yes, you may have a good memory. Yet, there is something about the act of writing that is both clarifying and liberating.

The other real benefit of writing everything down is that the material can then be shared with others: your business partners, co-workers, employees, family, investors, vendors, or other stakeholders. For now, take a stab at drafting your mission statement, or revising the one you currently have. Start by completing the following sentence:

We are in business to ___________.

Congratulations! You’ve taken the first step in understanding the fundamentals of business and in taking your audio business to the next level.

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