From time to time I am asked, “how do I get on the crew of so-and-so show?” If we boil these and other similar questions down I think what is really being asked is “how can I advance my career?” And that’s a really good question.
I am blessed to work on some cool projects. I’ve seen some people get hired over-and-over again on “A list” shows. I’ve seen others get hired once and then never get hired again. What then are the traits shared by those who always get the call for work? What are they doing differently than others?
Generally I do not like “Here are Ten Steps to …” advice articles. Despite that, here are the traits I think are needed to always be the most sought after tech-artist, or performer, freelancer or employee. These same characteristics may apply equally to tech volunteers or church worship team members who want to be their best and making a difference at their church.
So, here are the fifteen, ahem … ten characteristics of team members who are the most sought after:
#1 BE PUNCTUAL:
When you’re given a time to arrive never be late. Not being a bit early is being late. If you can be 10 minutes early whether to a meeting, a rehearsal, a show-call; do it! Whomever is scheduling you will have their mind put at ease seeing you arrive a bit early.
#2 BE PREPARED:
Always be prepared. Never allow excuses for yourself not being ready for work. If the job requires tools, bring your tools. If the job requires listening or watching something beforehand, watch/listen to it. And if your tools require set-up time, show up that much earlier. If you are meeting someone you’ve never met before look them up beforehand on social media. Studying their photograph and then greeting them by name will make a lasting impression.
#3 BE ENGAGED & ENTHUSIASTIC:
If you are complacent or apathetic you are not honoring the time and effort of the person who booked you as well as the other team members. Those who are engaged and enthusiastic earn and receive respect from others. Especially if the gig is not your personal cup of tea, a professional will not only do their best but will do so enthusiastically. Technicians can often be a very grumpy bunch and some projects (even volunteer opportunities) have cultures which allow or encourage griping. Don’t be Debbie Downer! Debbie doesn’t get called back.
#4 DON’T CONFUSE REHEARSALS & PRACTICES:
Rehearsals should be limited to doing only that which requires other people to be present. Typically that means collaboration, going over song/act structure especially as it relates to various technical departments, tightening cues and working on transitions. A practice on the other hand is something done privately or within a group of limited scope, not requiring interaction with other departments. Learn the song (or your lines or experiment with different effects) on your own time. This honors the corporate time being invested by all.
#5 BE TASTEFUL:
Understanding and then doing what is appropriate for the moment is a characteristic which may take years to develop. For musicians, playing in a complimentary style to the other musician’s parts and accompanying or soloing befitting the song are some of the most important artistic sensibilities musicians must master. Similarly, technical artists must limit themselves to only those choices which ultimately benefit the song/act. The more technical resources a production has at it’s disposal, the more tasteful the crew needs to be limiting what is utilized. The spice-rack in your kitchen may have fifteen or more ingredients available. Using them all, or too many, or too much in the wrong proportions will ruin the dish.
#6 BE HUMBLE:
We often think humility is being self-effacing. A better understanding of humility is having an accurate perception of your own strengths and weaknesses. Pride puts up walls in the hope others will not notice your shortcomings. Humility allows others to see you for who you are. In the words of St. Vincent de Paul, “Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying.”
Color within the lines you develop for yourself. If someone asks you to do something beyond your capability, true humility requires you tell them you are not sure you can perform the way they want you to. Offer an alternative. You will be hired again for your honesty.
The performing and technical arts are collaborative en devours. As part of a team your input should be requested and freely offered A truly humble tech artist knows they have not been hired just to push buttons. Instead, participate in the collective creative process.
#7 BE A STUDENT:
Close to four decades ago I got a job cleaning up Central Park after the nightly concerts. While using a rake, broom and trash bags is honorable work, that role also allowed me to get to know and learn from the stage crew. What I learned there helped me be a better audio engineer in church. Doing sound in church opened the door to get an engineering job in radio. While working at a radio station I would finish all my tasks as quickly as possible and would then read books about video production in between taking transmitter readings and playing pre-taped shows. This led to working in corporate AVL which then led to broadcast video production which then led to higher profile broadcast video productions.
Each step required continual learning. Attend conferences, read blogs, listen to tech podcasts, participate in tech online forums. Always be learning. Watch/listen & analyze the work of both masters and those popular within the culture.
One of the best ways to continually be a student is to seek to share what you’ve learned with others. Your understanding of topics will improve as you try and share your knowledge with others.
#8 BE HUSTLING:
Work begets more work. If you are not offered the jobs you want, take and do excellent work on the jobs you didn’t necessarily want. Always work. Work within your desired field, but also expand your horizons working within related fields. A large volume of work gives you more experience, more contacts and then more opportunities.
#9 BE HELPFUL:
During a set-up if you’ve finished checking your camera (switcher, audio console, etc.) go and help someone else who is behind schedule. The same thing during a strike. As long as there are no venue rules against it, help someone in a different department than your own. A graphics person who brings gloves to a gig and who asks if they can help coil feeder cable will be the most sought after graphics person around. Not only based on recommendations from other crew members, but clients as well.
#10 SOLVE A BIG PROBLEM:
I once asked a more financially successful and accomplished person “how do I go about making more money?” That question could easily been rephrased “how do I get a spot on so-and-so show?” My friend responded:
“How much do you pay your landscaper?” “Now, how much do you pay your lawyer?”
“If it doesn’t matter to you whether or not your lawn gets cut that week, or if you have the ability, time and tools to mow your lawn yourself, or if there are other maybe better or more cost-effective landscapers available who service your neighborhood; you may not pay your landscaper all that much.”
“But on the other hand, if you have a legal problem, something that you cannot ignore or solve on your own and there is not a more cost-effective solution available to you – you may pay your lawyer a ton of money.”
He continued, “You pay the people who work for you based on the size of the problem they solve. Employers do the same thing. As an employee or an independent contractor, if you want to make more money; or as a ministry volunteer who wants to be truly effective; or if someone wants to get a crew position on an “A list” show; learn to solve someone’s big problem.
One of the most important things you can do in tech-arts is to become really good at a skill desired by others and that is in short supply. People who continually get called are people that solve a big problem.
BONUS #1 – ASK:
I am confident you would be surprised if I told you how many shows I’ve been on where a security guard or a similar non-technical person asked a video crew member, “how do I get a job in TV?” Only to be told, “show up at our shop next week and we’ll put you to work!” And guess what, they did show up and they are now working in television!
I was once on a show in Trinidad and Tobago where a similar thing happened. A month later the guy moved to the United States and started working in television. Ask! You will likely start at the bottom. But the bottom just means your foot is in the door! I know many chief-engineers who got their foot in the door at a production company driving a delivery van. Ask!
BONUS #2 – BE STEADFAST:
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
If you’ve gotten this far and are disappointed that I did not offer you a magic bullet to achieve your goals, you’re correct; there is no magic bullet. But if you are consistently punctual, prepared, engaged and enthusiastic, honoring of other’s time, tasteful, humble, always learning and hustling, and most importantly solving someone’s big problem, I think you’ll find the gig, the slot, the volunteer opportunity or the compensation you are looking for.
"Success isn't owned. It's leased, and rent is due every day." - J.J. Watt
Title photo attribution: J Stimp
Tom D’Angelo has worked in television production and AVL corporate theater for nearly four decades. He is Emmy Award nominated (Best Director category, Mid-Atlantic) and has been part of various teams nominated or winning national Emmys. As the Media Director at a megachurch in the 1980’s he developed a love for the Church and church performing and technical artists.