Working with a madman


Part of the fun in this business, is all the oddball characters you get to work with. I have been thinking about some of the ridiculous comments and logic I have heard over the years. Not including mine here, those are separate stories.

Working a musical variety show several years ago, I met a videographer who looked like Doc from Back to the Future. Have you ever met someone who just looked like they had something crazy on their mind? You will. I watched “Doc” setting up his gear and running all over the venue like a madman. When he finally passed front of house, I asked if he wanted a signal from the board.

“No, I get great sound from these stereo room mics.”

I was looking at his stereo setup while he explained all the spectacular shows he has captured. I noticed that his left mic was about 25 feet closer to the stage than his right mic. All this in a venue that was not designed for pristine audio to begin with. When I asked about the mic positions, this was his actual answer.

“I just add and extra roll of mic cable to the closer mic. It works out the same.”

I swear he said that.

Kids, does anybody want to try and explain WHY Doc is nuts?

What is moving through microphone cable? Is it sound? Nope. That’s pure electricity. Does sound move at the same speed as electricity? Nope. Sound is slow. Electricity is fast. Not doing math here, but picture this. Sound moves like a baseball, pitched by a strong pitcher. Electricity moves like a .44 magnum bullet. They will hit the catcher at different times, with different results. Electricity moves pretty close to the speed of light. Sound moves at the speed of smell. Slow.

The biggest problem I had was the fact that he had been doing this, the same way for years. And getting paid for it. They weren’t even good mics, they were in completely different locations and there was no possible way they created a legitimate stereo image. Not possible. Even if he had the most amazing editing system of this current year, it would be extremely difficult.

Fortunately, his rig was the top of the line, television grade video system that people were standing in line to buy when “I Love Lucy” was in production. Money couldn’t buy better gear when his was new.

I am not bashing the guy for trying to make a living with the gear available and doing the work he is passionate about. I am bashing the guy for a completely different reason.

When you live inside your own head, you start missing things. When you consciously reject advice and even criticism, you miss out on opportunities to grow and improve. When you end up doing your job out of pure habit, without searching for better ways to do things, you become obsolete.

Any up and coming kid with a good attitude and a sincere passion will blow past you and have your job in no time. If you are not willing to keep learning and honestly searching for ways to do your job better, you don’t get any more valuable. There is no tenure in production. We get to prove our worth on every event. Attitude is the single biggest thing. Constant improvement might be the next.

Yes, Bruce Springsteen cut tracks in a hotel room. The Eurythmics cut their first album in a living room on cheap gear. The Beatles played live with 100 watts or less when they started. Yes. People have done amazing things with limited resources. Church techs do it every day. But. It’s rarely about the gear. It’s usually what is passing through it and how it is done.

You don’t get much control of what passes through the gear. But you have absolute control over how it is done. Try to do it right. There are armies of techs out there with more experience, who know better ways to do everything. Because we are mostly men with massive egos, we are obligated to tell everyone everything we figure out. Plenty of free, ego driven information out there if you look for it.

I did get to hear the show, as captured by Doc. It was everything I expected it to be. In case you were wondering. And. Just for my own entertainment. I recorded the show, too. Mine came out pretty solid. I created a separate recording mix from my auxiliaries. That’s what I would have sent him. But, he wouldn’t even consider it.

He was determined to do it the way he always did it. Again. That’s fine if it works. His way didn’t.

We don’t excel in any job by working from habit and saturated in arrogance. Stay teachable, keep looking for a better way to do everything. Keep reading. Don’t abandon human interaction. Check you results. Listen to advice and criticism without going defensive.

Don’t be the madman in the back of the room.

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