Preparing for the next level

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There was a time when I had to make a decision. I was considering the possibility of taking my business to the next level. I went through the equipment leasing and financing options. Based on market demand and my own needs, I was considering a massive gear purchase.

The pro audio environment had a hole in it. My market was lacking a dedicated monitor crew.

The company I was freelancing for did shows and conferences. We covered anything from small club gigs to arenas. We had the gear and staff to handle pretty much any event. But nobody in our area was focused on monitors. We could handle it, but it wasn’t our focus.

Years on the road had shown me that it was my favorite area. I loved mixing monitors more than front of house. I enjoyed working with the bands. I preferred keeping a dozen folks happy versus an entire audience. I liked being part of the band.

My plan was to build a large scale monitor rig, that could also cover most of our local events. Either a full festival stage for large concerts, or complete production for almost every local venue. It seemed like a solid plan.

After talking with other rental houses and touring engineers, I decided that was my best option.

So I did my homework. I knew exactly how much gear I needed. I knew what rig would give me the most flexibility in the types of shows I would work. I made my gear list, based on a realistic budget and potential income. It seemed to be a solid plan. I got tentative agreements to take care of some specific venues and events. It was coming together.

Prior to taking the plunge, something came up. I was offered a ten day run of shows. It was something I could do without buying or renting gear. I was already equipped for this one. The catch was, it was in south Florida, about 500 miles away. I had to pull it off with my older truck and a small trailer.

They had a tight budget. It was not going to be a big money maker, but it was a huge opportunity to find out if I was ready for this level of commitment. I knew what I was doing. I knew the audience and the performers. It seemed like I was ready.

We prayed about this. Believing that this was either an open door for the big move, or something to make me reconsider all my plans. We weren’t going to make a lot of money, but it should have been enough to justify the time and expenses. We figured if all went well, this was going to decide whether or not I made the jump from small production company to a heavy hitter in the industry.

Well. Let me tell you how it played out.

About 300 miles into the trip down, my truck blew the transmission. I had to call the guys I was working with and get someone to come pick me up. They brought a truck like mine and we hooked up the trailer. My truck spent the next few days in a parking lot.

The shows went like clockwork. No issues with the gear or the shows.

After the third or forth day out, we had two days off. I got a ride back to my truck and met someone who hauled it back to Georgia. He already had a transmission waiting for it. We dropped it at his shop very late that night and I went home. I had an old van that I planned to fix up for moving equipment. That wasn’t going to happen.

The next day, I hauled my old van to the scrap yard for some quick cash and went back for my truck. Somewhere around midnight, I made it back to the hotel where we were working and got ready to finish the run of shows.

My budget did not cover all the extra gas. ( which happened to be during the big gas price hike. $4.00 to $4.15 per gallon in two different truck that averaged 12 miles, or less loaded. Something I hadn’t anticipated. ) Every day included two hours, or more, of driving to each event.

The cost of gas, plus the repairs to my truck, left me broke.

After all that, the charity gigs never turned into anything. We never did another show together. The shows went great, but the big plans to make it a regular run, fizzled out.

All in all, it was a very bad decision. It changed my plans and proved several things. Mainly, that I was not prepared to go to the next level. I didn’t have any backing. I was not in a position to take that kind of a hit financially. It scared me away from taking out a loan. It made me realize how unprepared I actually was.

The client was very happy with my work. They had no complaints at all. Several of the folks I worked for, then, considered me the best tech they had ever worked with. I knew my gear and could run shows as well as anyone. But I didn’t understand the business side of it well enough to know a good deal from a bad one.

I wish I could say that I didn’t make any more mistakes like that, but I did. There’s plenty of other stories on my site about those. I loved working in pro audio. It was a legitimate passion. But that wasn’t enough to make it into a stable business. My business never got to the level I wanted.

Get the job. Do the job. Get the check. Simple enough. But without the ability to do all three, effectively, nobody grows their business. Nobody makes a comfortable living in pro audio without good business sense.

Trust me on that.

Before you gamble your life savings or possibly your family, do your homework. Learn your trade.
My book, The Art of the Soundcheck, covers more of these stories and lessons learned. It’s a collection of wisdom that I would have given anything for in my first year as a tech.

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