“What happens if you’re not here?” Answering this question reveals all you need to know about your ability to replicate yourself as a tech. As much as we like to be indispensible, the truth is we should always be training our replacement. Techs enjoy the rush of being the only person who can “make things happen,” but it comes at the expense of the greater good. So, let’s figure out how to raise up the next generation of techs while retaining our self-esteem.
In the old pre-Internet days, media techs learned through apprenticeship. Typically a person named GOS (Grumpy Old Soundman) held all the knowledge in town about how sound systems worked. He would only impart bits to someone willing to run all the lines for the stage, get him coffee, and do all the unpleasant grunt-work necessary for live sound to happen. Essentially, it was an unpaid internship. This same scenario played out in countless live venues, recording studios, and theaters throughout the ‘70s and‘80s. Those of us who came up through the ranks this way have seen and dealt with just about any problem imaginable, from faulty generator power induced hum to drunken guitar players with no clue what constitutes a proper instrument cable. We can handle anything and anyone. Unfortunately, our book knowledge left something to be desired, so while we knew how to fix something, we didn’t always know why our fix worked.
However, a few of us were blessed enough to hang around real engineers and learn from the masters of our craft. I had Bill Thrasher, Billy Graham’s sound engineer, as a mentor along with renowned acoustician R. Bob Adams and Dr. Eugene Patronis, head of the physics department at Georgia Tech as my guides. These men imparted nuggets of wisdom and filled in all the missing areas for others and me. Now, it is my generation’s turn to pass the baton to the newbies
Unfortunately, techs no longer learn from veterans in real-time. Today, learning is via YouTube videos and other remote access methods. For older techs to pass knowledge on, we must either adapt to the new ways or find a compelling reason to have someone listen to us. With a vast array of online information available, some younger techs feel they have arrived with all they need to know from videos. And, they often believe the old ways of doing thing are now obsolete anyway in a world of OptoCore, Dante and SMAART 8. To their credit, audio has indeed moved far beyond the heft of a Class A/B amplifier and the sea of knobs on a Heritage 3000, but the principles of good sound are timeless and universal. On the other hand, senior techs must avoid the GOMG (Get Off My Grass) mentality so common when an older person feels threatened by someone younger and more adept. Common ground must be found.
Part of the process to raise the next generation of techs involves the right attitude. For the senior tech, this means employing patience to allow the eager beaver to try her odd drum mic’ing technique during a rehearsal. Just because we have always placed the two overhead condensers equi-distance from each other and the snare doesn’t mean her under-cymbal method is wrong – it’s just different. As long as it doesn’t violate physics, it’s worth a try. It might even sound great. For the youth, attitude means being willing to hear the old guy out as he goes on and on about the history of why Pin 2 is hot.
Next, solving problems together is a sure way to develop trust and rapport. Let the younger tech solder the cable. Yes, there will be a gloppy mess the first time, but not the twentieth time. And we all made a mess of looms when we first started. It’s called “learning” for a reason.
Finally, caring seals the deal. Knowing we will not always be here to mix the Christmas program should cause us to embrace anyone willing to step into the booth. After all, tech is a thankless job, so any person under 30 who wants to do it probably has a good head on their shoulders. Let them move the faders, adjust the delay speakers timing, and ring out the monitors. Then one day, you can look up through your trifocals and see the result of your labor mixing away even better than you could.