Set Sail

It’s the tenth of December now and I’ve been “back in school” since the twentieth of September.
So how am I faring?
Let’s stick to the facts for once, without going into the deep, epic mental impact like usual.

First of all, I underestimated this course on pretty much all levels. It is much more difficult than I expected, but also more interesting and rewarding. While I was afraid to have unmotivated theorists up front, we are getting technicians and engineers who know what’s going on in the field (except for the douchebag giving us “lifting techniques” while never having seen a flight case from up close), giving us practical information and answers that make sense. How many teachers haven’t I seen that give us a whole lecture about something while proving that they can’t even grasp the basic principles, themselves?

My first test got me 87%, which by my standards, is off the chart. My theoretical and practical exams won’t be as successful, but I still have a good feeling about them. Fingers crossed.

An issue much more on my mind lately is the arrangement for internships. We’re supposed to do at least ten separate days and in the end, a two month stretch with some company. Even more than with other jobs, real progress comes from guided experience rather than the books. Which is possibly the thing about the industry I like most of all.

I’ve been contacting an independent light technician I know from work, a local borderline anarchist organization, and two cafés nearby that do live acts. So far, the only actual internship (aside from the usual theater work) I’ve done is a day at something that calls itself a music center, which has its own record label and everything. Keep in mind that this place is the size of a café, a small one at that, and then picture me this.

(Somebody I didn’t know, as I came in) “Hello!”

“…Hi. I’m Maarten, I’m doing the sound tonight?”

“Oh you, too? Hmm. It could be that I’m a week early, or they double-booked us.”

I just stared at him for a moment. After all, this one statement provided me with a flood of information.
– I’d be working with somebody who can’t tell one week from the other.
– This place works with people… who can’t tell one week from the other.
– Quite possibly, they put us two together, in hopes of creating one sound technician out of two inexperienced ones.

This man didn’t have the brains to work out how to unfold a mic stand, but he did have the balls to jump forward and introduce himself as “the sound technician” when the band came in. As a result, they used him as a spokesperson, representing the both of us with sheer retardedness.
I left him in charge of cables and such while I did the microphones, in fear of their fragile functionality. I ended up having to re-do all his connections, as well.

Then, a rather dashing young man stepped forward, whom I had assumed was one of the musicians, and said with a Colgate smile, “Hi. I’m Bart. The motherfucking sound tech.” At this very moment, the only thing that kept me from dropping everything and walking out, was the minimum of professionalism I try to hold.

Three sound technicians, one table. And nobody had the damn rider. The most useful thing I did that night was fetch the man a beer, and I learned: Nada. Some fucking internship.
In retrospect, I only half mind because when the show was over, the band asked him how things were for him, to which he responded, “Hell. The cables give a buzz, the mixing desk barely works and the speakers crackle at a certain frequency. At one point I even lost your signal altogether, but the acoustics are so bad that nobody even noticed.”

I appreciate my friend trying to get me rolling and the faith he has in me, but even as an intern, I refuse to work in places like this. If I picked up anything at all that night, it would be how to keep this shitty equipment in that shitty bunker, in check, as opposed to how music should sound and how to accomplish that.
Yes, I’ll go back there if they ask me. But clearly they don’t have the attitude I’m looking for, to put it lightly. And they call themselves a music center. Oh and get this: Afterward they sent me an email asking if, next time, I could roll up the cables properly (which I never touched) and to reset the mixing table (ditto).

I learned my lessons and decided to look further. The other café I checked with is a jazz café, which means less decibels and (thus) more quality. If I get in there, I really think I can get some actual education, which has been scarce outside the classroom, so far. Again, fingers crossed.

This whole “initiative” thing is quite new to me, and takes a lot of energy. Working up the courage to step forward and promote myself as a competent technician is hard, especially for someone introverted like myself. But it’s proven successful so far, and that’s a great confidence boost.

Voluntary work is one thing. You walk in, and every finger you lift is in contribution and everyone will be forever grateful as though you saved their Shih Tzu from a burning house. When getting paid however, especially when getting paid like you should, things are different. You come in with your pay in negative, and the idea is that you have the whole day to catch up and make them what you cost them. Gratitude only follows if you exceed that expectation.

In other words, shit’s about to change and I’m treading unfamiliar territory. The job I’ve been getting paid for so far can be done by monkeys and perhaps that is exactly why I’m rather good at it.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with expectations. I have the motivation, but this shit is all so technical. I can tell you all about sinuses and PFL and DMX protocol by now, but I will just as well turn the guitar too low.

Compression, effects, relative volumes, monitoring, recording, equalizing; each instrument has its own infinitely complicated properties, making the complete picture a scary thing for beginners like me.
This whole operation is big; Life changing big. Stakes are high, and it’s all on me. But coming from squats, to the army, to here? I’ll manage.


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