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My foray into mobile recording = turning down gigs
Old 6th February 2012
  #1
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 10 years
My foray into mobile recording = turning down gigs

Hey all,

A year back I opened a small recording business out of a converted garage, and put an emphasis on mobile recording. I had had years of studio engineering experience, and since I couldn't afford to build a "real" studio yet, I thought I would give mobile a shot. My other (read: 'real') job is as an A/V technician for a theater chain, and I set up lots of corporate events which almost always get hairy (you want to put THAT on screen too!??). I have always enjoyed the rush of solving problems at the last minute, scrambling around, and putting on a good "show". So I thought mobile recording would be a good fit.

I tried to go about it right, within a budget: Firestudio + Digimax for 16ch interface -> Laptop as primary recorder, HD24 from direct outs as Backup (through analog), 16ch splitter + snake, UPS, yada yada. All the safety nets to protect my reputation. I took a few super cheap/free jobs just for practice, my friend's bands in a bar, etc. They turned out great but were a PITA to set up. I had fun, but vowed to never do it for free again... too much work, especially mixing the 3 hours worth of music afterwards!

However, I have still gotten way more studio work than mobile work, and the three mobile jobs I have been offered, I turned down! (well, still thinking about the third). The first was a recording on my brother's wedding day, the second was a small evening job in a really bad part of the city (I work alone, would NOT feel safe), and the third is a really BIG festival coming up this summer. I have been offered that job, it's a 2 day event, probably 20 hours of recording, thousands of people there. I hate to turn it down, but trying to run this event alone with my relatively low level of live recording experience seems like a stupid idea and a recipe for disaster.

So am I alone here? Is this how it starts? Or am I just playing it too safe? I am comfortable doing bands in small venues, but that's basically it. That's no way to make a living! Especially because I want to go into this full time. It feels like I need to 'go big or go home', but honestly I am more comfortable in the studio, my reputation is growing very nicely that way, and it's what I'm best at. I kinda feel like giving up the live stuff altogether, before I really even started.

I would probably keep the gear just in case, but every time I turn down a job I feel like I just shot myself in the foot. Sorry for the long rant, but I'm just wondering if anybody else started out like that.
Old 6th February 2012
  #2
Lives for gear
 
king2070lplaya's Avatar
You have to be confident and sure that you can pull off the gigs you take.

It is also good to be ambitious.

I've played lots of gigs in shady parts of town. Not that it's a sure safe bet that you'll come out ok, but if you are cool with and talk to the people who you are working for they will generally watch your back and make sure people are gonna leave you alone.

As far as the big festival goes, look at it beyond the "Big Festival" name. If, when you get into the details, it sounds like something that you have the gear, time, and confidence and skill to pull off, then go for it. Just make sure you've done your homework. Otherwise, leave it to the pros. Better to have no reputation than one for being unreliable.

If you take the big gig, make sure you practice and are prepped to the T Eagle Scout style, and you will be fine.
Old 6th February 2012
  #3
Lives for gear
 
boojum's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
Do you want to sit in your garage or go out and record? There will always be risks. Any recording you do will be better than none at all. Your current skill set puts you way up at the head of the field. Go for it.

"If you take the big gig, make sure you practice and are prepped to the T Eagle Scout style, and you will be fine."
Old 6th February 2012
  #4
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Take an assistant.
Old 7th February 2012 | Show parent
  #5
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rolo 46 ➑️
Take an assistant.
Couldn't agree more! It sounds to me like you are missing this vital ingredient in a successful remote - a great crew.

You may have gotten yourself in a position where you are the low bidder / clients are taking a chance on you because you are cheap (and have experience as an engineer) - just speculating here...

The trouble is, part of why you are cheap is because you're trying to do it all alone. This is a recipe for disaster but more importantly it means you are taking on MUCH more stress than you should be even for the gigs you can pull off (because of your experience).

I suspect that since you've been in the studio biz for a while you know some people who you'd trust with anything. Find out what they need for a day and build it into the budget - at least one if not 2 of these kind of people. Then find a local engineering school etc. and get yourself one assistant for the gig (more than one and you'll be 'managing people' too much to stay focussed on the gig IME).

Make sure everyone knows their clear responsibilities for the day in advance. You'll still keep plenty busy and will have plenty of fires to put out (isn't that fun...?) but you'll have the resources to stay sane...

And, you'll eventually develop a network that may allow you to scale up and take larger gigs on occassion while keeping your regular overhead low.

Good Luck!
-Silas
Old 7th February 2012 | Show parent
  #6
Gear Guru
 
Thomas W. Bethe's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rolo 46 ➑️
Take an assistant.
I use to do all my remote recording gigs by myself. Today I would simply not do that. I have a couple of interns who work with me and we do shows together. I too worry about doing some gigs in parts of Cleveland that are none too safe after dark. The risk is just too high. I may not make as much money as I did before when I did it solo but I am a lot more comfortable doing the gigs at night in strange settings and I have some help schlepping the equipment.

As to turning down gigs. It depends on the circumstances. I have had to hire someone to do gigs when I was was double booked but they were good clients and I wanted to keep up the relationship. I very seldom turn down gigs unless the person is being unreasonable about their expectations or wants me to do the gig for nothing or after visiting the remote site I sense that there are just too many problems that cannot be solved so I cannot do my usual GREAT! job for the client. Weather also plays a big part in my decisions. If it is in the dead of winter and the gig is an hour and a half away I may turn it down just in case they are counting on me and I am unable to get there. An ice storm convinced me that even though I have a good vehicle and I am a good driver I still cannot drive through an ice storm to a gig that was 75 miles away. Luckily they cancelled the gig at the last moment. Otherwise I would have had to try and make it even though I knew I could not.

We did do one job that I regretted but it was for a good client and I wanted to keep up the relationship. It was a church that had taken AV to a serious new level. Their video setup would rival some small TV stations, their audio set up was amazing but they had a big prohibition that was hard to overcome. Their policy, since all their stuff is permanently wired in is that there are NO CABLES on the floor PERIOD. That means no microphone cables, no AC power cables no NOTHING. Our cameras can run off batteries but I had to get the audio to where I was recording. Luckily they let me use a couple of unused channels off their 40 pair snake. The show went off OK but I will probably never try and do anything like that again.

To the OP - Best of luck in your endeavors....let your inner voice decide what is best for you and your company.
Old 7th February 2012
  #7
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
+1 for interns as help on low budg jobs--I've had 3 that have worked out well, and gone on to better paying jobs. They helped me a lot on the bigger jobs w/ lots of gear, hopefully they learned something valuable working with me that helped them get their new jobs. There are so many smart people hungry for some real experience that you should be able to find help easily. My best source has been a local community college's audio students.

phil p
Old 8th February 2012
  #8
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 10 years
Thanks for the advice everyone... I believe you are right, an assistant would nullify 99% of the problems I have encountered so far in location recording. Just having someone to plug the splitter and run the snake would be a huge timesaver. I will definitely check around and talk to some people I know, especially if I take this festival gig.

I wouldn't make any money on it anyway, since I would most likely have to buy another Digimax, a longer 24 channel snake, pop up tent, etc. Luckily everything would be miked and I would just hang crowd mics and take splits, instead of hanging EVERY microphone. That's one advantage over a bar gig!

I actually just got an offer for a remote, a band in a small club. I won't be turning that one down, and will have my brother with me to help out. This way I get to see what I'm missing by not having an assistant.

Thanks again!
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