The difference between replaceable and invaluable

During my time with the last AV crew, I watched people come and go. Most of the people who stayed for any length of time fit into one of a few categories.

People who worked cheap. People the owner felt obligated to keep. People that were absolutely invaluable. That’s pretty much it.
We had our roadies. They setup shows, broke them down, hauled gear, loaded and unloaded trucks, cleaned the shop and other random jobs that involved a lot of sweat. The roadies were mostly good guys. Hard workers who did their job. But easily replaced.
Most of them were guys who had minimal technical knowledge and people skills. They were the guys we kept away from the clients and audience as much as possible. Like Igor and Dr. Frankenstein.

Igor probably knew his way around the lab as well as the doctor did, but would never get to run the show. Igor was the grunt. He kept the doctor from getting his hands dirty.

Now, I am not bashing those guys. There were some really good people who worked their butts off to make things happen. But, there were a lot who were determined to be useless.

Some had been around so long, the owner just tolerated whatever stupidity they produced each day. Wrecking trucks, losing gear, delivering the rig to the wrong venue, falling asleep in the truck 200 miles away while we waited to setup a show, pulling away from a dock without strapping gear down OR closing the rear doors. Yeah. We saw a lot of that.

Those guys made less in a week of hard days that the most techs made in a day. Seriously. They kept showing up even though a job at Burger King would have paid more each week. Why?

The job gave them the flexibility to maintain their lifestyle. Staying out drinking all night, showing up looking like a dead cat, smelling like old liquor, talking trash and arguing with everyone would get you fired from most jobs. Not a roadie. It seemed to improve their resume.

They were either family, old friends or just guys who worked so cheap it was worth tolerating. Some of them had potential to make good money as techs. A few actually worked their way up and became techs. Most are still doing the exact same thing as they were years ago.

So, who gets paid well and keeps their gig year after year? Mr. Invaluable.

The owner was very skeptical of any new guy. It was easier to get hired with the secret service than to get in with him as a tech. He had been burned so many times by hacks that he was paranoid about placing a new guy with a client. He just expected everyone to cause problems.

I got in, again, because of someone I knew.

His girlfriend was a bartender at a place one of my friends liked to shoot pool. They got talking one night about what they did for a living. When my friend heard what he did, he threw my name into the conversation. The timing was perfect.

We were days away from a week long local festival. Shows every night and during the day. Three or four stages around town and he was short on techs.

I got a call, met with him and worked that weekend. He put me side by side with one of his main techs for that first day. We hit it off great. I ended up building a stage that morning and mixing monitors for the show that night. Everything seemed to work perfect.
I found out a few days later that the owner grilled that guy about me. He wanted to know how I handled everything and if I knew what I was doing. He admitted to telling the owner that I probably knew my stuff better than he did.

That gig lasted seven years. Never really quit, just moved away. Still might work with them again. We left on good terms. Just needed to get the family to a better place.

During those years, I had the opportunity to make myself more valuable each day. Every problem that came up gave the roadies something to gripe about and gave me a chance to shine. I am a problem solver by nature. I like to figure things out. I am always looking for a better and more efficient way to do everything. Apparently those are very valuable job skills.

The owner had lots of powered monitors. They were decent speakers, but nobody knew anything about them. When one quit working or had wired noises show up, it went to a better place. It went to the monitor grave yard where it spent the rest of its lonely life resting in a corner. It had to. Nobody there knew how to fix them.

After a few weeks working with them, it finally happened. A monitor died during soundcheck. It was unplugged and moved off stage. That’s all. We were short on monitors, so I broke out my tool kit and opened it up. Found a loose wire or something simple. Plugged it back in and it was fine.

I heard the owner backstage, ten minutes later, chewing out the other techs. He wanted to know why the new guy was willing to fix stuff but they wouldn’t. They were making excuses about not knowing what was wrong.
He came out and asked me how I knew what the problem was. I told him I didn’t. I just opened it up and looked for a problem. That was exactly what he wanted to hear.

I ended up getting work even when nobody else did. Within a year, he was sending me all over the country running shows. Alone. He would fly me to a venue and have a truck meet me there. My show.

I had become invaluable. I was a tech who could mix and manage a show. I could run the crew for load in and load out. I could fix problems on site. I was willing to look for problems and find solutions. I treated his gear like it was mine.

I am not telling you guys all this to brag about me. I want you to understand how to get and keep a job. I have already talked about attitude a lot. Going to keep talking about it. Skills will get you a job, but attitude keeps it.

Someone once complained to me that if they were only getting paid $8 an hour, they were only going to give $8 worth of work. That is completely wrong.
If you want to make $50 an hour, you better produce $50 an hour work.
You make the company look good, make them profitable, make their clients happy, build confidence with the owner and the money will catch up.

Very few people start out on their own. Most of us have to start out working for someone else. Learning to take care of someone else’s business is a great way to end up with your own.
It is also a great way to develop that reputation of excellence that will carry you from now on.
The alternative is to be content as a roadie.

This article was featured on ProSoundWeb.com

In case you don’t have a copy, this is required reading for the new guys.
The Sound Reinforcement Handbook

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