Keeping Your Composure When Things Go Wrong

One of the attributes a professional in the music industry needs to have is good character. Unfortunately it is one of those traits that gets the least amount of our attention when we are concerned with the other stuff we are responsible for. So it usually gets underdeveloped and can end up costing us a gig or worse, our job. We always work on our technical skills so those always get developed; we keep refining our artistic skills so that our product progressively sounds better; we upgrade our understanding of the gear we use so we can use what we have to create better results or use new gear to streamline our workflow. Our intellectual and artistic skills are being improved on all the time so we get better at what we do on a regular basis. What gets left behind is the stuff that is less obvious and almost under the radar of what we deem necessary for the improvement of our professional careers.

Namely the personal skills in how to interact with our peers, clients or superiors is under developed and isn’t getting the same attention that our skill sets are getting. As a producer I have learned that there are ways to conduct yourself that will work for you and those that will work against you. When work is getting done and results are getting made that everyone likes then we don’t pay attention to what we are doing right regarding interpersonal relations.  However as soon as things go wrong and criticism gets thrown your way the most common reaction is to get defensive and blame someone or something else.  The worst result is when our client/peer loses confidence of what we can do based on how we handle the personal relations, which has nothing to do with how well equipped we are to handle the technical aspect of the job.

When something technical fails we can troubleshoot and solve the problem, usually without breaking a sweat. We have continually developed that ability to find alternate ways of making something work, but when it becomes a problem that involves our personal character I find that most of the time it results in problematic relations with your client/peer with negative impact. If someone criticizes our gear, then we can use better gear. When someone criticizes us, then we want to fight back! Here’s a case scenario that I find typical in our line of work and I’ll show a poor response that leads to problems and an alternative one that keeps things moving positively.

You’re working away on a session and everything is working fine until, midway through the gig you experience some equipment problems. Our client’s first reaction is that we don’t know how to use our equipment therefore we are the problem, not the equipment. Under normal circumstances you can figure out a way to keep working, hopefully without the client becoming aware that something isn’t working properly. But in this case, the problem is bringing the session to a halt. Now everyone is frustrated because the client is paying for work to be done and it isn’t and you are under pressure to keep it going but need the time to figure out how to solve the problem. The pressure on you is mounting because you can’t find the problem and start thinking about signal flow, trouble shoot possible alternatives, figure out who you can call and all the while the client suggests that you don’t know what you’re doing. This isn’t what you want to hear as it causes you more distress.

Here is what may result: You tell the client that they are wrong in their perception of you, that you do know how to run a session and that the problem is the gear’s fault, or the studio has a lousy technician and it’s their fault or your guardian angel is on holiday and left you stranded to deal with this on your own. The panic on your face and the blame going to someone or something else makes the situation worse. There is never any use in debating with your client who is right and who is wrong in this situation. In fact it is pointless. Cool heads must prevail.

As you are taking stock of the problems and creating a fault report, systematically tracing where the problem exists, you may find the issue and find an alternate path or you’ll know exactly what to tell the tech. You should also explain to the client exactly what is going on. By letting them know that you are ON TOP of finding the problem you should be able to restore some faith in your ability in their eyes and they’ll know that you are doing something to fix the problem. Instead of taking their quip personally understand that their personal attack on you is just their inability to deal with the issues you are both facing. When you take the lead in solving the problem you exude confidence and your client will feel like they are in good hands despite the stop in work.