Let's get one thing clear from the outset. No one owes you or me a living and just by calling ourselves professional that doesn't mean we are one.
Also, audio professionals don't have the monopoly on the profession facing threats from outside forces. When I was a kid, my Dad told me to be a milkman as in his words "people will always need milk." Little did anyone know that instead of an electric cart chinking along every street in the land we would all prefer to buy cartons the size of small tankers from the local supermarket. Cab drivers have to contend with Uber et al., hotels with Airbnb, established store chains are closing because of the online giants.
Some of these threats are giving businesses a long overdue shake-up and while we may lament the loss of another 'institution', it's often the very same people who enjoy the convenience of Uber, Airbnb and Amazon Prime.
But what about us? Many of you are audio professionals; you make your living offering music or post-production services. And for the record I make my living out of providing creative services too - we face the same threats as the taxi drivers, hoteliers and store owners.
Someone is finding a way to do our job at a fraction of the cost.
I recently had a discussion with a client, who not only told me they were going to use me less but asked if I would help them train their new staff who were to do the work I was doing.
What would you have said to this?
The first response for many, including myself is fear. You think 'shit there's a lot of money at stake here.' I know I felt that way. On reflection, I realised something; it's essential that as an audio professional you let this sink in.
We are more than the stuff we use to do our job. We are not merely professionals because we own Pro Tools, iZotope RX, Studio One or an Apollo interface etc. In fact, owning the gear doesn't make me a professional any more than if I owned all the best cooking equipment and claimed to be a chef.
Buying the gear can't buy the years of skill and experience each one of us has developed - but even that doesn't give us a right to be employed, but it gives us something far more powerful - a reason to win the work.
My recent experience of major building work we've been having done on the house has reinforced this truth. I am in awe as I watch each trade work on the project, one of the hardest things over these last months has been the distraction. Wanting to see how someone digs a hole (really), puts up a steel, plasters a wall, lays floor tile; in fact, the list is endless - I stand and watch and ask a lot of annoying questions.
I must have spent hours watching them do their work; I own most of the tools they have but am I any closer to doing what they do with the same skill and at the speed they do it? Not even close.
I'm not a fan of protectionism, in the long term I don't think it works. Eventually, they shut down the mine or the factory or the corner shop you've been using since you were a kid because there is a vast Best Mart on the edge of town. Or you stay home and use an online retailer that can do it. Let's be honest on the one hand we talk about how we wished Woolworths was still there, we even sign the latest online petition, but we all played our part in making sure it isn't going to survive.
Any professional audio business who wants to remain should offer a positive narrative. It's not enough to shout about how unfair it is that a person who doesn't know one end of a mic from the other can now use Pro Tools on a laptop in your client's broom cupboard and take work from you.
Back to the question I posed earlier - what would you say if said client asked you to help them learn how to do what they pay you to do?
As I said, I had that very conversation, of course, it wasn't quite put like that, but however carefully the question was worded I reflected back to my client what they actually meant was 'so you'd like me to show someone how to do my job?' Of course, there was the awkward response, but we all knew that's what it was about.
I said yes.
Am I insane? Not at all, I realised once I went beyond my fear of losing income - quite a lot of money may I add, that if I allow myself to be defined as nothing more than the software and hardware I use, then I've lost the argument.
I told them that, I said I would be happy to help their team, but there were some things that I offered that they couldn't replace any time soon; they include objectivity, my unique creative ideas and of course, my years of skill and experience. You can't download any of those things when you buy the software.
Your business is always going to face threats; it's at those moments that you can allow yourself to be defined by the stuff you use, or you can shout about the unique set of skills and the experience you bring. You wont always win the argument, but don't allow yourself to be defined by the lowest common denominator.
It's not the mic that matters in a tracking session; it's knowing where to put it that makes the difference. of course you know that and if you don't then you don't deserve the work. I could list a thousand rookie mistakes that could occur when someone inexperienced thinks our job is easy.
Even after having professional builders around me for the last few months I learnt this lesson one more time. I went to paint some barge boards for the top of my house to help the builder - after five minutes he came over and asked what I was doing, proudly I said 'I'm painting these to help you.' He looked at me and said 'What about the primer?'
'What about the primer' I thought. I had done the painting equivalent of not putting crossfades on my edits.
I rest my case.
Audio professional still means something - it's time to start shouting about it!