I love being a live sound engineer and I love my clients. I just need to find more of them.
Great. How are you going to do that?
I don’t know.
Ok. How did you find your last client?
I don’t know. It was a guy who knew a guy.
If you tell me that you need to find more clients, the first thing I will do is ask you how you found your current clients. If you already have a strategy that works, you just need to do more of that.
Let’s try that right now. Think about your last gig. Who hired you? How did they find you?
Nine times out of ten, people do not have a strategy at all and their answer is: from a guy who knew a guy. This is not a bad thing. It simply highlights the truth that the audio industry is based on personal referral. It happens like this over and over. When someone needs to hire a sound engineer, they don’t go to Google, Yelp, LinkedIn, or Craigslist. Although there are job boards and marketplaces, none of them attract the project managers, tour managers, and labor bookers who are hiring sound engineers. Instead, they call a friend. Why?
The audio industry is based on personal referral.
Earlier I said that this fact in and of itself is not a bad thing. That bad thing is that when most people learn this they give up and never build a strategy for generating more personal referrals.
And I totally understand, because I struggled with this for years. If finding new clients is reliant on someone else, how can I have any control over the situation? How can I have any agency in my own business?
So you can continue to fight it and pretend like everything is fine, or you can decide to do something different.
Acceptance is the first step. The growth of your business and career is directly connected to personal referral. The second step is taking responsibility and deciding to do something about it. Unfortunately, many people then decide to invest themselves in a common audio industry myth, that finding more clients is based solely on your performance.
If I do good work, more work will come.
I wish this were true. Honestly, I do. But it is only half-true.
I spent many years believing in this and trying to make myself a great live sound engineer by investing in technical education, tools, and on the job experience. But it didn’t move the needle, at least not in a significant way towards building a thriving business.
I can see why a lot of people believe it, though. If new clients come from word of mouth, then all you need to do is be remarkable enough that someone will remark about you to someone else and you’ll be booked solid in no time. Sounds great. There’s only one problem: being a live sound engineer is not a job with many opportunities to easy distinguish yourself. In fact, the better you are, the less people will know about it. If you do a good job, you are invisible. Like a silent ninja, no one knows that you are even there.
So how can you be remarkable in a job that awards you for being invisible?
Short answer: I don’t know.
I have some ideas, but I can’t say that any of them really work. Your time will be better spent on a proven method: the powerful combination of doing great work and leveraging personal referral.
You can’t force other people to refer you and remark about you, but you can tip the scales in your favor. Even if you believe nothing that I have said up until now and are convinced that finding clients is all based on luck, then I suggest increasing your luck surface area.
What’s a ‘luck surface area’?
Luck = Doing * Telling. The more you do and the more people you tell about it, the larger your Luck Surface Area will become.
And of course, this obligatory quote:
Chance favors the prepared mind. –Louis Pasteur
At this point, if you’ve accepted that the audio industry is based on personal referral and is not a meritocracy, then you will start to consider working on your business instead of just in your business.
Great, so I’ll get started building a website and designing business cards.
This wouldn’t be a bad idea if it was carried out with the intention to serve your clients. But it’s a bad idea for most people because it turns into a lot of wasted time and busy work.
So what then? Should I just go around asking people for referrals?
Exactly, but not so literally. Instead, ask for connections: I really enjoyed mixing your band last week and I’d like to work on more projects like that. Could you introduce me to one more person?
Or: Thanks for meeting me for coffee yesterday. I was wondering, is there one more person you could introduce me to?
- Do good work.
- Build relationships. (Tip: be human)
- Don’t ask for work. Ask for referrals.
So where do clients come from? They come from personal referral (aka word of mouth).
How do you get more referrals? You ask for them from your warm contacts (aka people you have built relationships with).