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“…I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king

I’ve been up and down and over and out…”

Remember those lyrics sung by Frank Sinatra? No? Check out his video That’s Life or just the lyrics.

This song could easily be your anthem once you decide to choose a life in the entertainment production industry. By the time your career concludes you will have probably learned and tried dozens maybe hundreds of different type gigs. Some of those gigs you will have succeeded at and some … well… let’s just say, you tried.

Can you really make a living at this? It almost sounds like you’re in free fall most of your career?

The good news is there are thousands and thousands of people who choose this life and succeed. The percentage of complete wash outs is small, I’d say in the single digits. BUT… (don’t you hate the “BUT”!) that doesn’t mean it will be a smooth ride.  Honestly, it ain’t easy but if I could do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same way.

Just as Mr. Sinatra explained…

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet
A pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself
Flat on my face
I pick myself up and get
Back in the race

In an industry that is constantly chasing the next fad or style, changes in technology offer new ways to create and bean counters are always looking to cut manpower or production time, those factors are the force that causes those of us on the front lines of the entertainment industries to learn how to “adjust”.

The day I knew I wanted to spend my professional life “creating”, I wasn’t really sure how that was going to play out. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to be creating or what I was even good at.

As you know my career has touched almost every facet in almost every sector of the major entertainment industries; multimedia live stage events, music recording, broadcast both studio and location, manuscript and script writing, etc. Within those sectors I have held dozens, maybe hundreds of different jobs. Each time I landed a new gig I had to restart from the beginning, learning the details of how to be an asset to the new team. Fortunately, once you’ve done several restarts the learning curve of developing “skills of value” gets shorter and shorter. And this collection of new skills will always be of value moving forward.

But when I began my career, jumping in and out of different sectors wasn’t an accepted practice.  Even moving to different position within one sector made people suspect of your abilities. In those days the accepted practice was pick a career and area of focus and sick with it. The only reason you would shift was because you washed out of that initial career.

The more I learned about how to create in all mediums the more my curiosity forced me to learn a large set of diverse of skills. Yet at the time diversity of talent wasn’t an asset.  The belief or practice of single talent was so hard core that I developed different resumes for each sector and never mentioned I worked in other sectors or held unrelated positions. I even had different clothes in my closet to help me blend into these different sectors.


If I was working in the music biz it would be a swag T shirt, jeans and Van shoes. If it was a live event it was black pants and plain black pull over shirt.  Broadcast was polo, khakis and boat shoes. Playing this stupid game was a small price to pay to experience and learn all that interested me.

Each industry sector also had their own prejudice for different positions.  For example, in the music recording industry audio engineers were gods. In the broadcast industry they called audio personnel, “audio pukes”. A name I never understood other then it was meant to degrade us.

If I was hired to produce music or video I never told anyone I was technical. Technical people were considered outliers in all the entertainment industries. Sort of a necessary evil. There was no chance a technical person could be a creative storyteller. So, I never told anyone I was a hardware engineer that actually understood the internal workings of all the gear we used. But when I was working as a tech I never mentioned my creative side.

Ridiculous Right?!

Moving around these industries and gigs with different personas wasn’t as tricky as it might sound.  Back then rarely did anyone cross into different industries, sectors or positions. The chance of running into people who knew me in other areas rarely happened.

That all changed during the era of corporate acquisitions and consolidation with the entertainment industry giants. Suddenly the board of directors and stock holders’ bottom line was the only focus.  That fact shrunk production budgets. Less money for production meant smaller crew size. But the demand to keep the level of production at its highest level didn’t change.

Meaning the production tasks needed to produce quality projects remained the same. It just meant less personnel to complete those tasks. Thus, was born the need for multi-faceted, multi-skilled personnel. Each crew member was expected to have a cross section of skill abilities and handle several different production tasks.  That moved me straight to the front of the line.  

Today our industry still remains unique in that way. It is common and expected that you are able to cross over into different gigs and positions to level up your career opportunities. Most other industries practice, learn one set of skills / trade and that’s their focus for their career. Rarely do you see many top surgeons learning about the architectural design of operating rooms in an effort to make themselves more valuable to hospitals. LOL

In our business it’s actually the norm to hear about a camera person taking a gig as an audio person or see a stage manager who is able to direct a show. Maybe while on a gig you run into a utility person working out of the broadcast truck and later that night they are on stage playing guitar at a local bar. (that really happened)

A few weeks ago, I went to watch friends preform in Monty Python’s Spamalot in a community theater in Pompton Lakes, NJ.  Not to sound pompous but up until then I’d never seen a theatrical performance other than the ones I’ve worked on on Broadway.  I was blown away at the quality of the entire performance, acting, singing, music, staging, lighting, etc. What amazed me was most of these performers and staff have full time day gigs unrelated to their acting yet the performance was spot on.

After the show we hung out in the lobby waiting to congratulate our friends. While chatting up our friends someone in the room shouted my name. As I turned I saw another cast member waving to me.  You know that moment when you see somebody out of the context of where you know them, it usually takes a minute to recognize them. As that second passed I realized it was someone I’d worked with on tons of live broadcast gigs. During all those gigs I never knew he was an actor and singer.

I’m mentioning this because it was a perfect example of how someone can work on the technical side of our industry but can also walk on a stage and perform just as effortlessly.  To sum up this long-winded story, in today’s entertainment industries it is not only acceptable that a person can possess a diverse set of “skills of value” but it is NECESSARY.

Here are a few take away points:

  1. Never back away from taking a gig that is out of your comfort zone. 
  2. Always try to learn new talents and skills.
  3. Make sure you surround yourself with people who are at the top of their game and are willing to share their knowledge.
  4. Most importantly, keep an eye on changes in technology and creative style, those will give you an indicator as to what you will need to learn to stay relevant.
Fast track your entertainment production career