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‘Even if you love what you do, you can overwork yourself’: staying inspired as an audio professional

In her latest PSNEurope column, Katie Tavini examines the art of staying inspired and motivated to work, especially as a freelancer, during what can be one of the most challenging times of the year

Christmas has happened, we all feel rounder and sleepy (or at least I do) and everywhere we look, we see people talking about new year’s resolutions. Get fit, read more, take up a new hobby, get a cat. All lovely ideas, but not many people talk about their work goals, and how to survive in the audio industry. Especially for the freelancers amongst us, setting goals can just be pure daunting.

You might think it’s a bit weird that I’m talking about new year goals in February rather than January, but honestly, I needed the first month and a bit to ease myself into the year. January has been spent doing admin, tax, website updates, taking bookings, fixing broken gear, and a whole load of sorting out bits that seem to get neglected throughout the year.

So now seems like a good point to start thinking about goals and motivation for the year ahead. My personal goals include getting an accountant (why did I wait this long?!), clearing out gear I no longer use, keeping on top of updating my website, plus taking regular breaks to enjoy life and a new gym schedule. These might seem like relatively small tasks, but when there’s making records (aka, the fun bit), everything else gets put to one side.

To help motivate myself, and hopefully you guys too, I opened up a conversation with some people working in pro audio that I am constantly inspired by.

Theatre sound engineer Livia Nagy is one of the busiest engineers I know, so I was keen to know what keeps her motivated.

“I always thought that theatre was a magical place and it feels amazing to be part of these productions,” Nagy said. “It’s very rewarding at the end of each night. I never feel like I’m actually working, it’s more like doing what I love and enjoy every single day. But taking breaks and finding a work-life balance is extremely important, for sure. I’ve only figured out the importance of this fairly recently and I can’t recommend it enough.

“Even if you love what you do, you can certainly overwork and exhaust yourself, so give yourself a break. It’s not worth risking burning out.”

Dan Lucas from Anchor Baby Recordings also spoke about where he finds his inspiration.

“The inspiration for me comes from knowing that I need to represent the artists’ songs in the best possible way, that I am in a position where the way I choose to showcase them could potentially have a hugely positive impact on their career, and that they’re trusting me,” he said.

“Having the band feel that their songs are in the right hands, and absorbing the buzz that this realisation generates, is also tremendously exciting. It really makes you feel like you’re a part of something special.”

One of the things that I struggle with most is planning my time effectively, and managing an even work-life balance. I find that you constantly have people reminding you to take breaks, look after yourself, and keep yourself healthy. But then you also have the pressures of working in a very fast-moving, competitive industry, which forces so many of us to just keep going out of fear of missing out on work.

Hannah Brodrick, live sound engineer and tour manager, told me about the consequences of taking on too much work and not setting aside sufficient time to unwind.

“When I started out I was saying yes to every job and working for anyone that hired me,” she said. “The result was I earned a lot of money but had no time to spend it, and I made myself ill from exhaustion at one point. I came to realise that it’s okay to say no to work, especially when it’s work that is not going to get you to higher places or isn’t making you happy.

“My best advice is that it’s okay to work hard, but your health and well-being should always come first, so book holidays and visit family and friends whenever you can. Exercise regularly. Every year I take a month off and go travelling and it definitely helps me reset.”

Record producer and studio owner, Romesh Dodangoda, is also an advocate of regular breaks.

“Try not to take on too much work or you will burn out and not find it enjoyable,” he said. “I think by trying something different now and again, whether it’s a different mixing technique or the way I might approach a song, can really keep things fresh. I try and go to different studios, rather than just staying at my own, as it gives me more inspiration and makes things more exciting for me than being in the same place all the time. If I have a great time with the artist and keep the atmosphere fun and enjoyable, that alone keeps me motivated.”

Romesh’s tip about working from other people’s studios is really cool – something I’m keen to try over the next year to keep things fresh. Added bonus: this is also an excellent opportunity for networking, if that’s on your to-do list. So that’s some great points about not burning out, looking after your health and staying inspired. But what about some tools that can help take the pressure off a bit?

Joe Clayton, engineer and producer (No Studio) and musician (Pijn), gave some tips about how he balances life producing records and touring with his band: “My life is utterly dominated by Google Calendar these days, hosting multiple schedules on one platform so I can see band commitments, studio availability, time booked for mixing and even (rarely) a day booked off to do something outside of work. To help with this I use Acuity Scheduling for my clients, so they can see my availability throughout the year, and a handy little programme called Zapier to automatically add things to my calendar. In terms of tips for juggling multiple projects, make sure you have everything written down somewhere. If you agree to a certain deadline, write it down or set a reminder to do so. Make sure you’re clear with your clients’ and your own expectations of what you’ll be able to manage. (I should take some of my own advice really, it’s a lot easier to write stuff like this than to actually do it!)”

I’m definitely going to take Joe’s recommendations and implement his suggestions into my schedule – planning is one of the things that I really struggle with as a freelancer. As he said, it’s a lot easier to write about it than actually do it, but if it makes more time for life then it’s definitely worth a shot.

I hope that reading this has motivated you to achieve your goals in 2019, but has also reassured you that it’s OK to take a break. Health is so important, and you’re never going to produce great work if you’re burnt out. I also hope that reading this has made you feel like you’re not the only one, and if you are struggling, it’s always OK to ask for help.