What Selling Gutter Helmet Taught Me About Mixing

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A lot of people don’t know this (mainly because I don’t usually mention it), but for about 18 months in the early 2000’s, I made a living selling Gutter Helmet and replacement windows. Well, “made a living” is probably a bit generous; I wasn’t ever able to make quite enough to get by, nor did I really enjoy it. It was an incredibly valuable experience, however. God has a funny way of using everything in our past—someday I’ll tell you about the chain of tanning salons I owned—to further His Kingdom.

The other day, I was reflecting back on those wonderful interesting educational days, and drew some parallels to how I now approach FOH work. You might not see the connection right away, but remember—mixing is at least 33% people skills. And selling home improvement products is all about people skills. These are a few lessons that I learned that still impact how I mix.

Build Trust Quickly

Even though my prospective customers all called for an appointment, I still had just a few minutes to build rapport and trust with them. People don’t buy from someone they don’t trust, so I had to win them over quickly. I dressed professionally, carried a clipboard, and arrived on time. I smiled, shook hands and pet the dog if they had one. I explained exactly what I was going to do during the appointment and tried to set them at ease.

I to do the same thing with musicians. I like to be on stage when they start arriving, saying hi, smiling and seeing how they’re doing. If we have a new musician, I will orient them to our stage, make sure they have what they need and explain how we run rehearsal. I dress professionally, and do my best to set them at ease, making sure they know I will do my level best for them to have a great experience. This goes a long way toward helping musicians do their best, which makes my job a lot easier.

Be Prepared

I never really knew exactly what type of house I would be measuring up, or what objections they may have. We had different types of contracts, sales slips and credit card forms, so I made sure to have a full supply of those in the truck at all times. I made up my own presentation book that answered common questions and demonstrated how our system was different and better than the competition. I practiced my presentation so I looked and sounded confident. Even though I don’t consider myself good at sales, my closing rate was nearly 40%, which I’m told is rather good for in-home sales.

As a FOH engineer, I need to be prepared for whatever could comes my way. I make sure I have extra channels available for unexpected inputs. We have a full selection of DIs, mic’s, cables, batteries, wireless and other odds and ends just in case. We show up early to make sure the stage is fully set and functional before the musicians ever walk through the door. We can accommodate almost any request because we are prepared. I use down time during the week to prepare for the weekends so they run more smoothly and with less stress. And that makes everyone happier.

Manage Time Well

On the busy days, I would often have 3-4 appointments. Showing up late puts you in a harder position to build trust, and I didn’t want to have to dig out from that hole right off the bat. The appointments were not always right down the road from each other, so I had to pay very close attention to my time at the first so I wouldn’t be late for the second. That meant being efficient with my measurements, demonstrations and negotiations that would hopefully close a sale so I could move on to the next. Some people just wanted company, and I had to be very aware of when I could spend time chatting and when I needed to move on.

Starting a rehearsal late can be the kiss of death for a service. If the band doesn’t have sufficient time to run through all the songs, it can really derail the worship. We have to pay special attention to our time so we’re not the ones holding things up. If we’ve shown up on time, prepared well and are fully ready when the band arrives, we’re a leg up. But things can still go wrong. Sometimes we have to decide not to deal with something right then because we have to keep moving. If we fail to manage our time well, little things can quickly become big things. And we don’t want that.

As I said, mixing is at least 33% people skills, and it is as incumbent on us to get better at that side of the equation as it is to learn more about plug-ins, frequency response and spectral management. While dealing with people may be harder, it’s possibly the biggest element in whether or not we will be successful.

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