One of the most fundamental concepts we learn in audio is signal flow. Signal flow is the path an audio signal takes from input to output. In a very simple recording system, the path may look like this:
Troubleshooting is the process of problem-solving. What is the problem, and what is the source of it? In the recording setup above, if your mic signal isn’t reaching your DAW, it requires troubleshooting to fix it. Proper troubleshooting looks each element in the path in a methodical way. First, you may check the obvious (is the mic plugged in?) Then, you dig deeper, checking each element in the chain (in order) – is the mic pre phantom power on? Cables patched correctly? And so forth. Eventually, you find the problem and can correct it.
Just like signal flow, a career only “flows” when everything in the chain is working properly. In reality, that’s rarely how it goes. Everyone has challenges and barriers and both can totally vary from person to person. In Nashville (the U.S. city with the highest concentration of music industry jobs), it’s a struggle to find work without skills, experience, and relationships with people in the industry (connections). If you don’t have skills, experience and relationships, that’s like trying to work when you have a broken mic pre, A/D converter, and computer. In situations like COVID-19, it’s more like having someone who’s highly trained with an amazing channel strip but they can’t work cause the power is out. Sometimes it’s out of our control, but the chain still needs troubleshooting.
The problem is, we aren’t taught to troubleshoot a career. We aren’t even taught to take our troubleshooting skills and apply them to a career. Yet, it is very common for a career to need troubleshooting especially early on. Being honest about limitations can be what gets you un-stuck – whether that’s relationships/networking, experience, or recognizing you’re in a market or location where there isn’t a lot of money or work.
Someone could put a lot of energy into learning new skills, pivoting into other areas of the industry, etc only to find that the problem was something much simpler. Like, if people can’t find you online, or it’s not clear from your website what your niche is, both of those can cost you work. If troubleshooting occurred to a recording system with the same approach many take to their careers, we would probably change the mic 5 times and never check the cable. Or, we might not see a signal and give up altogether.
Sometimes we need help troubleshooting. Are there comments you’ve heard from clients over and over? Is there a type of work you want but can never land? Asking others to help troubleshoot and learning to identify where you’re having problems will only help move a career in the direction you want it to go. These kinds of questions will come up throughout a career – but over time it’ll become more of an automatic process, just like teching and maintenance in the studio.