Jay Allison is an award-winning radio producer, reporter, and writer who, in addition to his own work, has mentored and sponsored countless creatives over decades. He gave the opening keynote at the Third Coast International Audio Festival last year, where some of the best and soon-to-be-best audio producers gather to sustain inventiveness and excellence in themselves and their peers.
His talk was directed at audio professionals, but if you substitute “creator” for “producer”, his detailing how to maintain a career by obeying and breaching rules fully applies to anyone whose job is to create something out of nothing.
Allison called his talk Preaching To Myself: Five Heretical Sermons In Five Minutes. He begins by saying “They’re heretical in that they’re the opposite of a lot of advice, but they’re some of the things I tell myself when I stray from what feels most abidingly important.”
The Sermons are:
1 – Don’t Ask Permission 2 – Be Odd 3 – Stay Home 4 – Don’t Try To Be Cool 5 – Stop Competing
Allison’s talk is onTransom as a stream and a transcript. Transom a great resource for all things audio (and therefore video): equipment reviews and tutorials, interviewing techniques (including interviews with such folks as Ira Glass), how to structure a story, many fine workshops, and much more. And it’s free. More than that, Transom is about how to be a storyteller; and in the end, that’s any creative person’s job.
From the 1920s until he died in 1975, Walker Evans’ work set a high bar for documentary photography, revealing poetry in the ordinary. He was a photographer’s photographer, already accomplished by the time of his unique collaboration in 1941 on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a groundbreaking book written by his friend James Agee (himself a unique talent – a writer’s writer).
Evans’ career was not a straight path to what he became famous for, not least because he drew from a much larger culture than photography alone.
Known for being a most American photographer, documenting ordinary lives and environments, his focus came out of an early antipathy for his own country; he started as a writer influenced by European taste and culture, where he got assigned to see the conditions he would choose to document on film.
Every photographer in the Western world, documentary, commercial, or fine art, can trace a link in their work back to Walker Evans.
Meredith Mendelsohn, writing for the terrific Artsy website, has written a well-informed, thoughtful piece on the opening of a major museum retrospective.
Attending a conference can give rise to either longing or loathing, whether attending or working.
It is of course fantastic to be around people excited about the same things. Yet, going to a conference requires spending time in enormous, sterile, noisy rooms with bad light, bad air, with bathrooms hidden hundreds of yards from anywhere. It’s enough to make you want to stay home, but that would be a miscalculation.
I’ve been on both sides of the booth. To the attendee, conferences present calculated features: There are vendors in their booths to sell you a thing or a service or both. There are teachers running workshops to sell you on an idea or a skill or their thing or service. Or all four. There is the conference producer who arranged the whole event whose idea is to sell you the idea that you should come back next year – and bring your friends! Everyone wants your attention – and your money.
It’s not a one-way street, though. Conferences, conventions, and exhibitions are usually oriented towards helping you figure out how to generate more success with less effort, or at least with a more informed effort. The focus is: knowledge translates to professional advancement. Everyone is there to learn more about their field, and that includes the vendors, teachers, and producers.
On offer for people on both sides of the booth, not obvious but in plain sight and even more valuable, are people, and plenty of them.
Everyone wants to leave the event with more than they came with: more sales, more skills, and the most valuable thing you can take home: new contacts and colleagues, even friendships.
Professions are built on relationships and people skills, which can be considerably more important than technical skills. Lots of people have technical skills – those are relatively easy to acquire from school, from books and magazines, on the job, from online tutorials.
In the world of work, whether as a freelancer or employee, people get hired because of who they are and how they behave as much as what they know how to do. Careers – particularly freelance careers – are built on getting re-hired and referred. In the end (and the beginning), people want to work with people they like. Those people have soft skills.
So how does this translate to the value of attending a conference? You can’t develop soft skills – people skills – without spending time with people, in the same way you can’t develop camera skills without spending time with a camera.
That means hanging out and reaching out, exchanging business ideas and business cards (take lots of cards!), asking questions, finding out from others how they do their jobs and sharing how you do yours, and what you know or want to know. Connecting with other people in your field – including the vendors, teachers, and producers – can lead to unexpected places. It can be fun, no trivial thing when you consider that fun is an important factor in any business relationship, because…people want to work with people they like.
So go breathe the bad air, be sure to rest your eyes from the bad light, remember to find the bathroom locations well before you need them, and find some folks to hang out with. It’ll be fun.