Highlights from 2020
I would like to continue this tradition of highlighting the most memorable jobs of the previous year. Although the pandemic really hit our business hard, we still managed to do some jobs both before and after the society closed down in March.
The lockdown took us by surprise. I remember a week before the government shut down the society on March 12, I got my first wakeup-call on the consequences of the pandemic: A colleague turned down a job-offer for a concert-job because he was afraid of getting infected by Covid. I probably didn’t say it directly to him, but I might have thought for myself that this showed a weak mentality: in our business you never quit before it’s too late. Sickness is not an excuse: Having a fever just means that you take a paracet. The show must go on. I must admit: before the pandemic I have gone to jobs where I probably should have stayed home. I say this because I got a reprimand from the client for not being able to suppress my coughing when standing behind the mixing-desk. The fear of infecting others, or taking care of your own health, was not the priority: Sickness is only a problem if it shows on the outside or if it gets so bad that you are physically not able to do your job. It’s not an excuse to stay home from work because it could affect your career in a bad way. The competition for jobs is high and if you give your project to someone else then this person may end up keeping this job also after you have recovered. And a lot of freelancers feel that they are irreplaceable in their jobs: there are nobody else that can do their job for them. Perhaps this also leads to the feeling they are invincible: There is simply nothing that can stop us from doing our job.
Up until the lockdown in March this was my mentality. I kept calm and tried to do as much work as I could. When the pandemic came closer we started to avoid handshakes, but apart from this there was not much we could do to avoid the consequences. When the government announced the lockdown I was in a theatre working with audio-cues. The next day I was home trying to figure out what I would do for the next months.
Highlight 1: The Red-Alert demonstration for the rights event workers
30. September, Eidsvolls plass Oslo
For the yearly highlights I normally only include events where I work as an engineer. But for this exceptional year I feel it’s important to include an event that probably had a bigger impact on my working-situation as a whole.
The Red Alert movement supports artist, engineers and other workers in the event-industry that have seen their jobs disappear because of Covid. A lot of these workers, myself included, are organized in what is called a sole proprietorship. This is the simplest form of business which requires much less paperwork than a traditional private limited company. Arguably you also pay less taxes because you don’t need to pay employer tax among other things. The downside is that this kind of organisation doesn’t have the same social benefits as other workers have: If your company doesn’t earn enough money you are personally accountable and the only safety net the society has the offer is the social assistance that is given to the poorest. Receiving this kind of help is not really an viable option for freelancers that want to maintain in the business: The money given is much less than what other workers get, and you may have to sell your equipment and thereby give up your company before receiving anything. In a sole proprietorship there is no difference between what is owned by the company and the person. For the government it doesn’t matter if you sell your much needed microphone or your luxury car, they are both unnecessary items that you need to get rid of before receiving social assistance. When the government announced lockdown, it was therefore a very difficult situation for many freelance engineers in the event-industry. We realised we were not so invincible as we thought. Suddenly it was not enough to have the right attitude or work harder than the competition to succeed in the business: There were simply no more jobs and absolutely nothing we could do secure our company. Our faith was in the hands of the government.
And luckily for us they did the right thing: they came up with an extraordinary support which guaranteed 80% of our net income. But for some reason the government wanted to close this arrangement from November when the pandemic was far from over. That is when the highlighted event came in: our industry kicked back with a powerful demonstration in front of the parliament. And I was proud to be one of the protesters who stood with a flightcase in front of the stage.
The message was heard by the politicians: The support was extended to march this year, albeit with 60% support instead of 80% . It is largely because of this support that I have managed to go through this difficult period with a healthy private economy.
Highlight 2: AUF national meeting
Samfunnssalen, October 16-18
In my previous blogtext I predicted that there would be some work in the fall. And it turned out I got it right: September and October was almost business as usual for me, until the second wave in November shut everything down again.
The biggest job I got in this period was working with audio for the political organization AUF’s national meeting. Normally they gather everyone in one hall, but because of covid-regulations they had to split into 3 cities, Trondheim, Oslo and Bergen, and communicate through video. I was responsible for live-audio in Oslo, and it turned out that I also had to mix all the audio-stems from Bergen and Trondheim before it was broadcasted to the official video-stream. This is a typical situation for a sound-engineer working under Corona restrictions: you have to do both sound for the live-audience seated in the hall and sound for video. Traditionally this has been two different genres in audio with different people specializing in each of them.
It all went pretty well until the end, when the new leader for the organization was elected. I noticed that I hadn’t bothered to put out extra audience-microphones when all I could hear through the main speaker-microphone was the old leader clapping very loud. This worked fine for the audience in the room, but for the video-stream it didn’t capture the atmosphere of the whole room clapping together celebrating the new elected leader. So what I had to do in a rush was to find the nearest microphone, which was the talkback-microphone, and hold it in one hand pointed against the audience while I used my second hand to ride it with my fader. On one ear I had headphones listening to how the clapping sounded in stream, while the second ear had no headphones because I needed to listen for the PA-sound in the room.
I think my multitasking was successful and that nobody noticed anything strange with the sound of clapping. But I am not sure I will keep this workflow when the pandemic is over and things go back to normal.