Studio Life Hazards: The Audio Pro’s Guide to Healthy Relationships

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The Feast of St. Valentine aka Valentine’s Day takes place on February 14th, a celebration of love and amore that unfurls annually worldwide. Expectations overflow for this holiday where chocolates, flowers and intimate meals are the currency.

But many pro audio practitioners are going to miss the party. Instead of ordering champagne and oysters, they’ll have to flake out on dinner reservations. Why? They’ll be squinting at waveforms, moving mics, or shipping a mix to meet the demanding deadline. There’ll be no sharing of beef bourguignon this night, but their significant other – if they have one – will be stewing all the same, as the intense pressures that impact audio professionals’ careers reverberate far beyond the studio.

The love life of an audio professional has challenges all its own.

Of course, Valentine’s Day isn’t the only time of year when personal relationships feel hazardous to producers, recording engineers, mixers, audio post pros, mastering engineers and more. For most people in the industry, dealing with stress brought on by economic forces and rapid technological change is a daily challenge.

These stresses can have a very real impact on their daily dealings with family, significant others and spouses. In many cases, the demands and ambitions that accompany audio careers can destroy relationships, leading to nasty breakups or divorce. Or it can prevent intimate relationships from even happening in the first place, forcing many into what feels like a hard choice between having a career and having a love life.

What is Healthy?

Dr. Joshua C. Klapow Ph. D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who sees the romantic challenges of audio professionals first-hand. An associate professor of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he is the co-host of the weekly radio show “The Web: Love, Lust and Life with Tony and Dr. Josh” on Cumulus radio 99.5 FM WZZR, and appears regularly on national outlets like The Weather Channel. And he doesn’t just see audio pros when they’re setting up his mic – he has had many of them as psychotherapy clients in his private practice.

A rabid student of the media, communication – and the people who power it – are a particular passion for Klapow. It’s a perspective that has given him special insight on how people that work in sound cope with their family life beyond the facility. “Very often,” he says, “on the show we’re talking about issues of people in the industry.”

According to Klapow, although there is a barometer for measuring healthy relationships versus unhealthy relationships – no matter what the profession – it’s one that rarely holds steady. “I would liken it to the same way that we tend to get headaches during changes in barometric pressure, but that doesn’t signal anything of imminent danger,” says Klapow. “You have to look at a relationship the same way. There are times when it is great. There are times when it’s terrible. There are times when it’s kind of neutral.

Dr. Josh Klapow (left) knows why sonic practitioners can have it tough in their family lives.

“But the best way that you can sort of think about relationships in general,” he continues, “is that you have three components to that relationship: You have Person Number One, Person Number Two and the relationship itself. The relationship itself is a living breathing thing that is greater than just person Number One and Person Number Two.

“The barometer for a healthy relationship on the whole is: Person One, Person Two, relationship on whole, are they thriving? Are they somewhere between neutral and thriving? They may take a dip down. There may be problems. There may be a bad day. There may be a bad week. There may be a bad year, but what you’re looking for is, in general, is the interaction between those two people causing benefits for each individual and the relationship or is it causing harm?”

Often, Klapow will bypass science and go for the gut check to make that measure. “I tell people to ask themselves, ‘How do you feel in this relationship? Not just today, but when you look back and you look forward, what does your heart tell you?’ We are very good reads of each other if we’re honest with each other. If the answer to those things is, ‘Yes, I am successful, he or she is successful and this interaction we have feels successful,’ then generally speaking, it is successful. But you have to be honest.”

Audio Adversity

While sound specialists have their own unique stressors, Klapow points out that they also have common challenges with anyone else who’s attempting to balance family and career.

“As different as audio professionals may be in terms of their career choice, they are human,” he notes. “As humans, they need to have their basic physical needs addressed. But if you are sleep deprived, if you are unhealthy physically, if you’re not eating well, if you’re managing some sort of illness, if you are physiologically not good, then it will impact your relationships and it will impact your job. That’s common to everybody. You have to have that in place, that’s number one.

“Number two, the way they act in the job comes to define a part of who they are, and that part of who they are may or may not jive well with their significant other outside of their culture. So you can have a job in which your personality and your style in that job is very circumscribed, very defined. It may match up well with people you know and love outside of that job, but it may not. People in the industry have to realize, ‘Who am I with? Who am I interacting with? Are they inside or outside? If they’re outside, does my inside culture and my inside interactions work well with my outside?’”

Klapow points to himself as a case study in the struggle for work/home separation. “My wife tells me all the time, when I come back from a show, she’ll say two things,” he observes. “One, ‘You’re talking too loud. You’re talking like Dr. Josh.’ Two, she’ll very often say, ‘You’re interacting with me like Dr. Josh. I’m your wife. Don’t give me psychological advice.’ My point is the industry has unique aspects to it, that people in the industry have to recognize are not universal and they’ve got to be able to turn it on and turn it off.”

There are many specific pressures that audio professionals face, as well, which Klapow identifies as barriers to maintaining healthy relationships. “Number one, very often unconventional work hours, so not 8:00 to 5:00,” he says. “Number two, depending on where you are within the profession, interacting with strong personalities, unique personalities. The third is the desire for many to reach superstar status while others are content with where they are.

“Are you doing your job to move up within the company, within the organization? Are you trying to break out on your own? Are you trying to stay in this market, or are you trying to move to another market? Does your desire dictate that you need to be someplace else? You’ve got all of that kind of swirling around. It can be a very cutthroat, dollars-oriented industry that is constantly being tested by new avenues and new business models, some of which are successful, some of which fail. Not to mention the advent of technology that keeps changing.

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  • Jane Calamity

    Great article, David, thank you. No one ever talked about this when I was “growing up” in the studio. They only told us we had to sacrifice our entire BEING to our job. It was even more complicated for us women. Anyone who tried to have a family really found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place! For whoever wanted to work at a certain level, there was no alternative, but we saw the effects of it all around us. I loved my job, I still love it, but my priorities have changed. Hopefully your article will reach some of the younger kids out there who will inevitably face this dilemma.