One of the Austin music scene’s most prolific and present participants is indubitably Mike Manewitz. Skilled in both live-sound engineering as well as live-music photography, Mike's unique blend of talent and curiosity has led him to work sound for internationally acclaimed bands at some of the biggest music festivals in the world, something he balances with a passion for photography which has him out shooting almost every night of the week. When he's not working or at his day job, he balances being a father and trying to grow creatively: “A lot of anxiety around my own creative work seems to revolve around perception. Obviously you hope people like your work but you have to be doing work that meets your own standards. Sometimes those standards are impossibly high and you stay hungry all the time trying to reach them. Sometimes that will keep you humble but sometimes it’s a prison. Balancing that and being kind to yourself at the same time is ideal.”
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a front of house engineer and photographer. A lot of people know me primarily as a music photographer which I do a lot, but I like to think of both as services that support artists. I’ll mix front of house with a band or artist, but also shoot their press photos or cover a particular show they want documented. If the venue isn’t too big, the crowd isn’t too thick and the mix is behaving, I’ll sometimes tag out to the house engineer and run up and grab some live shots. I also do some tour management, stage management, DJ parties and events and have a day job as a software developer in addition to having 2 giant sons. I stay pretty busy.
How do you deal with the continual ebb and flow of “success” as a creative person?
Everyone has to have their own measure for success. You can’t expect some third party to tell you when you are successful. I push myself really hard to get better at what I do and try to be very deliberate about going over my work to analyze what I liked or what didn’t work. When I started shooting photos, I set a goal for myself to see how far I could push it and how good I could get at it. I’m nowhere near where I want to be but being able to see how far I’ve come makes me feel successful. When an artist approaches me to work with them and they have some specific goals like photos to promote an upcoming release or they want to step up the production of their live show, and we make photos together that they use or we have a great show, I feel successful. It doesn’t always go that way but you have to set your trajectory for where you want to go, stay at it and course-correct as you go. If you have a bad gig or your work isn’t where you’d like it to be, just get back at it. Don’t compare yourself to others, compare yourself to where you were and keep your focus on your trajectory.
When is a time you felt really successful? Or a time you felt like you failed?
I recently had a photo I shot for Street Sects published in Decibel magazine and got to walk into a Barnes and Noble and buy a copy and hold it in my hand. It was surreal. It’s the sort of work I’ve always wanted to do and seeing it in a magazine felt great. As far as failures go, I haven’t fucked anything up too too bad recently. Having a customer service background from working in hotels, I’m pretty good at going to Plan B and keeping things moving if I do something dumb like forget a piece of equipment. As I’ve gotten busier, I’ve had to be more diligent about organization/scheduling to avoid things like double-booking myself which is the worst. Getting better at something usually means making a lot of mistakes, taking ownership of them and making sure they don’t happen again in the future. The key to that is to really analyze what went wrong and not move past it too quickly so you can have a takeaway both for yourself and for the customer/client/partner. I’m a huge fan of radical transparency and that includes taking ownership of your mistakes. It builds trust and leads to longer-term working relationships.
What is your biggest struggle as a person in creative industry?
Balance is hard. Making time for family, job, relationships, creative work, “leisure”, etc. Lots of late nights and exhausted days. I feel lucky in that when I get burnt out on one thing, I can focus on another. I might hit photography really hard for a few months and then go DJ a party or mix some shows for my friends’ bands.
What is your daily routine? Your weekend routine?
I’m out at shows constantly. I use Facebook events and showlistaustin.com to track what’s happening in town. I’ll bounce around a couple venues and shoot, get home late and import my photos to my laptop before I go to bed. In the morning as I’m waking up I’ll jump on my phone in bed and pick the best shots to edit on the computer or my phone when I have spare moments, then send things out or make a post. Weekends are about the same but I get to sleep in more.
How do you motivate yourself to actually get things done and/or maintain some level of productivity?
I’m a terrible procrastinator which probably has roots in perfectionism/anxiety/imposter syndrome. If I set a time when I’m going to work on something, even if I just plan to work on it a little bit, I usually end up powering through it to the end. It’s the getting started that’s tough. Reminding myself to take small bites out of things and not try to swallow them whole makes them easier to approach.
How do you manage the stress/anxiety that’s inevitable with putting yourself out there?
A lot of anxiety around my own creative work seems to revolve around perception. Obviously you hope people like your work but you have to be doing work that meets your own standards. Sometimes those standards are impossibly high and you stay hungry all the time trying to reach them. Sometimes that will keep you humble but sometimes it’s a prison. Balancing that and being kind to yourself at the same time is ideal. The internet and social media can make this really hard when you have quantifiable metrics about how many people “like” your work but paying too much attention to that is not a good or productive use of your energy. Just do the work and iterate on it and people will notice.
How do you know when it’s time to rest?
I’ll notice sometimes my enthusiasm will nosedive or I’ll be frustrated about random things and restless about my work. These are good indications that I need to recharge and reconnect with humans I care about.
Do you collaborate, and if so, what’s your collaborative process like?
I love to collaborate. I like solving problems together. If it’s a band who are having trouble with the consistency of the sound of their shows, I’ll listen to their entire discography and have them send me new work they are likely to play. I’ll chat with them about what their main sound issues have been historically and ideally sit in on a rehearsal or two. We’ll come up with a list of priorities for me and gotchas about particular songs. For any sort of collaboration, it’s really about listening to the people involved and asking questions to make sure you understand what they want. Sometime people don’t have the vocabulary for what they are looking for so it’s a process of getting to know them and the way they communicate and to build a rapport which is really important. Some people know exactly what they want and can communicate in a way you understand, and you really just have to execute. It’s like the difference between being a producer and an engineer in a recording studio.
What’s your big dream? Do you have one?
I do but I’m gonna keep it to myself :-)
How do you set goals/set yourself up to achieve?
Break things into smaller pieces. If you want to achieve X, talk to other people who have done or are doing X and find some intermediate steps you can take between here and there. Engage your community! If you don’t have a community, go find one. If you are socially anxious maybe find one or two people you feel comfortable with to talk about it with. If people know “Jen is trying to shoot more portraits” or “Ben is trying to find a tour to guitar tech for” then they will keep their eyes peeled opportunities for you.
How do you deal with people not liking you, liking your ideas or being jealous of you?
I try to be a relatively self-aware person so if someone has some feedback about me or my work, even if it’s negative, I try and really take it in and chew on it and see if there’s something I can learn from it. Sometimes the thing I learn is that I can communicate better to avoid misunderstandings. Sometimes I need to pull my head out of my ass about a particular subject. Sometimes the feedback is more about the other person than about me. That said, I have a very low tolerance for being around super negative people. You don’t have to be around or work with people who are assholes. If someone is an asshole I won’t work with them, but I’m in the amazingly fortunate position of being able to turn down gigs.