SR Education 2006

Mix interviews live sound engineers about their career paths, their formal education, how they got their first gig, what they wish they learned, advice they would give to aspiring engineers and more.
Author:
Updated:
Original:
Sam-Safier.gif
Image placeholder title

Aspiring musician. Gear tweaker. Electronics guru. These are just a few of the “career paths” for many live sound engineers. For many engineers, the path to road warrior came from years toiling on tour, working from assistant to stage tech to P.A. tech to, finally, a gig working the faders. But today we’re seeing a more streamlined approach—that of a formal education at a top-notch school. And schools are responding in kind to this demand, offering more in-depth courses and studies on how to become the best live sound engineer you can be. Mix checked in with a few recent grads, talking about their formal education, how they got their first gig, what they wish they learned, advice they would give to aspiring engineers, etc. Read on!

EDDIE MAP

When did you know you wanted to become a live sound engineer?
As soon as studio work began feeling like a day job. Though I still enjoy studio work, I find traveling and working in different environments daily much more appealing and rewarding.

What criteria did you have for choosing a school?
Recording school was actually my father's suggestion, I started immediately out of high school and didn't really know which direction I wanted to go in the music industry. I wanted someplace that focused on as many aspects of the recording and live sound industry as possible, therefore giving me the most options.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while in school? What do you feel was lacking?
That successfully working in any industry is about how you work with others, as well as what you know.

How did you get your first SR gig?
A music director, Les Whitt, organized local events and would call me to help out whenever possible. Aside from working in local clubs, this was one of my first "real-world" experiences.

Do you feel the path you took is common in our industry?
Yes, though I decided to start off working in a much smaller market as opposed to the typical L.A., Nashville or New York. I started in the real LA (Louisiana)!

Do you have thoughts of going back to school or doing seminars to further your education?
I have gone back and attended several classes at the Conservatory [of Recording Arts & Sciences] since graduating, such as Pro Tools certification, SIA Smaart training and JBL VerTec classes. I also try to make it out to AES whenever possible to catch up on new and exciting ideas and seminars.

What advice would you give students either going into school or just graduating about getting a job in this industry?
Learn as much as possible and keep an open mind when going into the live field. Sound-wise, a great show is the sum of many parts—from FOH/monitors/systems engineer/patching; everyone plays an important role. So if you don't work out in one area, remember there are many more options. And that I learned from a lighting guy!

MANNY BARAJAS

Graduated in 2003

When did you know you wanted to become a live sound engineer?
I knew I wanted to be a part of concert production back when I went to my first rock show in '92—I saw Bon Jovi in what is now called Verizon Wireless Amphitheater [formerly Irvine Meadows in Irvine, Calif.]. I started going to more rock shows and I had never played an instrument but I knew I wanted to be a part of a rock show. I was probably like 11 or 12 at the time.

What made you opt for the audio end of a concert?
My step-father is a musician so I've gone into the studio with him many times and went to a lot of his shows, so I was always into audio, even home theater. That was my thing, my forte, and I always loved hooking up stereo systems, VCRs and things of that nature. And then in high school, there was a small little course called "Stage Tech," an elective class, and I took the class, which introduced me to the types of jobs I could have in concert audio production. I also went to Full Sail, and Full Sail had somewhat of a lighting course, and as I was going to Full Sail, I was more drawn into the audio aspects of the courses.

What criteria did you have for choosing a school?
I had no idea what schools were out there that taught concert audio production and a friend of mine showed me their flyer, showed me their Website, and I was sold right away. "Okay, I'll do this. Whatever it takes."

What was the most interesting thing you learned while in school? What do you feel was lacking?
The way I see Full Sail, to me it's a good foundation. I knew going to that school I wasn't going to learn everything; I wasn't going to come out being this rock star engineer. I knew I had to pay my dues somewhere, somehow. And that's how I feel Full Sail is: a good foundation, a good base. I learned what I needed to learn and I knew I was going to learn more along the way.

Full Sail has their own way of doing signal routing and the way they wire their amp racks and things of that nature and I would have liked to have learned more of how other people do it in the industry and then copied a little bit from Clair, from Showco, from other sound companies and been like, "Okay, this is how they do it and this is how they do it, so let's look at this and why is this better and why is that better. Why did they route their signal this way? Why do they do it this way?" That would have been nice: to see how other companies do things other than just the way a school does things.

I learned a lot working for a sound company that was doing these big rock shows. I believe more of sound and how the whole picture works is you have to work as a team—all the departments on a tour: lights, video, things of that nature. I learned a lot more of how to actually walk into a venue and a situation and say, "Okay, I know what needs to get done first and I know what needs to get done the latest." And when I was going to Full Sail, it was so repetitious, if someone threw a curveball at you, you were like, "What do I do now?" It is a school and I feel that at any school, you're not going to learn everything until you actually get experience.

How did you get your first SR gig?
I was originally from L.A., went to school in Florida, came back to L.A., and middle of my school year in Full Sail I started doing some research on some companies I'd like to work for and Rat Sound was "it" for me. Rock 'n' roll bands—this is what I want to do, this is who I want to work for. I went back home, I emailed the HR at the time and nothing. They would say, "No, we're not looking for anyone yet." So I just kept calling every week, every week, every week until some time later on, they called me back. "Hey, we're looking for an intern. You want to come in and interview?" I went in for an interview and got the job right way. This was around six months from start to finish. At the time, I was working other things just to get by, not really want I wanted to do, but gigs here and there. I was working for a video company, an A/V company, that was doing a lot of corporate work and then I was working for a small concert production company.

I did a year at the shop—that's how I got my first opportunity to go on tour, which was a Warped tour. That tour I was a patch master; I was dealing with all the stage inputs. And I've never done local shows here and there for Rat Sound and I did Taste of Chaos, which I was also a patch master and assistant tech flying the P.A. and currently the next tour I went on was Red Hot Chili Peppers, I was also a P.A. tech, and then I just worked my way up to monitor tech, which is what I am doing right now.

Do you have thoughts of going back to school or doing seminars to further your education?
I like to go to workshops. I've taken a V-DOSC course, I've taken some yamaha digital console courses. I'd like to learn more about the D5 and the VENUE. And as far as going to Syn-Aud-Con, I'd like to do things like that, but right now I find myself way too busy to do anything like that.

What advice would you give students either going into school or just graduating about getting a job in this industry?
Don't think you know everything as soon as you graduate. Work hard and hang in there. And if you know what you want to do, bust ass, that's what I did. There were times I was at the Rat shop thinking, "Oh my God, I'm not going to make this. This is not going to work for me." And I hung in there and I have already gone to Europe twice and going again and it's great.

SAM SAFIER

Graduated fall of 2001

When did you know you wanted to become a live sound engineer?
I didn't really choose to become a live sound engineer; it kind of picked me. I played in a band that bought a P.A., and being the keyboard player who understood knobs, I started engineering for the band. I also volunteered as a stage tech for many years at the world-class festival Reggae on the River. Two years ago, my boss and mentor, Jimmy Dangler, had a severe stroke that left him unable to perform as production director and stage manager for the festival. I was asked to step up and take over his position. Not only have I been production director for Reggae on the River for the past two years, but I also work as the production manager and sound company for many large-scale concerts in Humboldt County [Northern California.

What criteria did you have for choosing a school?
I wanted to get an education that would give me both the technical and personal skills to put me directly into the job market. Ex'pression [Center for New Media] had a great reputation in the industry, and their placement department is top-notch. This year, I had the pleasure to work with Shiloh Hobel and her staff while hiring a graduate to work as lead tech on the stage of Reggae on the River. I was also looking for a school with a top-notch facility and staff. The location of the school in the Bay Area was appealing to me because it's a hub for the sound industry. The school definetely met and exceeded all of my criteria. After sitting in on a recording session and getting a tour of the facility, I was ready to sign up on the spot.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while in school? What do you feel was lacking from the curriculum?
There could have been more work done in the field with the students. In my live sound class, our teacher had a rule that if you missed class, you had to go out on a gig with him to make it up. Sure enough, I missed a class and spent one of my Saturdays helping him setup and mix front of house for a big rock concert. That was one of the most educational experiences the whole time I was in school.

How did you get your first SR gig?
After graduating from Ex;pression, I moved back home and started my company, Universal Balance Productions. I began working with my longtime friend, Ishi Dube, and his band, Massagana. We recorded a demo in his kitchen and then he stared booking live shows in Northern California. I started mixing and providing sound reinforcement for concerts in the area. The more that I worked at different venues on the North Coast, the more solid my reputation became. After mixing a show for Ishi Dube at a small club in Arcata, California, I was offered a contract by the club owner to provide sound systems and engineering for all their events. My company has continued to grow into a full-scale sound and production company with a staff of three employees.

Do you feel the path you took is common in our industry?
Yes and no. I started out on a path that is similar to many in our industry by going to a technical school, but where I am today is very unique. Starting out as an independent contractor allowed me to start my business early in my career. Maybe I was in the right place at the right time. I think that where I am has more to do with my determination and love for my job and the music than anything else.

Do you have thoughts on going back to school or doing seminars to further your education?
It is always important to keep on top of technology. Our industry is constantly changing and times dictate continual education and research to keep up. I'd like to go back to school; it's just when would I have the time?

What advice would you give students either going into school or just graduating about getting a job in this industry?
You will get out what you put into both your education and your career. If you are dedicated and work hard, then it will pay off in the end. Stick with it and good things will come to you. Networking is one of the most important elements of success. Making and keep contacts in the industry is invaluable. Take genuine interest in the people that you work with. Take good care of the people that you work for; it makes a difference. Find a way to make money until working with sound does. Stick to the art and science and don't get too caught up in the business, and you will do well wherever you end up.

JOSH FLOWER

Graduated in 2006 from NYC College of Technology

When did you know you wanted to become a live sound engineer?
I knew I wanted to be a live sound engineer in high school, when I was involved in the theater program working on the technical side of the shows. I helped with every department, but audio was the one department that was able to keep me on my toes. It wasn't always the same thing on every show. There's always something new to deal with, good or bad.

What criteria did you have for choosing a school?
The biggest criteria once I began my search and learned more about what to look for was a school with some very hands-on classes, which is why I took a chance and went to NYC College of Technology and joined the Entertainment Technology department. Unlike most entertainment programs around the country, this department isn't tied down to a drama department, leaving all the creativity and more chances for learning to the technical people. The program also has multiple concentrations; other than sound design, I also concentrated in show control, taught by John Huntington.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while in school? What do you feel was lacking from the curriculum?
It's not so much a "thing" but having a production class where the students all work under the supervision of the professors to put together a show and present it to an audience. What was really great about it is the professors never held anyone back; they always encouraged us to think for ourselves and try things. We had an inventory of audio equipment that we could just walk up to on any day of the week and be able to sit down with a piece of gear to learn how it works. It was due to that that I was able to sit down and learn such equipment as LCS, SFX and various digital mixing consoles, and then learn how to make them work together and trigger each other.

How did you get your first SR gig?
I got my first industry gig with an audio company called Firehouse Productions. I did an internship with them and got to do work on shows like the MTV VMAs and the Field Day Festival. There I learned a great deal about how the business side of things work and how much politics are actually involved in this profession

Do you feel the path you took is common in our industry?
Yes, for many of the newer people coming into the business that want to keep up with technology that is being developed for our industry. But at the same time, no, because most of the people I work with stopped after high school and went to a club.

Do you have thoughts on going back to school or doing seminars to further your education?
I've thought about it possibly for sound design, but I'm not sure yet.

What advice would you give students either going into school or just graduating about getting a job in this industry?
Be persistent, one phone call isn't enough. Once you get a job, work like you are 10 people and let your employer see what you have learned in school. That way, they know how to better use you.