Going to school vs. going to work

I am a graduate of The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Arizona. Loved it. Learned the foundational stuff for my time in the business there. After graduation, I made several mistakes. Actually, while I was there I made a lot, too. Took some heat from the old guys about going to school when I got out. Want to talk about all that today.

Why did I go to school? I started out like a lot of guys. Grew up monkeying with gear. Building monster stereo rigs in my house. Wiring stupid stuff into my cars. Making things loud. My dad was a musician. I played in a few garage bands. Mostly just making noise. I liked the gear. I recorded everything on anything. Still have ancient cassettes of random recordings.

I worked with a youth ministry in Georgia in 1992. We did some band stuff and had shows. I didn’t play a huge part in the tech side of things there. When the house PA needed upgrades, I got involved. Wired the room, hung speakers, setup the mixer, etc. All of it was sloppy and inefficient. Poorly designed. Old gear. But it was loud. Really loud. And it got the bug started for building bigger and louder systems.

Later after moving to Macon, we got involved with a big church. Three Sundays into our time there, the head sound guy taps me on the shoulder. Don’t really remember how he knew who I was. He asked if I would be willing to help out with an event. Boom. I was in. I was volunteer sound for a few years, ended up running the show for a very long time. I was also working with other musicians and wanted to learn more. Wanted to be more of an asset. So, I started looking at schools.

I settled on the Conservatory mostly because of the cost and location. It was within thirty minutes of my wife’s dad in Phoenix. I went through the registration process, worked out the loans and grants, packed up the family and went to Arizona. ( actually, it was a lot bigger deal, but I will get into that later. )

My time there was great. Met a lot of great people. Learned more than what was taught. The question has always been, did I really need to go? Was my time there worth the cost and effort? Could I have learned the same stuff on my own? Can’t really say since I only know what I know. But here’s my thoughts.

I think, if I had just kept going like I was going; eventually I would have learned the same stuff I did in school. The school honestly didn’t teach me anything I couldn’t learn as a working tech with an Internet connection. Anyone who seriously wants to learn this stuff will find it. The Internet in loaded with great teachers and information for anyone willing to look for it. The best guys in the industry all write articles for the trade magazines. Most of those magazines are free. If you need to learn the gear, there’s dozens of stores online that will educate you for free so they can sell it to you. If you want to know about any area of the production world, someone out there is teaching it for free. Just like I am right now.

I have met guys all over the country who ask about this stuff. Where did I go to school? What’s the best school? Can you teach me this stuff? Yeah. I have trained a lot of sound guys over the years. As a system installer, I required everyone to sit through a training class after I finished the system. Didn’t want a thousand calls for the rest of my life asking the same questions. When the young guys ask me how to get started, I tell them all the same thing. Go find a church. All churches have some kind of need for volunteers with their events and equipment. It’s a time commitment, yes. But so is school. It’s a lot of work with no pay. Duh. Welcome to the business. It’s also a free education in real world audio and video. You get to work with real people, real gear, real events and real problems. Even better than school.

I also got hired on as a tech with two AV crews. Not a glamorous touring company with nice busses and expensive snack cakes. We setup huge concerts and tiny bar gigs. We worked with the has-beens and the wanna-bees. Legends and nobodys. I worked with promoters, managers, owners and crews who yelled and screamed to get things done. They lied about gigs. They shorted pay. They sent you out with the wrong gear or broken gear. They left me abandoned to make impossible shows happen. It was stressful and frustrating. But, I kept doing it because I really loved it. Idiot, right? I learned more about the gear and the industry from the churches and local AV work than I ever learned in school.

But. The school got me up to speed quick. They taught me the fundamentals of the gear and industry the I needed. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to get or keep those gigs without that training. The school also featured some great teachers. Some just taught the stuff from the class. Most told stories of real world experiences along with the fundamental stuff. Some were complete jackasses who barked orders and demanded perfection of every proficiency test. Some were just laid back studio guys who enjoyed every minute of the day. All of them prepared me for the people I was going to face in the real world. They taught me a lot about the work, more about the attitude. They really prepared me to deal with the guys who run the show in the real world.

The old guys. When some of the old guys found out I had been to school, they got an attitude. They assumed I was that annoying kid who thinks he knows everything. The old veterans out there don’t give a crap about any diploma from any school. If you don’t have hard earned gray hair from years of road work, forget their respect. Not gonna happen. The best bet? Don’t brag about that education. Don’t even talk about it unless you have to. Let your work speak for itself. Do a good job with a good attitude. If they ask, tell them. I worked with a lot of guys who graduated from tech schools who couldn’t even set a compressor or repair a mic cable, but they bragged about that school. Don’t be that guy. Nobody likes him. Nobody goes to the school he brags about.

Either way. School or no school. If you want to be in this world, get busy. Put yourself where you want to be. Volunteer, read, ask questions. There’s pros and cons either way you choose. Just don’t think that the school is going to sit you down and upload the stuff into your head. It’s still work. You still have to read and deal with people. If you are looking for the easy way around the hard part of the business, just go find another business.

This article was featured on ProSoundWeb.com

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