What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?
Obviously, the studio work is always very satisfying. But it’s easy to get burned out when you do too much of it, which is why I chose to pursue a job that is a bit different, but one that is still rewarding and a lot of fun. Whether I’m the engineer or not, I really enjoy when people have a great time here.
However, I would say that being in the room when a great performance is happening is still the main thing that inspires me.
Could you describe an entry-level position at Skywalker?
On the scoring stage, that gig is as a runner, which we have now although it’s not a full-time position. The runner is just called in on an as-needed basis, because we only have the one music studio.
For the rest of the Skywalker facilities [home to the post production and mixing stages for hundreds of hit movies, as well as special effects division, Industrial Light and Magic], most people come in as central machine room operators (MRO) for the mix stage. Sometimes they might come in as transfer people, as well. But that requires quite a bit more experience and education.
A transfer op may have been somebody who worked at a smaller facility for a year or two, got their feet wet, and knows the difference between a single stripe and dual stripe mag, drop-frame and non-drop-rame time code, and so forth.
Could you identify three attributes or skills—it could be either—that you would look for in an entry-level person?
I think we tend to gravitate towards people that have the right amount of enthusiasm. We don’t have a lot of people working here, and there isn’t any formal time period that you’re going to stay in each job. It just seems that those people that tend to excel at what they do, who grow and progress through the organization— start as a mix tech and progress to a mixer—are the ones that have the most self-motivation.
They can think for themselves, they are smart, and they invest the time to educate themselves. I really think not knowing too much and not knowing too little is key. I mean, even for a runner, the guy we have now studied for a number of years at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
I don’t have to worry about him knowing the etiquette in the room or being unfamiliar with equipment. He has a really strong music background. Yet he doesn’t know so much that he expects to walk in and be an assistant engineer right away. He’s willing to make food runs and do whatever it takes to keep the session running, just so he can be here.
But there are only so many jobs, so you have to be flexible and be willing to fit in wherever you can. You need to stay attuned to the opportunities that might present them-selves and be willing to jump in and take a chance.
That’s what I’ve done in the last twenty-five years— let’s see, I’ve had five jobs. This is my fifth job. And one of those jobs is counting the three years I spent as an independent engineer. I am pleased to say that, in each of my jobs, I have gone past what I thought I knew or tried something kind of different, with an element of risk.
Realizing that the next career move wasn’t necessarily safe. That’s the only way you can really grow. And that risk/growth relationship is a preview of what you’re going to have to do when you finally sit in the chair as an engineer anyway. You are going to have to get past whatever knowledge you have to when the client says, “That’s too orange.”
You have to figure out what that means and how to make the track sound more “green.” You should know enough about what you’re doing and the tools that you have available to you to creatively get the job done.
When a person is getting started in the business, they are there to primarily learn—not so much to earn. Try to get into a good learning situation, because the money comes
Yeah. Actually, that’s why I really recommend that a person get a job in the biggest studio they can find and not take a job in a one-room place. Chances are, they’re not going to really learn in a one-room studio.
Do you have any tips you can offer to somebody who is thinking about getting into the business? When you started, you walked in and approached Phil Kaye at ABC and said, “I’d like to engineer here.” Things are quite a bit different now, obviously.
Yes, I think they are different. A lot of people that we consider tend to come recommended from other people in the business. We also have a relationship with certain schools. I might e-mail the head of the recording department asking if they have any outstanding students, which is exactly what I did the last time we were looking for somebody.
I contacted Los Medanos, San Francisco State, and Berklee College of Music and just asked if anyone had a couple of bright young kids. A referral like that is one way to get a start.
The other way is just to call around, and if somebody says they’re not hiring, send them a resume and follow it up with another call. Or, you can ask if you can come by, drop off your resume, and see the studio. That way, the person who is hiring gets a chance to meet you, even though they might not be thinking about it at the time.
That approach may not work at some facilities that just do not have time or availability to accommodate drop-in visitors, but for many studios, it will work, so it’s worth a try. You should ask, “May I stop by and drop off my resume and meet you, and spend about five minutes speaking with you?”
Studio managers are generally very busy people, but at least you’ve had the opportunity to meet a person in the music community and hopefully make a favorable impression.
As far as resources, is there anything you think someone coming into the business should be looking at?
I think for somebody just starting out, “Mix” magazine might be a little too much. We haven’t yet talked about knowing computers, either. You certainly don’t have to know Pro Tools editing, but you really should know the fundamentals of either a Mac or a PC. I think having some knowledge of hard disk editing is quite an advantage.
I would also suggest joining the Recording Academy as an associate or as an affiliate member, because you still have access to any of the workshops that are offered once you’re on the mailing list. A lot of those events are free. So the networking and educational opportunities available in that organization are available whether you’re a voting member or not.
A lot of schools have student AES (Audio Engineering Society) chapters; I know San Francisco State does. As far as conventions, I would think now, NAMM would be a good place to go to learn a little bit about who the players are in the technology side of recording.
Do you have any parting thoughts?
Master the basics and the fundamentals. I think that’s the big advantage of working in a big place and not in a small place—you’re exposed to a lot more. In my nine years at Capitol, I was pushed to do so many things, not only the level of clientele that we had, but just kind of the things we were asked to do.
All the Frank Sinatra ednet ISDN sessions for the two Duets albums happened at Capitol. Then we shifted gears to record a film score with a large orchestra at the next session. You wouldn’t really get that kind of experience in a one-room studio. It makes you much more valuable as an employee because eventually, you are going to have to look for another job. It always happens.
It’s true. A person’s depth of knowledge makes them much more valuable to their employer. Do you have any Yoda-like pearls of wisdom to share in closing?
Use your ears, Luke—use your ears.