April 1996

Educating Tomorrow's Talent
Part 2: A panel discussion

by Paul D. Lehrman

In last month's Insider Audio we began a transcript of a meeting in which the role of education in preparing young people to enter the audio industry was discussed. The meeting took place at the fifth annual Parsons Audio Conference, held last fall in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and was moderated by yours truly. Participants came from all facets of the industry, and the discussion was frank, often funny, and left everyone with plenty of food for thought. We'll conclude the transcript this month. For more detailed bios of the participants, see last month's column.

PDL: How can manufacturers help schools do a better job of preparing students? What is it that educators are not getting, or getting enough of, from the industry? Is it money, is it gear, is it people coming by and sharing their experiences?

Robin Coxe-Yeldham (Berklee College of Music): More important than getting the stuff is being able to call them up and get some real answers, not just have to deal with whatever shmo Digidesign decided to let answer the phone in customer service. [laughter]

PDL: Not to be too specific.

Robin Coxe-Yeldham: Regardless of the size of an educational institution, when you have a fair pile of certain manufacturer's things, you're putting a lot of toys in front of a lot of potential buying power. There doesn't seem to be that sensibility or understanding from a lot of the manufacturers. It doesn't necessarily come down to doing any more than giving us a reasonable break on purchasing stuff, but they also have to give us the actual support we need to keep it really running smoothly and at top level. A classroom is not the place to Beta-test.

Bill Scheniman (Berklee): Mostly I would like to see a change in attitude, so we can abandon our role as supplicants, and be acknowledged as partners in the process -- not just as weasels who are trying to get a hundred bucks off on a reverb. We have a wealth of information: we are creating the environments that people will be working in, and we have unique and valuable insights into how people work and learn, whether the interface is designed well, whether the manuals are being written well. We have financial constraints that have to be acknowledged: yes, we're the guys who always need a break because we don't have much money. But let's get that part of the conversation over with, and get on to the real work of making better equipment and better people to run it. In film it happens: they got a jump on us of about 25 or 30 years of turning movies into "cinema", and learning to teach it. Film schools have the cooperation and constant presence of Kodak, and the acknowledgement that "your teachers are really smart, and we want to know what they know." When's the last time anybody here heard from a record company who wanted to come in and talk to your kids? Who has a Sony scholarship, or a Warner Bros. scholarship?

Mark Parsons (owner, Parsons Audio): We're in the middle of the relationship between the educators and the industry, especially when you educators come looking for free stuff. And as far as I'm concerned, if you can get free stuff, that's great. I sometimes act as an intermediary, or an observer, or sometimes I make introductions and help schools approach manufacturers directly. I know the manufacturers' thought process, and I've seen it again and again: I call them up and I say to them so-and-so wants a deal. I make the case that they're graduating a class of so many, of whom 1-1/2% will end up being significant buyers, but probably not [laughter].

I'm being ironic, but let me rewind: in fact they do respond seriously, up to a point, but nowhere near the point that you imagine. They do not value the personal relationship that much, about you as people, or your students, or what you're doing, from a business standpoint. I know there's something you want to buy and you want to develop something out of the transaction, whether it's a beta relationship, or to get the company in to show their products to the students. And I can predict, usually within milliseconds of when I first talk to you, what you'll get in terms of percentage. I won't tell you what I predict, because it's usually a lot less than you would like to think, and I want to go through the whole process to see if there's a chance that I, as your advocate, can get more. But I usually am right -- you can't get much of a deal. So there's a process of mutual education that has to happen. As faculty and administrators you are learning about that every time you approach one of these transactions.

Martin Polon (consultant and writer): I did a study on the audio business's relation to public universities. We looked at all the other areas: chemistry, computer science, funeral science, military science, anything you can think of. The audio industry is almost unique in not getting industry support at any level; it ends up at the bottom of the list for per-capita support from industry. Deans and presidents see the audio industry doesn't care, and that's why most of the public university programs are in jeopardy.

IBM assigns staff for six months to computing programs. IBM gives schools computers. They ask for students for interns, and they recruit on campus for graduates. Our industry doesn't give us money, or staff, or equipment. Not even old equipment. We have a credibility problem that no other part of the university structure has. When have any of us ever seen an audio company come in and recruit, unless we push them into some kind of audio fair? The audio industry doesn't realize the value of what's going on, and they have a bad attitude towards the students. At every AES convention I hear complaints about "those crummy tire-kicking students -- keep them off the floor, they discourage the regular customers". I've nearly decked any number of people, because that attitude is a bad one.

Jay Rose (engineer, studio owner): There's another reason. In every industry that Martin talked about, there is a formal body of knowledge that must be had in order to succeed. You have to know chemical engineering if you're going to get anywhere at DuPont. You have to know how computers get put together, at the bit-by-bit level, or else you'll go nowhere with IBM. In the recording business we're all, "hey, we're seat of the pants, we do it because we love it" -- and there's a lack of respect for an educational process.

Stephen Webber (Berklee): I think it's going to change. Like Bill says, film has got 25 or 30 years on us. Once all of our alumni are running these companies, and have a stake in this, there's going to be a lot more respect. The guys who are in there now have the attitude, "I didn't go to school!" I think they're a little threatened by the fact that here are these snot-nosed kids coming up who might know something they don't. They feel like, "what makes you think you know anything about this, just because you went to school?" Eventually there will be an aesthetic, a set knowledge of audio engineering that you have to know in order to get a job. It's going to grow up. To be a cinematographer now you have to have the credentials to do it. For the first 20 years, you were just a cameraman, and did it by the seat of your pants. But now you look at the credits on any movie, and the cinematographer's got letters after his name. That's because it's been around a while, and has had a chance to mature.

PDL: There have been attempts before to accredit audio schools. What has happened to them?

Martin Polon: We have never been able to implement an accreditation program in audio because the legal liabilities make it impossible. I've lived through efforts to do that by the AES and SPARS. The problem is that if you set up accreditation and you don't accredit somebody, this being America, they'll hit you with a ten million dollar suit. That's frightening to most of the people who are involved with AES or SPARS at the studio level, because they don't have the big bucks, so they never got the programs going.

PDL: One of the ways we've replaced the old apprenticeship concept is with internships, where students go out into the world and work, paid or unpaid, for a company. How well is this working?

Steev Coco (National Video Boston): There's an immense value in having an intern. When I have an intern he's my assistant engineer for fourteen weeks. We can bill more work, pull more clients through the facility in one day, and put band-aids on the things that normally wouldn't get band-aids. He advances his education: he gets client skills he otherwise wouldn't get, he understands how the industry works, not just how to move the fader 3 dB or look at the sample rate on the DAT player; he knows there's this guy back there looking at his watch, paying 300 bucks an hour waiting for him to finish, so he learns how to do it really fast.

Daniel Rose (Mark of the Unicorn): I think internship programs are great, but I've met a lot of resistance at our company, which I understand. The typical internship is three or four months long, just long enough for the experiment to be a total money and time drain for the manufacturer. We'd be better off taking a $5000 check and writing it to the institution, rather than accepting the intern.

What would be fabulous for us would be to have an intern there for nine months or longer, so there was enough of a commitment that we can get to the point where there is a physical or emotional break-even. Knowing MIDI or knowing computers just isn't enough. We get a lot of technically adept people who either freeze or otherwise really embarrass you, and we can't put them into our general customer service area in that short period of time. They don't know how to physically get a press release out the door, and call a magazine and say, "Do you have that in your hand?" It may just be the nature of our beast. Maybe if somebody comes in whose skills are stronger, and after four weeks we can give them the press list and say "Okay, get a copy to every editor around the world, and please don't swear at them…" [laughter]

Scott Shapiro (student, UMass Lowell): I interned for a large record company this summer. I felt I was shafted. I felt that I had an entrance interview with someone who knew nothing about music, nothing about audio, who said, "Sure, come in whenever you want, we'll let you use all the equipment you want to use," and I got there and it was a complete lie. No one knew how to handle an incoming student at all. One engineer told me: "I don't care if you've gone to school, we're going to re-teach you everything." That's an awful way to approach a new student, or a new employee, someone who loves to make records. I think it's very important for them to understand that there are people coming to them with some sort of knowledge. I got into an argument with one of their engineers about how many megabytes per minute Pro Tools uses. I said five, and he said one. And I said, well, I learned at school it's five, and we had this argument for half an hour.

Daniel Rose: This tells you an interesting thing about sales skills. If you've got somebody with a wrong opinion, you saw how direct contradiction got you into an half-hour argument.

Mark Parsons: What about survival skills? If Scott feels brutalized by the manufacturer who takes him in, whose fault is that? Is it the manufacturer's? Or his own, to some extent? Perhaps he needed to learn a lesson.

Scott Shapiro: I was just stating what I was taught.

Bill Scheniman: That wasn't the lesson. That wasn't the knowledge that was being requested. The headline says, "Local boy argues with engineer, Body found in alley." [laughter]

PDL: Education in this country traditionally has been a way to bring new people, immigrants or otherwise disenfranchised groups, into the economic mainstream. One of the groups we focus on a lot today is women. Audio, especially engineering, is still mostly a guys' club. Do the schools have a role in helping to bring more women into the field?

Carol Bousquet (Ferrofluidics, Boston AES chapter): We need to be talking to girls at a younger age. By college, it's too late. There's recent research underlining the differences between the ways boys and girls are being socialized: girls are still being taught to be passive, not to pursue technical areas. In the classroom, girls are being called on six times less than boys, and are being chastised for acting out for being aggressive. So we're talking about how do we create a revolution in the 90s? How do we address something that's as organic as this is? We're building a program called Women In Audio: Project 2000 [which had a very successful first meeting at the New York AES convention a month after this discussion took place], and we're talking about creating an alliance with Girls Incorporated, which used to be known as the Girls Club, which is 50 years old, and the only service organization in the country that studies issues affecting girls. They have a research center that designs a curriculum which is gender-targeted and compensatory. But you can bet that organization is underfunded. I'm on the board of directors in my community, so I'm real familiar with what's going on. They have a program called Operation SMART: Science, Math, and Related Technologies. We're going to massage that. I have a very deep-rooted feeling this alliance will help.

Mark Parsons: I'm the father of a grade school girl in a very good system. There's a tremendous body of research about the way girls are treated from the very earliest -- within the family, through day care, and the school system. A great deal can be accomplished at an early age, if the programs are appropriate. The good schools feel very strongly that women need a better shake. If you want to get girls into the audio profession, you have to appeal to the parents of the girls my daughter's age. You can do a lot with the students of college age, but the greatest accomplishments can be done with parents, through PTAs, talking to the principals, teachers and neighbors.

Bill Scheniman: Another thing we can do is to be a little more forceful with our peers in the industry who would like to defer the issue. We can't defer it any more. I try to place my students in top studios in New York and California. Although there are fewer female students, once in a while I get one that is just great, and I want to see her make it, so I'll call a studio manager and say, "I've got somebody you've got to have on your staff." And then she comes back and she's real disappointed, and she says "Well, they didn't hire me because there's a lot of lifting and a lot of heavy stuff to do, and you know, I understand, the guy told me about insurance and all," and she's starting to buy it.

So I call the guy, and I say "You idiot! I can't believe you did that! You want another try? You want to talk to her again and say you're sorry, and it turns out you've hired two guys to carry all the stuff, and now you want her in the studio? Or do you want me to call across the street and tell them this is one of the best people I've got?"

This happened with one of the big studios in midtown Manhattan, and I turned around and called the female manager at a studio on the next block, and told her, gee, over at so-and-so they wouldn't hire this person because she's a girl, and she went, "I hate that asshole!" [laughter]

The clients are driving this. Boy rock-n-roll bands don't like girls in the studio. I saw this all the time working at the Power Station. Suddenly they can't make the jokes they like to make, they have to tighten up their act, and can't be sloppy, and stupid, and thoughtless any more. It's about learning to behave around women, learning to respect women in the studio the same way you respect your mother and your girlfriend and your daughter. That's the challenge. Until all our friends change their attitudes, that's not going to happen. Right now, it's not a nice place to send a woman into sometimes.

Martin Polon: The issue you run into in recording studios, is that generally speaking they are small, privately owned, not covered by any federal grants or business, so there is no way to force them to hire women. The problem studios have, and I've talked to people about this, is similar to whether they have an SSL console. The owners say, "If I decide to buy another kind of console, and my bands and the record label want SSL, I can't sell them my services. If those guys in the band don't want women behind the console, it's the same issue, because it means we won't get the business." So where you've got to start the educational process is with these bands. And it shouldn't be difficult. You have to find a way, maybe through NARAS, to get that message across.

Robin Coxe-Yeldham: I'd like to say that it's not all entirely terrible. A lot of bands react quite favorably to having me in the studio, so they're not all idiots. But as to the more specific question of what we can do, one of the things I've had in mind is for AES to hop onto the "Grammy in the schools" bandwagon, perhaps actually going into the schools and describing what the jobs are. Which opens up a whole range of things -- not just women, some of those representatives are minorities that will act as sort of a magnet. A lot of these things are already in place, but we can really pinpoint the technology side as opposed to the musical side. NARAS is showing more about performance, not so much recording, but we can add that into their program. Seeing as how we are the educators, we're the obvious point source for some of this.

PDL: Thank you all. It's been quite an evening. See you next year.

Paul D. Lehrman teaches in the Sound Recording Technology program at UMass Lowell, and often wonders what it would be like to be his own student.


These materials copyright ©1996 by Paul D. Lehrman and Intertec Publishing