Tag Archives: Education

Knowledge VS Wisdom

You can know the terminology and not know what you’re doing.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

knowledge-and-wisdomWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.
Regarding the above picture, I got the Kanji for knowledge and wisdom from Google. At least, I think that’s what I got. The above might actually read, “Your mother is a recalcitrant platypus,” but I wouldn’t know.


I’m pretty confident that any average, adult human can be taught in less than one hour everything necessary to operate a parametric EQ.

I did not say that they would operate it well, or appropriately. Throwing them onto a stage-side monitor console to run rock-n-roll wedges in real time would probably be a very poor move. The process of you getting fired would be legendary.

The problem isn’t knowledge, especially now that many of us carry devices capable of accessing vast reserves of information by way of wireless data. The problem is wisdom born of experience. The way that you get good at wielding all manner of EQ implementations against all manner of audio goblins is by wielding EQ against audio goblins. There’s no substitute for it. Encountering problems, making changes, and hearing the results of those changes immediately is how learning takes place.

I do urge people to learn the vocabulary and the concepts. I wouldn’t spend so much time pushing math, science, and applied audio nerdery on this site if I felt differently. Knowing the words and the numbers allows you to do (at least) two things: First, you can put names and values on both problems and solutions, and second, with that ability you can then ask better questions. The heart of all engineering – that is, the application of mathematical, scientific, and logical processes to the solving of puzzles – is the asking and answering of a series of questions. The questions can be abstract or concrete. They can be theoretical, or relating to something happening in the here and now. The circumstances hardly matter; Better questions return better answers.

But if all you do is memorize the words and ideas without getting your “fubs” on them in real life, your application of the concepts will be stunted. It’s a bit like this gem from Tom Roche, written down on Pro Sound Web’s LAB Basement Forum: “As I understand it, knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

There are lots of guys and gals out there who know everything there is to know about metaphorical tomatoes, and yet make terrible, metaphorical fruit salads. Folks who can name every knob and switch on a console, yet seemingly can’t hear that their mix is all drums and barely any vocal. People who talk about audio concepts using words that you definitely recognize, yet it’s all strung together in ways that are nonsensical. Craftspersons who memorized a workflow without knowing why it worked in the first place, and who get completely wrecked when the situation calls for something different.

More knowledge is good, but there’s a point where you can no longer read your way through problem solving. At some point, the book has to be set down and some knobs turned. That’s where most of the fun is, anyway.

Should You Go To Audio School?

I went, and I loved it, but I don’t universally recommend it.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

schoolhouseWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

I’m not entirely sure if me being a graduate of The Conservatory Of Recording Arts And Sciences reflects well or poorly on the institution. I definitely did NOT walk out of there and summarily change the world, but I have made plenty of friends and mixed a whole bunch of shows that were well received.

In any case…

I went to The Conservatory. I loved it. It was the best academic experience of my entire life. You would think, then, that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone considering a run in this business that they also go to school for the craft.

That’s not the case, though.

At the level of the general population, we are slowly waking up to the reality that the “diploma in hand” is really not a golden ticket. Our collective, aggressive somnolence in regards to this realization can be partially excused; For a long time, school was THE key to the brighter future. There was quite a long count of years where the piece-o-paper did indeed function well as a gate pass to getting a gig. There are some professions that still absolutely require proof of getting through the coursework to even get started. For many occupations, though, successful passage through related education is now a pretty mediocre commodity. You went to school? So? The 10,000 other people who want to do this job also did.

Having the education on your resume is no longer anything that makes you stand out from the pack. It’s not at all rare.

But higher-ed institutions of all types, especially those that really need your tuition dollars, won’t tell you that. They live on your believing that the best way to get into [insert profession here] is to have some sort of diploma. Like I said, though, the diploma no longer marks you as exceptional. It just shows that you were able to spend enough money and hang on long enough to get your credit hours.

From the above, you might think that I’m against school. I’m not. I’m against believing that school is something that it inherently isn’t.

School is not, at its core, an entry card into a profession or socio-economic group. It can act as those things under certain circumstances, but that’s not inherently what school is.

School is actually your becoming familiar with basic concepts and vocabulary such that you have a chance to understand your real education, which is the doing of the work in real life. It’s the mental foundation for asking the really interesting questions, questions that tend not to be covered in school.

(There are educational institutions which get into those questions, but they do so only at the very highest levels. Original research, the prime-example of this, is not school. It’s “doing the work in real life,” just in an academic setting where the goals are more than making a profit this month.)

The point of school is to make you able to learn something later, when you’re not in the classroom, lab, or other controlled environment.

So, if that’s the premise I’m going with, why would I NOT encourage you (like crazy) to go to school for sound? Doesn’t recording or live-audio school give you a crucial foundation for a future life in noise-louderization and electron inconveniencing?

Well, it can, but it’s not the only way to get there.

I went to recording school at just around the turn of the century. Digital consoles were out there, but were still a revolutionary concept for a lot of us in the classroom. The music industry still revolved around rock bands being recorded in big, expensive rooms through big, expensive consoles, connected to big, expensive outboard gear. CPU-based audio workstations were just at the doorway of competing with Pro Tools rigs running DSP cards. The project-studio revolution was definitely in full swing, but audio was still in a place where you could spend a lot without getting a lot.

You also have to realize that the Internet was in the midst of revolutionizing everything, but not nearly as far along as it is now. Information that’s easy to find these days was still difficult to ferret out then. YouTube, and a million people doing “how to hook up your sound system” did not exist. Not everybody posted their manuals and free(!) editor software online.

What audio schools had at that time was full-featured gear, actual studio rooms like what were in vogue, information, and the opportunity to do “lab” work that combined all that. They could charge you a fair amount for the privilege, and be basically justified in doing so. They were riding that bleeding edge of a business that traditionally worked on the “master and apprentice” model anyway, but had become big enough for commoditized education to handle the basics.

Do you know what’s changed since then?

The schools have newer gear.

They charge quite a bit more for tuition.

Gear with immense functionality has dropped in price.

All the information you need is available almost instantaneously, often for free.

Huge sections of the music business have stopped being “big industry,” and have returned to their DIY, “punk rock” roots.

What hasn’t changed at all is that “hands-on” time is still the most precious part of learning the craft.

To be brutally frank, as far as I can tell, for the price of an audio school program you can buy your own gear that – while certainly not top-shelf – will have all the features necessary for you to learn much more than the bare basics. Once you get comfortable with signal flow fundamentals, you could then start looking for bands to work with, and maybe even make some money while you establish experience. A diploma is worth very little compared to real experience, a reputation, and having some of your own equipment.

None of this is to write off academic audio programs entirely. If you truly want to go to school for sound, you should – but I would encourage you to look at non-traditional factors when choosing a school. Forget about the nameplates on the gear and the manufacturer-sponsored certification programs. Forget about whether or not the live-sound lab has the biggest and loudest flown array ever assembled. Forget about the stories of (a very small minority of their students, probably) who are working with giant artists and getting their names on industry awards that are mostly based on sales. Rather, think about:

How much hands-on time is part of the curriculum? The more there is, the better.

Related to the above, how much real, honest-to-goodness portfolio material will you have when you graduate? The more you can get, the better.

How much recruiting is done by potential employers at the school? Do local production companies go looking for graduates? The more of that there is, the better.

Will there be easy opportunities to meet and form relationships with people working at local, regional, and national levels? The more of those, the better.

We’re in a new age where the traditional barriers to entry are nearly nonexistent. If you’re going to go to school, go to a place that serves as a functional launchpad for your career, not merely a factory for people who can answer questions on tests. To use the language of Seth Godin, look for a place that prepares you to pick yourself, rather than for other people to pick you. If I had all of this to do over again, and I went to school, I would go to a school like that.

Heck, I want to teach there.

Why Techs Should Work Some All-Ages Shows

It’s an excellent way to learn and be tested.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.


That picture up there is one of the last from my days at New Song Underground. Underground was an all-ages venue in Salt Lake City that I helped to create and run. It was a BLAST.

I miss it.

Looking back, Underground was a formative experience that I would not have traded for anything. Going to school for audio was an important part of my education, but Underground was downright critical. If you’re looking to become a production craftsperson of some kind (audio, lights, staging, video, you name it), I highly encourage you to spend some time doing work in an all-ages context.

Why? Well…

You’ll Meet People Who Love The Craft For The Craft

It’s not that there aren’t people at every level of this business who “love the art.” Loving the art is what got a lot of folks to those lofty heights.

At the same time, though, the (often) brutally unprofitable nature of the all-ages scene means something: That the people who don’t love the art for its own sake tend to get filtered more aggressively than elsewhere. Sure, there are folks who enter the scene for a perceived, externalized payoff, but they probably won’t last too long. To a large degree, the bands that keep playing do so because they want so badly to play. The venue operators that actually stick with it are in the game because they can’t NOT be in it. The techs that stay around are still there because there are interesting shows to do.

Money doesn’t necessarily make art less pure, but the lack of it acts to encourage the “pure form” to emerge. The question of “will this be cool?” gets just as much weight, if not more, than “will this make money?” That’s how many great things are made.

You’ll Meet People Who Feed (And Are) The Future Of Art

It was through all-ages work that I met two particularly amazing people in the local music world. One was Julia Hollingsworth, who used to run Rising Artists Studios. The other is David Murphy, who runs The Wasatch Music Coaching Academy. Both of them have done mountains of work with performers learning the craft. They’re the kinds of people who are inspiring to be around, and they’re surrounded by players and singers of great talent. The raw potential of some young musicians is enough to make your hair stand on end; the Julias and Davids of the world help to shape that potential.

Through Julia and Dave, I got a chance to work on shows and recordings that displayed stunning performances. There were teenagers turning out the kind of material that folks twice their age couldn’t match.

And the best part is that you get to participate. In some cases, you may be giving “some kid” their first taste of a real show on a real stage. You get to make their day and whet their appetite for more. You get to help performers on their journey towards…whatever they’re journeying toward. I can’t adequately communicate how that feels, or what a privilege it is. There’s nothing quite like it in the world of music. Maybe there’s nothing quite like it in the world, period.

Such experiences are certainly not confined to the all-ages circuit, but I believe they exist there in high concentration.

You’ll Be Challenged

There’s a lot of talent out there in all-ages world, but some of it is undeveloped. There are also a lot of people who just can’t hack the whole “live performance” thing, but haven’t yet learned that they can’t.

Working with folks who are naturally professional, or have learned to be, is easy.

Working with folks who haven’t learned many lessons on professionalism is a challenge – a challenge that’s good for you.

The accessibility and fluidity of all-ages gigs means that you, as a production craftsperson, will have to deal with situations that aren’t under control. Show-orders will change at a moment’s notice. Nobody will submit an input list. Another band will jump on the bill unexpectedly. Nobody will know what’s going on. You will encounter a good number of bands and artists who are well intentioned, but have yet to master the art of show logistics.

And you HAVE to deal with it. You have to do professional work in unprofessional situations, with limited resources, and with limited preparation. You will learn how to be diplomatic, how to find and stay on the critical path for show execution, how to cheerfully chuck out your expectations and just “go for it,” or you will be consumed and excreted by the raging dragon that is “The Show.” You will think nothing of switching out six full bands in a night.

If you want the ultimate education in how to run a PA system at the ragged edge, all-ages gigs are an Ivy League school. You will experience VERY high-gain monitors, with multiple mixes put together for people who haven’t learned how to communicate effectively with audio humans. Both the deck and the house will teeter precariously on the edge of runaway feedback. You will struggle with FOH blends that fight every step of the way, as you wrestle with players who are too loud for each other, and too loud for the poor vocalist…who wants a SCREAMING wedge while they make no more noise than a normal conversation. Also, they’ll want to be three feet from the mic. You will learn very quickly that the loudest dude on stage is as quiet as you can be.

You will not have enough PA. Nobody ever does, of course, but you will have even more not enough PA than lots of other people.

You either swim or sink, and it’s exhilarating. There’s no other learning experience like it, and the best part is that everything else seems much easier afterwards. (You will also learn to be very grateful for people who are professional, that’s for sure.)

So – if learning tough lessons while also experiencing some brilliant moments is something you want to do?

Work some all-ages shows.