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Hi folks. First let me say that anyone who has achieved professional status in this field has my deepest respect. This may kind of fit in with some of the current threads- I'm looking for advice... I've been gathering opinions here and there, and this forum might be the mother lode. Ultimately, the skies would part and I'd be told what to do; but in lieu of that, pros like yourselves are the next best thing.

If brevity is the soul of wit, then I must be pretty dull, but here goes... I've finally! reached a major goal after meeting many smaller ones. My plan for years has been sort of self-made and instinctive: to become as knowledgeable and good as I can on my own, to the point where I believe my skills are valuable and employable--the point where I've paid sufficient dues and done my research. Of course, I could still learn plenty more "on my own", but the gains are fewer now and I need to take the next step.

I've been invloved with music all my life. My dad used to be an AV tech, so I always had mics, mixer, reels, etc., around. I've been a musician for 20 years (oh no!)(that is-if elementary school band counts!?). I've always recorded, and over time I've gravitated more towards that. I've wanted to be a pro for a very, very long time.

So I took my own route, reading, studying, experimenting, practicing--doing, at the expense of free-time (what's that?). Four or five years ago my partner and I started putting together a project studio. I'm really pleased with how things have gone. I've kinda seen all of this as a "dress rehearsal", and sought to try and build a solid local reputation.

Harrisburg, PA, is no metropolis, but it's the perfect size for what I wanted to do. I work with (I think) the better bands in the area, and they keep coming back. Every minute outside of my "day job" is devoted to this, and I have to say no to recording some great bands that I'd really like to. I'm NOT full-time with this, but I'm ready financially and mentally to give it a go. And now I don't know what the hell to do...

My plan right now is to move to LA in a few months. My best bud lives in there, so I'd have a roommate ($shew!$). He's established in on-location sound for vid. Except for my car payment, I'll be debt-free (part of the plan). This is a terrifying and super-exciting proposition. Jump in the fire; see what gives.

Here's what I'd love to do, #1 being best case:

1.) Assist a serious pro. Believe it or not, I'd rather do this than end up being some overnight big-time producer/engineer. Here in PA, I get to be a repected Eng/Prod. But c'mon, I know better... I want to study with a master, in exchange for no-nonsense hard work. I wanna be in the real-deal, around it. Pay those dues--step 2 of 3. If I could survive, I'd be one happy mug.

2.) Become an overnight big-time producer/engineer. Who wouldn't?

3.) Assist at a studio. But I've heard horrible things about this. One helpful pro: "I'd rather serve fries anywhere than assist in any studio." Other comments: You'll starve; you'll get sh*t on non-stop; it'll take forever to get anywhere unless somebody quits or dies. I'll be 30 in a few days... uhg... They say I'm a little too old to take that kinda' crap. Is it really that bad? I DON'T mind paying dues if I can survive.

4.) Post production. Editing, ADR, foley, whatever. I think I'd love it, and my Pro Tools chops aren't too shabby. I seem to have abnormal endurance (which I'm sure you all do as well), and can focus for hours on end, happily.

5.) Stay here. Quite a few people have advised doing this. One (very) famous producer told me this is what he would do, since I have an insider's knowledge of the area. He said I should record bands on spec deals and try to get 'em signed. I didn't know how to get my own bands signed! I don't want to be a manager, and don't want to bank my future on someone else's potential. Alternatively, I could get a loan and open a serious studio here (only half of our setup is mine). Trouble is, bands here have no budget. I'd have to turn to doing installs and the like during the day (that's ok). Every weekend for the rest of my life would require recording every bad band in the area (ok, worst-case).

6.) Freelance. Spooky.

So there's my life for all to read. Really sorry to be so exhaustive, but it is my life, after all. My buddy in LA says just get out here and see what happens. Everyone from bands, friends and family seem to have enormous faith that I'll do well; I'm the one with the doubts, cause it's tough out there. I know no one can tell me what's right for me, but I hope someone tries anyway. Ed, Roger? What would you do? Advice, anecdotes, warnings, doses of harsh truths... I will be eternally grateful.

Respectfully,
Curt

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When I decided to leave Chicago for the greener pastures of L.A. in 1979, most of my friends and family told me that I was out of my mind, no good would come of it, I would be a bust out and be back home within a year.....yeah right. At the very least, I had an opportunity to be an assistant engineer and sit behind the best engineers and producers in the whole wide world. If I am any good at what I do today, it is the direct result of having the opportunity to assist these skilled, kind and generous folks. The chance to learn from Bruce Swedien, Mick Guzauski, Quincy Jones, George Massenburg, etc. etc. etc. gave me more chops than a lifetime of sitting there by myself trying to figure out how to do this. In my time, I have come across many aspiring engineers and producers that came to L.A. from all over the world to develop their skills as assistants in the better studios, and have taken those acquired skills back home with them have success building studios, engineering, mixing, producing, after serving their apprenticeships.
ec

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Thanks for the somewhat positive feedback!... I'm glad you suggest? going w/ #1, the assistant route.

The trouble I've had lately is figuring out just how it all works. It seems like there are two types of assistants: ones that work for a studio, and ones that travel exclusively with an engineer/producer. Is this correct? If so, in which scenario do think the dues are best paid? Do you (or anyone else out there) have any caveats or words of wisdom in regards to this?

Thank you!
Curt

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c.cash, when I started as an assistant with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis in the late 80's, I felt much the same way that you do now. I new midi and programming and basic recording, played guitar and keys and felt like I could be a huge asset, my sites were set on becoming a producer/engineer immediately. However, during that time I would overhear more experienced engineers talking about things such as "nano weber's", as my mind went searching thru filed episodes of Mork and Mindy for a clue, I realized there was more to learn. Engineer Steve Hodge encouraged me to continue enhancing all the things that I already new but encouraged me to watch his every move in the studio. During this time I was recording, mixing, programming drums, even singing on many of the Mega producers most succesful albums, along the way redefining their perception of what an assistant is.That experience prepared me for the freelance market. There is something to be said for maintaining your current position for obvious reasons, but I think LA will offer lots of real world experiences that you might never find in your home town. Go for it man.

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Develope a vibe the exudes:

I WANT to go to the store in the rain and get you all donughts.

I AM THRILLED to be soldering these headphones.

I am happy to show you that feature on the sampler you need to learn, AND go and unblock the toilet straight afterwards.

I NEED a little or big job to do or I get BORED.

No seriously I can finnish this pizza later (now standing up) how can I help?

I'm done with that, whats next?

Jules


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Julian, what you say is also true....BUT, being an assistant engineer at a world class facility (there is usually someone else to unblock the toilet) is not the end in itself. Don't forget what you are doing there....use it like going to school, cause you eventually graduate.....or end up eating out of dumpsters.
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I always found the learning aspect kind of private and 'up to you' and that the stuff above was the meat and potatoes of the job to begin with.
If C Cash is a grown man, he may get a shock about just how slave like gofers get treated, I know I ceartainy did, and I started at 22. C Cash, how old are you man?


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c.cash Offline OP
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Jules, I turned 30 yesterday. So sad. So yeah, a late "start" (I have been at this for a long time, just not "on the map").

But this is exactly what I'm talking about... I don't mind fetchin' cables, etc., but doughnuts... I dunno. Whatever it takes, I guess. I want to be around the real-live stuff. Not my local scene. But the assitant-nay-sayers are scarin' me pretty bad... but bring it on.

Yes, I've got a good thing going here, but I wonder just how good it could get. I've learned so many different ideas from people like you on these boards alone, and it just proves to me that there are some things I just wouldn't learn on my own. Working for and among the people I admire (the guys I've been reading about for over a decade; the ones that did the albums I love)... that's really where I'd want to be right now.

I still don't get the gofer/asst. thing. (By the way Madjef, thanx and much respect.) Am I correct that there are two kinds of assistants- studio fixture, and "personal"? If so, I get the impression that it's the studio kind that people are downing. I would think that being a producer or engineer's assistant might be better, even if you do have to get the batteries and pizza... Or is that for the gofer? Do I really have to start at gofer??

I'm making my reel and my resume right now, as if it'll do any good...

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Oh yeah, let' not forget a very important part of this bizness......WHO YOU KNOW.....Starting as an assistant at a studio in L.A. let's see.....The first engineer was sick one day, I filled in doing some overdubs for a jingle client from New York, he gave me a chance and started using me to record his spots when he came to L.A. every other month. I soon started mixing his stuff, sometimes traveling to New York, or other places. I started to do national spots....HBO main titles, movies of the week...recrding and mixing everything from little rock bands to very large orchestra's, small ensembles to huge choirs and everything in between. This enabled me to go freelance because I was starting to make more in a day than I could in a week as an assistant. One day, not too much later, I was recomended to Ry Cooder, who was hired to compose and perform some sort of TV spot. We became friends and he hired me to engineer his next album.....he introduced me to David Lindley, who I also engineered a couple of albums for (Linda Ronstadt was the producer-we became friends and I did some more work for her), Bonnie Raitt then hired me, can you say "Nick of Time" ? I met Don Was, we did records for The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Ringo Starr, etc. etc.
Running for donuts in the rain worked out all right, I guess. At my first job at a studio, hell, I was given a brush to clean the toilets with for my initial promotion. Anyway, what I am getting at is: what are your goals? What do you want to do? I guess when you come to a fork in the road, take it. If I stayed in Chicago, what would I be doing now?
ec
P.S. I would love to hear how any of you others out there got your break.

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I wish I could say I've had that "break", but this is a little anecdote that may help c cash out.

Being originally from PA myself (Pittsburgh area), I moved to LA in 1980 for pursuit of musical goals. I was a hot-shot guitarist in the area at that time, but with only minor producer credits and no engineering chops. Of course I had the same type of nay-sayers back "home" that you've run into. "You'll be back in a year", etc.

I went to a famous music school in Hollywood and began doing session work here and there after graduating. I absolutely HATED it! (session work - not the school). I felt like I was selling my soul in each and every session. The producer would pick the worst things (IMHO) for me to play. I didn't want to be credited on most of the stuff I ended up doing.

To make a long story short, what I found was another area - recording, producing, engineering - where I had some semblance of control over the sound. I became the 2nd eng for a 2" studio in Hwd, and began getting my own sessions when the 1st was too fried after multiple 20-hr days. I learned a TON from him. He would correct my mic placement; direct me how to set up the gobos, etc., and I did have to make a few pizza runs here and there. Usually that was only when a big-shot was in the studio with their crew. He also would answer my questions about why he eq'ed something a certain way (usually after the client left). He was my tutor and is now a pretty-well known film scorer.

I went out on my own shortly thereafter - forming a project studio with a bud by combining assets. After a few years of this, we split the studio and continued on our own - we're still good friends.

I still have a day job, but I get to pick and choose (more or less) which clients I work with, so I have a very satisfying situation - for me...and I still get to play guitar - on the stuff I like.

The points I'm making here are the following:

1. When I visit the old home town, I'm practically treated as a celeb by those who knew me then. I would have absolutely NO trouble finding work there - should I decide to go back.

2. Meeting the business people out here (LA) is probably the most valuable experience you'll have; with the possible exception of learning from someone with a ton of pro experience.

3. Opportunities exist here that you probably haven't even thought about - if you're flexible, and relentless in establishing contacts. You could end up with a gig doing cable TV music or something really off-the-wall that no one could predict. Here's an example: I am close to getting a nice gig doing post work for a local Church which has a nightly radio sermon, and a weekly TV show on cable. This gig alone pays almost enough that I could quit the day job. I found it through a friend. I sure wasn't looking for a post job in the religious sector, but it happens to have popped up. If the gig's steady work and not offensive to me, then fine.

4. If you don't take the chance now, you'll be kicking yourself for the rest of your life for not having tried. The longer you wait, the harder it will be.



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Larry W.


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Hi, this is my first post here just like to say, you are right on the spot with the open and helpfull advice on this board.
You never get anywhere without this information share attitude. So go to LA and just be carefull who you work with and only get used as long as your gaining also, if not, well, one way traffic gets you nowhere.

I moved to Japan four years ago and have tried to restart my career here from working successfully in post production in the UK.
Reason for move A WOMAN, but hell thats music.
No fear!!!, at least you can speak to your clients in english... Good Luck

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We are currently in the studio doing a Bette Midler record, and I thought I would give my trusty assistant here at Cello Studios (formerly Oceanway), here in L.A. relate to you all a little about how he got here and what he thinks about it. Al Sanderson broke in with us on the last Rolling Stones album, Bridges To Babylon, and is currently our assistant engineer. Heeeeeeeeres Alllll ll.....
It seems that these days it's harder and harder to get any engineering gigs here in L.A., but if you want to get a good education and learn a few things about making records then coming out here is definately a good step in the right direction. I've been working at Oceanway/Cello for the last seven years, five of which I've been assisting on various projects. I must admit it's not as bad as you think. I've definately picked up a lot of stuff working at this place. I recommend maybe trying to get a gig at one of the major studios out here. Out of about three hundred studios, there's probably five decent studios. Of which include Cello, Conway, Capitol, Record Plant and Oceanway. Any of these places are good to work at if you want to get a feel for working in a professional studio environment. If you can handle working long hours and have the stamina to be on your feet all day then this is a good place to start. Gotta go, it's time to start rolling tape again.

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Couldn't wait to get home and check this...

Ed, Jules, LW, Madjef, Al, Ade...

eternally grateful!

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to reply to ed....
i grew up in orange county...south of LA.
studied music and started working as a copyist for a guy named sammy nestico. if you dont know who he is...youre too young. anyway, used to watch him in session and see his frustration dealing with engineers who didnt know what a second ending or coda was. so i got to sit in and tell them. it was cool, i was 19 and had no idea of what was to come. didnt even think this was "my chance" at the time. the engineering thing grabbed my attention though, so....i started learning anyway and anything and anywhere i could. lots and lots of hours...i have lots of war stories but got burned out at 25. so, got a teaching job....lasted 3 years...back to music...music director for '84 olympics...that ended and i decided to open a studio in the middle of no where. now, ive helped many artists get there start and will probably never get the big chance to go to LA, Nashville or wherever. so you guys that do, be wise and earn a reputation. so now ive worked very hard to get where i am now, have a good repeat client base, and can close up for two weeks and go on a great vacation whenever i want. never thought stability would exist in this business today but it can and does because of a good rep..when people want you, you can go a long way. just dont forget to help and give back when youve become successful. a few years ago i decided to give back what i felt id been given all these years by others. having worked with singers and bands for some 20+ years i started a program for kids who like to sing and perform. they also learn the whole recording process and do their own cd after a years work. these kids are all girls....go figure huh?? ages 10-17. they work hard and i have to chase them away when we're done. great feeling...this payback thing. so i guess what im saying is....bust ass and do good by all means. and then..try to give back to someone else what youve been given. it makes for good personal mental health.


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