By Martin “Shrek” Frey
For those of us unfamiliar with golf-related terminology, “The Back Nine” refers to the second half of play on any typical 18-hole golf course. Upon completion of “The Front Nine”, golfers then make “The Turn”. At the turn, a quick break for liquid refreshment and perhaps a hotdog and/or snack are often hastily enjoyed before continuing onto “The Back Nine” holes and completing the round.
After nearly 35 years of being actively employed in the live audio industry, I’ve already made “The Turn” as it were. I am somewhere on “The Back Nine” and still playing the heck out of the game I love most. I’m pretty sure that I’ve got a way to go before I finish this round, too. I’ve also learned along the way through personal experience that in reality, nothing is ever for certain and that life is always full of surprises.
A couple of years ago, a professional opportunity presented itself to me. It would change the overall direction of my career in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Surprise!
In the midst of my two full-time gigs (one touring and the other not), I got a call from the Kyle Welch the director of live sound at the highly regarded industry teaching institution, The Blackbird Academy in Nashville TN. Kyle explained to me the overall Live Sound curriculum at Blackbird and then asked if I would be interested in appearing as a guest lecturer for the (then) current Class of 2015. I immediately said, yes. So began my journey into the lecture circuit, LOL!
Somehow, having become busier than ever (including a nearly two-year hiatus from blogging altogether), I managed to stumble upon a newly found personal balance between life on the road and life at home. Yet another surprise! This “Turn” landed me into a position to finally be able to give something back to our industry, which has given me so much over the years.
Where to begin? Panic set in, at first. How was I going to talk for almost 3 hours straight about my favorite subject? I’d had little experience in the past speaking to groups on a professional level. Mainly in the role of production manager on tour and once having given a one-hour webinar on live drum mic placement techniques for EAW. Not ever specifically talking pure audio-speak to an expectant crowd of eager students.
Just a minute here though… Hadn’t I been going back to school over and over again throughout the last 20+ years of my career? It struck me right there and then that I’d actually had years of first-hand experience! In fact I’m still attending lectures, clinics, training classes and presentations put on by the most talented instructors our industry has to offer!
Among others, Bob McCarthy, Bernie Broderick, Robert Scovill and Buford Jones stand out in my mind. These “instructors” have made a huge difference in my life both professionally and personally. These “instructors” inspired me to become better at my craft and to constantly strive to learn more. And they each did it in such a way that made it both look and feel easy. Truly naturally gifted individuals, IMO. They are each outstanding in their respective fields. They are all industry leaders. These are the people I would draw from. They’ve all been teaching us for years! Without knowing it, they at least indirectly taught me some basics that made things a lot better when I was doing the teaching.
Knowing both your subject matter and audience are key to successfully getting your message across to any group of potential listeners. What I had to do was to combine those elements from watching them teach. Then come up with my own, unique delivery.
Kyle presented me with a general overview of suggested subject material. These were areas which he envisioned presenting as potential content for my lecture. These topics included; Professional etiquette/demeanor, Social media/networking, Tools of the trade (What’s in the bag/Pelican?), Media (file) storage/protection, and potentially two audio related subjects of my own choosing. I chose general live drum mic placement techniques. Mainly because—remember that webinar?—I had all of the materials already. And noise gates and parallel drum buss compression techniques. A lot of stuff to cram into three hours you would think.
KISS: Keep It Simple & Straightforward and stick to the plan. This is my mantra.I spent days compiling bullet points, drawings, diagrams and pics. In the days to follow, more editing, streamlining and adding a bit of humor here and there. My sole intent was to leave my class with something they that would both enjoy and remember. Give them something that would better prepare them for their journey into the wide world of live audio production, something that they won’t necessarily teach you in school. Something that would give them a good head start before venturing out into play on “The Front Nine”.
I rehearsed timing and presentation at home and finally the day came. I was ready (or so I thought). Yeah, I was a little nervous, but not too shaky. It was a big class. I started by introducing myself to the class with a brief overview of my current employment status and away we went! I had chosen a specific spot at which to break for 15 minutes mid lecture. To make a long story longer, after the break I continued on as planned and before I knew it, I had run out of time. How was that even possible??? It was surprisingly pretty easy to talk too much on certain points. Embellishing here and there. It was both a good lesson and an excellent learningexperience for me. The lecture itself turned out better than I had expected. No one fell asleep and no hecklers = Win! The first one is always the toughest. A little further editing and some better time management were all that was needed. Phew!
I’ve since been invited back twice more, most recently a couple of weeks ago to talk with both classes of 2016. Yes, I’d managed to condense and better manage my timing. I now get all of the subject matter included in a timely manner. My favorite parts are the “What’s in the bag?” segment (because it’s hands-on) and Parallel drum buss compression, for which I bring actual live two-buss recordings to help demonstrate via critical listening. I must say however, that there’s nothing quite like getting a good laugh from your students. It means that they’re both paying attention and getting it.
The best part by far IMO though, are the questions. I have long since learned that there are never any stupid questions. Ever. Haven’t been out to play a round yet? Want some great tips for getting a head start on “The Front Nine”? Ask some of the guys who are out playing on “The Back Nine”. They know a thing or two about how to land one on the green every time.
You know what else I’ve learned? Now I know why people teach. They love doing it.