Post Secondary Education = Well informed Hobby? Need help.

Volitions Advocate

Hero Member
Hey guys, I thought I'd come here to pick your collective brains, maybe get some advice, and basically just to vent to a group of probably like-minded individuals.  I haven't been a regular poster here for much of the last few years while I've been in school (and paying for that, rather than new guitars), but this forum has always been my favorite community on the internet so I'm going to unload on you a bit here and hope to find some stress relief, or possibly even some help.

This is long so if you want to scroll to the end and read my 2 sentence summary, feel free.

I finished my degree program this last Christmas and I've been looking for work since then, doing everything I can to stay afloat.  I have a Bachelors degree in Music now, majoring in Digital Audio Arts.  It's been a really rewarding experience learning all that I have and I'm pretty confident in my abilities.  My training started like every music majors does.  Theory, History, Aural Skills, without the juries and practicing.  My major isn't an instrument major so I didn't have to play for the conservatory. My 'instrument' was supposed to be the computer / mixing console / calculator / my brain.  I moved on from the basic curriculum into things like audio production, music technology, audio synthesis, acoustics, data structures and algorithms, computer mediated performance, human / computer interaction, composition, and the like.  It was a very multimedia focused degree.  Could have almost been a B.F.A. rather than a B. Music aside from the very focused conservatory component.

One let down of being in school was that I actually never really got to play at all, I was too busy writing essays, programming simple audio software, and inventing gadgets for music control.  I actually quit my band going into school (more like the band broke up between a combination of that and our lead singer getting pregnant), and unfortunately had little time or inspiration to continue writing music or playing.  This is of little consequence really aside from me being quite rusty, which is not why I'm writing this novel for you guys.

I had decided early on in my studies that I was not there to be the next Bob Rock or Timbaland.  I wasn't there to start my illustrious career as a huge record producer who was going to be a whiz on the board and write songs and record bands.  I understand that the industry doesn't work like that and nobody is really going to care about your degree, they're more worried about how good you were at cleaning the studios toilet and how fast (and accurate) you were while you were out to pick up Starbucks for everybody.  It's a 'who you know' type of business where freak luck and talent that can be cultivated is the only real law.  I was interested in other aspects....

There is a promoter that lives in town that does very well for himself, and he donated $200K to our program since it was new, and the provincial gov't somehow managed to match his contribution.  So the faculty set up a scholarship program in his name to award academic achievement, and started a yearly research scholarship for students who submit a great research plan.  Well I won that first year and went on to recruit a small team and built some software with our small budget.  I think it was a success.  It was fun, even if it was stressful (and entirely extra-curricular).  I enjoyed the R&D side of things and thought maybe that's the way I wanted to go.  So I took all of the classes that I could that were not mandatory.  Programming for Music Applications, and Applied Research (2 semesters worth), that kind of thing, to try to round out my skills and give me a broader perspective.  I joined the AES and now read their publication every month. (including the Job Board)

I get excited when I think about designing something.  Gadget, instrument, software. Whatever.  More excited than I do when I think about recording somebody or something, or mixing a show.  It's not like I don't like doing those things, but they don't get me going quite like screwing around with the gear, and inventing or improving things does.

All of that aside, fast forward to post-degree life.  I started searching for jobs that would interest me or that would at least give me the opportunity to work in my field and get something good on my resume.  The AES job board had some pretty cool stuff on it.  Focusrite was hiring in the UK, what seemed like a dream job, building software and designing preamps for their sapphire stuff.  But they want an electronics engineer, not an audio guy.  Dolby is ALWAYS hiring, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Stockholm, San Francisco, awesome stuff.  But only software engineers, no audio guys. Looking at all the big names. Roland, Bose, Avid.  They all want engineers of anything but the “audio” variety.  So I start looking at production companies.  I have worked for a local crewing company and managed to get on the local crews for some cool shows.  Johnny Reid, Jeff Dunham, Wizard of Oz, that kind of thing.  So I go looking for them....  except I can't find them.. anywhere.  Can't Google them, have no idea what you CALL a business like that.  Production company doesn't really bring up much of use.

So I go to a Marianas Trench concert with my wife because she's a really big fan.  And I all but accost the FOH guy to ask him the name of his company.  He tells me “I work for the band, but all these guys work for Clair Brothers”.    OK...  Cool, never heard of them.  Which is kind of insane considering they're the biggest name in big time productions on the planet, They're global, and huge, and I've never heard of them.  A search of their website only yields a job posting for a warehouse manager in California. ..  ok...  keep looking.

I finally end up getting a job in a city a 4 hours drive from my home that uses inflatable movie screens (astro jump style) to screen movies outdoors.  Like a movie-in-the-park kind of thing, or drive-ins.  I apply and right away they give me the regional manager position, excited about the fact that I have a degree and seem to be dependable.

Dropping all of my plans I head to this job thinking “it has SOME amount of audio in it so it should help me out.”  As it turns out the pay scale is set up to get me to work mega overtime (not something I'm opposed to in the right circumstances) without getting paid overtime hours for it because of some loophole, and I'm basically on-call 24/7.  After 2 months I realized that while I was getting more money than I ever had before (not by a LOT mind you), that I was losing all of it in the expenses involved in renting a small apartment in that city (since I didn't live there and owned a house in my own town) and gas driving back and forth every week. Also the realization that on a professional level, this company is a joke and really has zero effect on my CV other than to show that I have management experience, zero
help on the audio front.  I lose all of my savings (which wasn't much) to these expenses and have to quit the job or lose my house.

Back to square one, except without the jobs I had before I took the cinema job.  Now I’m working for 15 bucks an hour again.

Then I get a great opportunity.  The local guy who gets all of the good sound contracts finally replies to my phone call, he remembers me from all the times he did sound for me and my wife and wants my help on an upcoming show.  Awesome.  Some country dude named Aaron Pritchett.  Do the show, he says “thanks,  come help me out next week, I'm doing Pat Benatar.”  Awesome!  Next week comes. I get in on the local crew for Kiss when they come to town.  Biggest production I've ever seen, and I go about sleuthing again.  Talk to Gene Simmons' guitar tech.  He says “I work for Kiss, not any production company.  I got this job by working for a lot of shitty bands first.”  …  ok.  Talk to one of the lighting guys.  He says he got where he was by having a friend in the business, taking a crap job, and working his way up.  So I say “I guess I’m paying my dues right now then eh?” and he just nods and leaves it at that.  No help from anybody else working for Kiss, I just do my job and get my 10 bucks an hour.
Then onto Pat Benatar a few days later.  Very cool atmosphere after doing the Kiss show.  Minimal lighting, no pyro, and no gargantuan army of workers.  There are about 6 of us local crew and 5 of the crew touring with the band.  They had a great show, very intimate for a stadium production.  Sound man had some way cool gear and I watched him mix the whole show, the guy was nuts and I learned a lot just from watching him.  But in the end it was just a hand shake and “good job guys thanks” and they left.  No chance to ask questions and nobody in the mood to talk about it.

So I had a chat with one of my co-workers about the whole situation,  he's an older guy in his late 40s, and he tells me about how he used to have his own studio that he built, and how ruinous it was for him.  Talked about the opportunities for guys in our field and how there isn't any, not unless you know the right person.  Favors changing hands happens more often than resumes, it seems, and the last option would be to go into business for myself.  .. ok.. and do what?  Open a studio?  There are other people with more capital and skill than I have at producing records, and the area is saturated with them.  Live sound company?  Well sure, but it would just add to the cannibalizing nature of that industry locally.  Every body trying to undercut everyone else until nobody is making money.  And again, I can't realistically compete with the bigger guys in town (like the one I was working for that day for instance).

In the end our conversation just put me at a loss.  I wasn't surprised, it was just kind of the first time it was spoken of aloud and rather than me being shocked by what I had learned, it was more like everything I already knew I was finally able to admit.  I just spent $60,000 on an education that is going to make me an expert at my favorite hobby.  Because there are zero job prospects available anywhere for me.

I understand that a lot of recent graduates have silly ideas of walking out of convocation with their degree and walking into some big corporation and getting a fat $70K/ year salary. You have to work up to that, but you usually have the ability to get some entry level position making a decent amount of money to support you and your student loan payments.

Now, I am a family man, with 2 kids and a wife (who is thankfully very musical). School cost me a great deal, and while getting student loans isn't the end of the world, my problem is that the government would not give me any because my wife was working.  So I had to go to the bank.  They gave me what I needed, but the bank doesn't operate like the government.  I was spared paying principal on my loans, but I've been paying my interest payments the entire time.  Meaning I had to hold a full time job while I was a full time student.  Now that school is over, those loans are entering repayment, and the cost basically equals my mortgage.  And my wife no longer works because she is taking care of 2 kids now.

So here I am, stuck writing you guys at the front desk of a quiet (read: Dead) hospital as the night security guard making my 15 bucks an hour, hoping hoping that I'll have enough to pay my mortgage next week, and I'm right back where I started four and a half years ago.  Wondering what to do to make more money and improve my quality of life.  Already thinking of entering a trade.

The run down is this.  I have no credit, because my loans ate all of that up, meaning no capital for starting my own business.  I have skills, but always just barely out of line with what is needed, and I don't know any of the “somebody's” who can help me.  I'm loathe to take a job that pays less than $20 /hr, not because I'm greedy, but because I can't survive on anything less, and I'm worried that any job in my field that I MIGHT come across won't be able to pay even that much, and I'll come across as some jerk who doesn't get how the world really works for either asking more, or refusing the job.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been in this position here, and I'm hoping that somebody has some rose coloured encouragement for me.  maybe I should go back to school and get a diploma in electronics engineering, I can't see how that wouldn't apply to my current skills and further my goals to work in R&D.  But can I afford another 2 - 4 years of school in the mean time?  Eventually I'll go to graduate school with some cool research i'm working on in my own time and get my Masters, and eventually my PhD, which will help me land a fat easy job as a university professor, but I cant' do any of that before I get my financials in order.

Help me out guys..  WTF should I do?


Spent a whack of money on a Music degree in audio, no jobs, no prospects. have kids, have home, can't move easily without great incentive.  Student loans are crippling. Don't know any "somebody's" to offer me a shot. #EndOfMyRope
1. Stay motivated!
Write down the skills you have, not only those you went to school on. Now randomly re-order them. Now with fresh eyes take a look at that list and ask yourself, what industries would these be useful in. Then investigate them. It will help you think outside the box.

I say this as I have a friend that was in a VERY similar situation as you with basically the same degree. I asked him to do the same exercise. Guess what, he thought outside the box, realized industries he wasn't thinking of, and shortly thereafter became the main production and sound guy for Barnum and Bailey's circus. (Yes, he went and joined the circus LOL). Employed in his field, good pay and he loves it.
Advoc said:
All of that aside, fast forward to post-degree life.  I started searching for jobs that would interest me or that would at least give me the opportunity to work in my field and get something good on my resume.  The AES job board had some pretty cool stuff on it.  Focusrite was hiring in the UK, what seemed like a dream job, building software and designing preamps for their sapphire stuff.  But they want an electronics engineer, not an audio guy.  Dolby is ALWAYS hiring, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Stockholm, San Francisco, awesome stuff.  But only software engineers, no audio guys. Looking at all the big names. Roland, Bose, Avid.  They all want engineers of anything but the “audio” variety.

Have you thought about software testing? Software requires a lot of testing before it goes out the door (it it's done right anyway), and with your background, you'd be a good fit at some of these companies doing software validation or test engineering.

The place I work has an army of test engineers; hardware, software and chemical. You might want to check out the job boards and see if there are any openings for something along those lines.

And Good Luck!
Become a DBA.  MS SQL or Oracle, it matters not.  Count the number of jobs on for either of them and pick one. Study for you Certs while on your current slow job.  The costs of books and tests is low compared to other options.  DBAs have to know a faction of what other IT Pros have to know and they are grossly over paid.  And that could work to your advantage.

An entry level DBA position would be something that your could build on.  'Big Data' is the rage right now.
Look for theaters in your area (like... play theaters, not movie theaters) and see if any of them are hiring an audio engineer.  It won't be the best living ever and you may want to double it up with what you're doing now if you can, but you meet a lot of people moving through the theater because touring companies go through all the time.  My husband is a stage hand who is working his way up to head carpenter, and he eventually wants to be a technical director.  The head "sound guy" usually makes pretty decent money. 

My boss at the arts high school used to do live sound for a company that did private parties, and he made bank doing that.  Maybe you can find a company like that to join? 

Other than that, my only advice is to apply for every job that you think you can do in the pay range you're looking for, whether it involves audio or not. 
Thinking outside the box is probably the best way to get ahead. Many, if not most companies don't care what your degree is in, only that you have one. Indicates things, like an ability to read/write on at least an 8th grade level.

Not to disparage your study concentration or desire - I'm sure it was in good faith - but I suspect a degree in audio engineering is right up there with a degree in sociology or liberal arts. Lotta work and a lotta trouble, but doesn't qualify you for anything and doesn't provide any saleable skills. When you get right down to where the rubber meets the road, companies are only interested in people whose skills they can re-sell for more than they're paying for them.

Edit your resume so your educational credits simply say "BA" or "BS" [school name]. Don't say what your major was. Get the interview first, then spill the beans if it comes up.
Good advice.  I'm certainly open to other work.  I've really tried applying everywhere I can hoping to get a job just on the basis that I DO have a degree.

I must have handed out / emailed / faxed about 50 resumes, ones that directly applied to an ad. and I haven't gotten even 1 call back.  Everything from Drywall installer to Administrative Assistant.  No calls.  I've always had bad luck in the job search arena.

I mean I have skills that are useful in the labor market too, I just don't want to end up working at the loading dock at mccain sorting potatos.  I spent my time doing that crap already, went to school to get out of it.  But still. I can operate a forklift, a crane, any machinery that has anything to do with metal fabrication... I have management experience....    If nothign else I just want a job that is steady, pays well, and gives me time to work on my research so I can have a solid application done up in a few years to head to grad school.  I just need to fix the cash flow problem.
I know this is going to sound harsh, but as much as you probably don't want to, you may have to move. Puppies and kittens don't want to leave their mothers, but when her tits dry up it's time for some hard decisions. Gotta eat, even if it means murder.

You may have to lose the house, although it's probably cheaper to keep it. I don't know your situation. Somehow, you have to reduce the cash flow requirement. You could blow off the bank, re: student loans. What are they gonna do? Wreck your credit? You already have a mortgage, which is about the only thing that anybody even remotely studies your credit for. Worst case, you're 7 years out to forgiveness. It's a trailer trash thing to do, but... gotta eat.
I don't think things are that dire yet.  In any case a mortgage is far cheaper than any rent I'll pay, looking at it like a purely cashflow problem.  Moving is not a problem so long as there is real worth in the opportunity.  Trying to sell the house right now would cost me money, been looking into that, it's just not viable.

I think the bank will play ball if I get desperate anyway, either they work with me or never get their money, simple as that.

Things aren't quite that bad at the moment, what I need to do is stop them from getting that far.
Advoc said:
Good advice.  I'm certainly open to other work.  I've really tried applying everywhere I can hoping to get a job just on the basis that I DO have a degree.

Everything from Drywall installer to Administrative Assistant.  No calls.  I've always had bad luck in the job search arena.
Those 2 positions there will at times avoid degrees as they view you as over-qualified anda short-timer.

Rather than go lower than your skills, go higher.

Re-read Cagey's post. Excellent thoughts there.
I feel for you.  A lot of the guys and girls I went to school with are not doing what they paid thousands of dollars learning how to do.

I consider myself fortunate that I make my living behind a mixing console, but it took 15 years to get to where I am.  I work at a television station, so the hours are steady and the pay is good, but I also have to put up with the cost of living in the Greater Toronto Area.

If you want a real shot at making a living doing any kind of sound, you pretty much have to live in a major market (especially in Canada, where the media world almost doesn't exist outside of Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal).  The film industry is picking up speed again, and while doing location sound isn't the most exciting gig (I've done that too), it can pay well.  You just have to be careful with the smaller production companies ... most of them with offer you "credit in the film", or perhaps buy you lunch.  I wasn't married when I got started, so I will grudgingly admit to have "played the opening of an envelope" ... I did a lot of work for free.  It was a little easier in the '90s, because digital technology was still in its infancy, so you did actually have to know what you were doing.  Software these days makes anyone think that they're a mixer, editor, whatever ... so the only thing that sets people apart now is talent and excellent client relations.  My favorite expression is that you have to give producers "what they want, not what they asked for" ... and if you can figure out how to do that in a polite, no-attitude way, the work will flock to you.

I'm sure that what I just wrote isn't much help in your current situation, but I do wish you the best of luck in your search.
Advoc said:
I must have handed out / emailed / faxed about 50 resumes, ones that directly applied to an ad. and I haven't gotten even 1 call back. 

This might sound obnoxious, but take your resumes to the place in person when ever you can.  Look people in the face and tell them you're the best person for the job.  It really helps.  Also, I don't know if you know this, but most resumes that are sent electronically now get filtered through a computer to take out ones that have certain wording.  You might want to google that if you haven't already because there are ways to word your resume that help them get past that filtering stage and on to be seen by actual human eyes. 
I'd say apply for those jobs that all say they're looking for engineers.  I've got a degree in Classical Studies, with a focus in Field Archaeology, and I worked for an environmental management company as an project engineer/scientist for a few years before I landed a job at a museum.  In the smaller companies you can usually get away with not actually being an engineer so long as you have the skill set they're looking for.