Studio Unknown's Confessions of a Small Working Studio—The Hidden Value of Interns

Oct 27, 2009 12:46 PM, By Lisa Horan & Kevin Hill, Studio Unknown

Studio Unknown owner/engineer Kevin Hill and creative director Lisa Horan

Studio Unknown owner/engineer Kevin Hill and creative director Lisa Horan

Editor’s Note: We kick off a new online series written by and for mid-level studio owners. On a monthly basis, Studio Unknown (Baltimore) owner Kevin Hill and creative director Lisa Horan will be calling around the country and bringing their own expertise to the issues that matter most to a successful studio life. Let’s face it, the middle has been hit hard in the economic downturn, but it’s also the middle that is most likely to come roaring back. In this first installment, they talk about interns.

Okay. We’ll admit it. The interns we “hire” are definitely not exempt from performing mundane tasks. Dishes in the sink? Get the intern. Bathroom needs cleaning? Get the intern. Short on toner? Well, you get the idea. We all have to pay our dues, right? But as a small studio, we’re doing ourselves a disservice in more ways than one if we strictly treat the student interns as domestic assistants. After all, they are the engineers of tomorrow, so it’s our responsibility to provide them with opportunities to obtain real-world, professional studio experience—and that goes well beyond doing mixes and dubs. The most valuable interns are those who aren’t merely technology-savvy, but are good with people, have a hunger for learning and are ready to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way. You might even be surprised at the opportunities the really good ones present.

Personality Pays

So the intern that you just “hired” absolutely rocks on Pro Tools. Great! But how is he with clients? This is an equally important—and sometimes even more critical—issue. The interns who work at The Lodge Recording Studio in Indianapolis—which hosts both publishing clients and national touring acts like Alanis Morissette, Pink and Shaggy—need a combination of skill and a personable disposition. “Our interns often run interference for our engineers and have to interact with clients regularly, so it’s really important that they have an easy-going personality that makes clients feel comfortable and feel like they are being catered to,” explains operations manager Andy Symons. “We can’t have a client feel like they’re dealing with some apathetic stranger.”

Cybersound logo

That is precisely why Perry Geyer, owner of Boston and New York City's Cybersound, where such acts as the Jonas Brothers, New Kids on the Block and Robin Thicke have recorded, screens for very specific details during interviews with prospective interns. “There’s a certain studio etiquette that is required, but many of the students we interview haven’t been taught that in school,” says Geyer, who receives roughly 10 resumes a week and uses 15 interns every semester. He says that while most of the students who apply for internships want to be engineers and they have some experience recording, setting up mics, mixing and adding effects, they typically don’t know much about how to work with clients.

The Parlor logo

In fact, according to Larry Sheridan, owner of Nashville’s Parlor Studios, this unfortunately tends to be the weakest link. “From my decades of experience, what I’m seeing is that interns are not typically offered classes on engineer/client relations, which is so important in our industry,” says Sheridan, who has recorded such artists as Rascal Flatts, Michael McDonald and Lee Ann Womack in his studio. “They know how to push buttons and are remarkably excited about working with Pro Tools, but they know so little about how to appropriately handle clients, how to minimize the stresses of a tracking session or how to get around a Pro Tools crash without the clients ever finding out about it. People skills are so important, but oftentimes that’s exactly what is lacking.”

At the end of the day, it’s these people skills that translate into business and can make or break a studio’s reputation. “If a client likes you, they’ll come back. If they don’t, you’ll never see them again,” cautions Geyer. “If our interns are dealing with clients, they have to have the right studio vibe. If they don’t, it just isn’t going to work.”

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