Friday, 3 May 2013

How not to get work experience in a recording studio

Me: Good morning Space Studios
Voice: (nice, pleasant) Oh Good morning, I’m sorry to bother you but I’m phoning to see if you have any work experience for my son…

Angry Engineer
I'd just hit record when the phone rang...

Yep, another frequent phone call for us. I find this one a bit more annoying than I probably should. It’s even worse when it’s a grandmother phoning. (It’s always a mother or grandmother incidentally). I could understand it if a school made an approach to us for work experience on behalf of the students – in fact I would feel much more comfortable with this. But no, it’s always a very nice, harassed sounding mum or nan, and never, ever the would be candidate.

It’s all a horrible joke though isn’t it, work experience? I remember when I was an apprentice mechanic, the only thing lower than me was the poor kid on work experience. Because of the insurance and H&S issues, said poor kid was only allowed to push a broom, and even then only in certain areas. All day, leaning on a broom. Some would say of course that that is perfect preparation for work, being bored and not allowed to do what you want, but really it is nonsense. And what do the kids themselves expect? When they come to us, do they expect to suddenly be working with a client, making mix decisions?

As it happens, yes, they do.

We have had several kids of different ages (from year 10 to second year degree students) come through on work experience, and on the whole, I’d employ three of them again - rather tellingly, one of them was a film student, the other two were marketing (and only did marketing in the studio).
Some of the engineering kids were ok, but if I ever gave them any real work to do, basically I’d have to redo it afterwards – and hell, that’s fine, I didn’t expect them to be able to do the job completely and they have to learn at some point don't they?

Actually one kid managed to debreath a whole bunch of voice recordings for me, which was pretty cool and saved me a bit of time.

But in the majority I remember sullen faces, or faces looking at me in wonder when I suggest they clean some mugs away, or tidy some leads up. One kid, a physics student actually suggested that as a physics student, tidying cables was below him. He then complained after half an hour of tidying (badly, I should add) that he was bored. Welcome to work!

Studio leads
The bane of every recording studio intern

Then there was the funniest thing I have ever seen with work experience. I told one lad that he could sit in on a foley session. I explained the process of recording these naturally occurring sound effects what they were and why we were recording them. He came in after we had recorded the footsteps, so we had moved onto spot effects. So, to set the scene, we were recording the layers of sound effects for an explosion, which was in a cartoon. This lad was sat watching me, intently watching a screen with a kids cartoon on, whilst in the foley stage another bloke made explosion noises with his mouth,  through a plastic bag wrapped around a mic. I think he thought we were trying to wind him up into not wanting to get into the recording industry. Or he was wondering whether he’d come to the right place. Or maybe he just thought we should have been committed. Poor fella, he really didn’t know where to look or what to say.

And what of unpaid interns. Or slave labour as other people might call it. Unpaid internships happen in several wildly different industries, and it’s kind of seen as you serving your apprenticeship with the company. Or slave labour as other people might call it. But some companies use internships to really help these kids grow into the role, and start them off on the very lowest rung, but with the prospect for the intern to move up that ladder. It’s very difficult for both the company and the intern – it can be and often is very dull for the intern, and it can be so frustrating for the company, because they do want you to make some kind of positive impact. I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of the legality of internships in the UK, that’s for anybody else to discuss. The fact is that they do exist here, they are probably unfair, but figures state that anything from 60% and upwards of people who do an internship get a full time job afterwards. Just because something has happened frequently before doesn’t necessarily make it right – however, the concept of doing unpaid work in creative industries such as recording or the media was something of a rite of passage. And let’s face it, there have always been more potential employees than positions in these industries, and they are highly desirable jobs, so you can understand why the employers might want to “try before they buy”.

I know of some employers, especially in our field, who see the internship as a way of making the knowledge the interns have learnt on their courses actually practical and useful before they employ them. I also know of interns who have bemoaned going back to Uni because what they have learned on the job has shown their course to be nonsense at best. I’ve mentioned some of this before.

But back to my original point. I can relate to all of this, because  I was exactly the same, I always wanted to get into recording when I was a kid and I had no help from my school or careers people. But did I get off my jacksie and actually phone anyone? Don’t be silly mum, Grandstand’s on in a minute.

We’re hoping that we can work with some kind of paid internship programme in the future, and if we do, we will probably go through work placement bodies. We’ll also make details available on our website and through social media. My suggestion to anyone looking for internship / work experience in the UK would be to go through such bodies, because they make contact with studios / related industries and they ensure that there is some kind of scheme in place to make sure you actually get to do something related to what you want to do.  But you are going to have sweep floors, or make coffee or tidy cables. You probably won’t get to see daft men making vocal explosion noises to cartoons though.

Christian Thomas is Production Director at Space Studios. He’s been an apprentice and he’s done internships. He’s also been the mad man making explosion noises through a carrier bag.

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