A Frank Discussion

June 28, 2020By John McBrideIn At Blackbird, Insider

How I Started.

I come from a family that feels strongly about getting a college education. Both my parents were college graduates. My dad was a Professor of Anthropology at Wichita State University, and I am the second of four children who grew up with these expectations.

I had a passion for music from an early age, but I treated it as a hobby. After high school, there was no question that I would attend a university. Not going didn’t even cross my mind. So, I enrolled at WSU, decided to major in Chemistry/Pre-med, and worked three jobs to pay for my tuition and other expenses along the way.

I attended WSU for three years, and my grades were great. I was taking Chemistry, Biology, and Physics classes to satisfy my requirements for my major. I was also learning more about music on my own through magazines like Mix, Recording Engineer/Producer, and other publications centering around recording and live music.

During college, my passion for music grew and grew, and the wheels began turning inside my head. I borrowed a small amount of money from the Campus Credit Union and bought a small club PA system. I put up flyers around the clubs in Wichita, and the phone started to ring. I learned on-the-job in clubs and truly loved every minute of it—even while I was still attending classes.

If The Blackbird Academy had existed when I was growing up, it would’ve saved me ten years of struggling to learn what I needed to know.

At this point, I talked to my parents, and they agreed to support my dream of having a career in music. It’s what made me happy, and I knew that as deeply as I’ve known anything. I then proceeded to “drop out” of college. That ended up being one of the best decisions of my life.

I was determined to make a living in music—somehow, some way. Living in the small Midwestern town of Wichita, Kansas—where there is essentially no music business—made this a bit of a challenge. However, through hard work, perseverance, and the right attitude, I achieved that goal by working as a live engineer, production manager, and studio engineer with as many people as possible.

I decided to move to Nashville in 1990, which made more of a difference than I could have ever known. I have toured around the world with many of the biggest acts in music, and my name is on records of which I am very proud—all without following a “traditional” path. It has allowed me to have happiness that I would have never experienced if I had a different career. Simple as that.

For the record, my older sister and I did not graduate from college, but both my younger brothers did, and I will argue that I am the most blessed member of my family!

Why attend The Blackbird Academy?

So why the backstory? Why consider The Blackbird Academy? Well, the most crucial factor, in my opinion, is your son or daughter’s attitude about what they want to do with their lives. And that’s a tough decision at 18 or even 22. How do you possibly know what you want to do for the rest of your life? That is a daunting premise, I know, but there are signs to help you along the way.

If he or she has determined that they have to be in music, then The Blackbird Academy is the right place for them. I have been a huge music fan – a bit obsessed with how records are made and what it takes to put on a live concert since I was a child.

I believed one thing: a hundred years from now, if I played a part in creating music that changed the life of even one person, then my life was not wasted. We all know that music can change the world, and it has changed my life for the better many times. 

If I was there working sound at Bonnaroo or the New Orleans Jazz Festival or even a local club, I knew I would have amazing memories and stories to tell my children and grandchildren someday. But mostly, I would have the deep satisfaction of knowing I was working in music!

If The Blackbird Academy had existed when I was growing up, it would’ve saved me ten years of struggling to learn what I needed to know. The most critical factor in deciding whether The Blackbird Academy is the right move for your son or daughter depends on their desires, passion, and attitude. If they are unsure of what they want, then I do not recommend coming to this school—I do not want to waste their time and do not want them to waste mine.

If passion is evident and music seems to be tied to what makes them happy—and if you never see them motivated by anything else as much as music—then that is a sure sign of an individual that both succeeds and needs music in their lives to be happy. 

I know because I’m one of those people.

I do not believe there is a better program for learning audio engineering anywhere in the world. Whether it’s a four-year college or university, a trade/technical school (actually our formal title is a Post Secondary Educational Institution), or any other program in existence. At The Blackbird Academy, we focus heavily on attitude, work ethic, and etiquette…qualities that will improve every aspect of their lives. How students deal with relationships in their own lives determines the quality of their lives in many ways.

There are approximately 9 jobs in the live sound field for every 1 position in the studio field. Over 90% of our Live Sound graduates are already working full time.

The size and setting at BBA allow students to form close, personal relationships not only with their instructors but also with each other. The comfortable student-to-teacher ratio allows the instructors to focus on each individual student’s strengths and weaknesses, and these relationships and specialized training translate seamlessly into the professional audio world.

Another advantage to attending the BBA is that it is an intense six-month program with a cost of $23,100 for tuition—not a debilitating amount of time, and not nearly as expensive as most 4-year colleges, or even other trade schools (oops…Post Secondary Educational Institutions).

At the end of this program, your student/graduate will be prepared to start a career in either live audio engineering or studio engineering. I should also inform you that students looking to work in live audio will have many more job opportunities than studio engineers.

Currently, there are approximately nine jobs in the live sound field for every one position in the studio field, and over 90% of our live graduates are already working full time. This is an incredible statistic! We are affiliated with Clair Global, the largest sound company on earth. We also have great relationships with other sound companies, venues, and churches all over the country and the world.

The studio audio engineering course graduates generally take longer to become successful. There are, for some reason, more dues to pay in the recording studio than in the live field. However, approximately 70% of our studio graduates are currently working and earning money.

Another reason to attend the BBA is to learn how to make great-sounding records. We have students who do not want to pursue an engineering or producing job after graduation, but who want to know how to make great recordings. Some of these grads are songwriters, some are players, and some are just looking to further their knowledge of how to make great recordings.

One of our first mantras at the TBA went like this: “The greatest education, in the shortest amount of time, for the least amount of money possible.” I feel we have achieved that goal, and our graduates have reinforced that since day one.

Additional Blackbird Academy Highlights

We have a partnership with the University of New Haven (UNH Connecticut) to teach their students as a “study abroad” type program. UNH sends 15 students to Nashville for 14 weeks, 1-2 times per year to further their learning. They have a music program at UNH, but feel the facilities and standards at Blackbird add to their students’ education in a positive way. The program started in May of 2016 and continues to be highly successful!

The AES (Audio Engineering Society) Spring Mixer in Nashville is a very prestigious contest. This competition happens once a year, and The Blackbird Academy students have taken the top award in 2015 and 2017.  I am so proud of that – it reflects our program and our standards.

Another interesting aspect of BBA is a recent partnership formed with the Hal Leonard Corporation to provide educational materials online for high school students worldwide. The quality of the work we are doing is in high demand – but there is nothing to replace the reality of being here in Nashville to teach these things by the hands-on approach that we employ.

For additional material on the benefits of specialized education versus a four-year degree, I recommend reading the following articles here and here.

Final Thoughts.

In conclusion, if your student or child is intent on working in music and wants to make a living in audio, then The Blackbird Academy is the right place for them. Students in the studio program will train at Blackbird Studio, where hit records are made every day, and students in the live program will train at Clair Global, the greatest live sound company on earth. The good news is that it’s only a six-month commitment, not four years. It is not cheap, but $23,100 is less costly than most schools, and the connections plus hands-on experience you receive at BBA are invaluable.

Making a living in music and audio is a commitment and a lot of hard work, and it isn’t right for everyone. It takes a great work ethic, perseverance, and a great attitude, but you can find success in this industry. We also work hard to help find employment for all of our graduates.

We are not successful if our graduates are not successful. Period.

We have a family atmosphere at Blackbird – between the studio, the school, Clair Global, our previous grads, artists, and our mentors. We do whatever we possibly can to help our grads find the job that is right for them. Our numbers are growing every day, and our networking capabilities are phenomenal.

Our standards are incredibly high, and we are well respected in the music business. Blackbird Studio has set the bar high, and The Blackbird Academy is setting those same standards. I also want to reiterate how much time it can save your student in starting a career. 

And, by the way, I know my dad is no less proud of me than my brothers who did graduate from college! Success, mastery, and happiness are not confined to a college degree. I have been successful both financially and in happiness by pursuing what I love in life. Students who study at The Blackbird Academy have the best shot at doing the same.

If we can answer any more questions you may have regarding the Blackbird Academy, please let us know.