When IPR first approached Michael Berry about a Graduate Success Story, he was totally on board. It took several weeks for us to connect for the interview because Michael was finishing his busy season as an event lighting tech in Las Vegas. Oddly enough slow season hits Vegas around late spring, which is when Michael begins his road trek to festivals and shows out-of-region and out-of-state. The rest of the year, he’s based in Vegas working corporation events, conventions and commercial work for clients like Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung. This line of work is not for the faint of heart, and, as he points out in his interview, breaking into the live event industry is a young person’s game.
Michael stands out amongst his peers for a number of reasons, but the most impressive trait he possesses is a willingness to work. Throughout his degree program, IPR instructors sent a consistent message to their students: never say no, be willing to work hard, be flexible, have a vast skillset, be passionate about your work, and always be easy to get along with; if you don’t show up in these key ways, you may not get hired. Michael confirms this message as industry accurate.
In any starting class, there are typically a group of 20-30 IPR students who are always in the studio. It’s scary the number of hours they’re willing to log behind a mixing board, but the ones who understand the competition they face for the positions they’re looking to fill, Michael included, understand that being technically knowledgeable will get them a long way. Even if it’s not directly related to their future
Michael has discovered that knowing studio signal flow, as well as audio and video software, often intersects with what he’s doing in the event lighting field. Even if he didn’t know it when he started his IPR education, he appreciates IPR’s holistic approach now because it has prepared him professionally in ways he didn’t expect.
IPR applauds Michael’s work ethic and his willingness to do whatever it takes to make his way in this industry. We proudly present to you his story.
“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.” ~ Edward Albe
Michael started playing guitar at age 5. He learned to play in many styles ranging from classical, flamenco, jazz, and, of course, rock. Growing into his teens he began subscribing to guitar magazines; this is when the technical side of music became a serious interest for him. “I got the gear bug pretty bad. I’d spend hours looking up manufacturers and spec out what I wanted and what people were using.”
By age 17 Michael stumbled upon an article that listed the top colleges for audio production. He knew he didn’t want to go to a traditional college. Many traditional career fields interested him, but he was truly drawn to working behind the scenes as a stage hand. To Michael studio audio engineering and sound design for video were also very appealing because of their technical nature. He felt that some of these behind the scenes options were professionally legitimate and would allow him the chance to make a living outside the sphere of music performance.
It wasn’t until he turned 25 that Michael had the opportunity to go to college. Several years previous he had begun working in the event lighting field; so by the time he’d decided to train at IPR his knowledge of a professional live sound and lighting environment was already well established. Along with reinforcing the experience he had, IPR helped Michael diversify his skillset which offered him a deeper understanding of all that goes into a live event. Even in the field of event lighting, knowing how to do more than just one’s own job is what separates the novice from the professional. In Michael’s own words, “A stagehand NEEDS to have some inkling of all the crafts that are going on. Sure, having a specialization is great, but it isn’t enough to land a steady stream of work.”
By the time he chose IPR, Michael had been researching audio colleges for years. He was looking for a college that simply felt right, “I had taken tours around the LA audio schools. They all struck me as not very personal and the meetings felt like more of a cattle call than a tour. I was even considering a college in Amsterdam, but what they had was VERY expensive with no financial aid.” When touring IPR, things were different.
Michael’s first impression of IPR was Admissions Representative and electronic musician Tanya Norman; she helped Michael and his Mother find a time to tour outside normal business hours. During the tour Tanya took Michael to the IPR Pro Audio Outlet where Instructor James Patrick took a break to meet him. Michael was impressed that IPR instructors really seem to have a genuine interest in the students; “I couldn’t wait to go… the open door policy of everyone was what really did it for me. Even though everyone was busy, if I needed help, they always took a break to talk.” He found IPR’s faculty to be, “…just straight up good people that are very knowledgeable.” Michael continues:
“I can bore you to tears getting deep with Scott Legere about the French Riviera, the 14 types of distortion with Jay Fleming, recording an intimate indie band all analog with Eddie Ciletti, the amount of decay time you should have on your kick in Live with James Patrick, talking about the point at which a wave becomes solid with Jesse Whitney, talking hip hop with Onyx Johnson, speculation about the convergence of multiple industries and the effects of technology on the media/content field with Scooter Nelson, recording elements with Jason Orris, how to be cool with Kevin Bowe, how to get a job with Nick Bochek, mixing ideas, David Bowie and Logic tips with Steve Price, the state of Metal with Chad Helmonds, mastering chain and proper gear and procedures with Dave Gardner – so much greatness!“
In the spirit of “you’re only as good as your last gig”, Michael recently finished working the Orion festival in Atlantic City; he worked the main stage headlined by Metallica. Baroness, Lucero, The Gaslight Anthem, Eric Church, Ghost, Avenged Sevenfold and many more were there as well. Soon he’ll be heading out to work the Essence festival in New Orleans, then he may get a chance to work with Rush (Jay Fleming would be proud!).
Michael’s home base is Las Vegas where his typical work consists of corporate, convention and commercial work for clients like Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung. He feels very fortunate to have been surrounded with professionals who are phenomenal in their fields; he’s learned a great deal from them. “I owe them more than I would be able to repay. “They’re simply the finest group of individuals you could ever meet.”
What would IPR students and instructors say they remember most about you?
I would speculate that it would have to do with my level of honesty, genuine interest in people, my unique perspective on life and how that translates to and from music. My friends would remember my intensity, ability to hyphenate almost anything with the f-word and me being hung over (I’m in college and the beer is cheaper in Minneapolis and 3 times better than Las Vegas). Also being helpful, sharing, good company and very accessible for study groups. I had just the right thing that people enjoyed having in a recording session. I am a good idea man.
Were there any big projects you undertook in your production or engineering capstone that laid the ground work for some of the things you’re doing now?
My capstone project was a song that my friend wrote for his album. I added some drums and various textures and tricks in Live and it turned out so well that my friend asked me to remix the entire album. I interned with Timefog under JP and the amount of event planning and soft skills that I gained exposure to I use every day. I also interned at BWN making commercial music; it taught me a lot about my workflow and how my creativity works which helps me as a composer for weddings. The Summer Sessions with Jason Orris and Scott Miller (one of the smartest kids in my class) was my first time being in a professional studio. This was an experience that allowed me to wrap my head around the tracking process and signal flow. I was also part of the first class to go to SXSW with Scott Legere and Eric Trelstad. Never mind that both instructors are extremely skilled professionals, but being in Austin around such a diverse crowd of industry professionals and fans was a once-in-a-lifetime exposure that confirms if you can even hang.
Out of all your instructors who would you say worked most closely with you and had a special interest in your success?
I managed to have some sort of relationship with most everyone at IPR and we all talked about the future and how we thought it was coming together for all of us and what we wanted to accomplish. I feel I had very close moments with everyone that I did get to talk with. I spent a year with JP so we are very much family. I had another instructor ask me one night (outside of school) “Slim, what are you going to do when you get done with IPR?” I can’t remember what I said but it was something along the lines of “world domination”. He wasn’t laughing. He said, “Alright, Mike-so you know I’m serious – What the frick are you going to do with this? Seriously what are you going to be doing 6 months after school? You come from a lighting background and it is your strongest suit. Are you going to continue with that?” I am doing what I said that I was most likely going to be doing, being a stagehand. Understand we had “that” kind of relationship, you know, the honest kind. I would say it was easier to teach me because I understood why I was being shown things making it easier for me to grasp concepts faster. Some of those truths were about life and other philosophical matters.
How do you feel your IPR education prepared you for the industry?
Due to my age (at the time being 25) and coming from Las Vegas, I was already working in lighting. I already had a notion of what was going on. That is not saying I knew everything, but it put me in a position where the faculty could talk to me at their level. It made communication easier, and they imparted to me more tips and tricks that would reinforce my instincts and business relations.
What types of things did you have to wait for industry experience to learn?
How to ask the right questions. Getting the information you want/need without being a pest or casting an unflattering light on yourself. Ex: “When are we leaving?” Everyone wants to know this, even your boss. When you ask this it can come off as whining. A better way of asking is: “At what point do we need to get to today before we can walk away?” You ask about the tasks of the day and make them the central theme of your question setting the answer to be dictated by the understanding that “I know when we leave is dictated by the work of the day, so what are we doing today? Oh, and, by the way,”what time” might be subject to change. There is just a way of carrying yourself that you only acquire by actually doing the job and being around seasoned veterans – its just plain professionalism. Handling yourself when a situation is falling apart, not getting completely beaten on a job and making it all come together no matter what, and keeping upbeat to fool at least the client.
What do you think it means to be successful in this industry?
Covering your monthly bills by doing something that you love to do. I love my job. The people I work with are some of the best human beings I have ever met. Whatever measure of success I am at, it is only because someone who knew more than me decided to help me out and took an interest in my life. I am very fortunate to have met the people I have. Just flat out exceptional.