Graduate Profile: Mark Erwin at The Paul Green School of Rock Music

When did you graduate?

I graduated in the summer of 2007 from the audio production and engineering program.

How did you discover IPR?

I was living in Boston when I first heard about IPR. I discovered it while researching colleges with audio production programs. I actually decided not to attend IPR at first because I had been accepted to another school in NYC. I moved to New York, found an apartment in Brooklyn and got a job waiting tables at the W Hotel. I started attending a school with a similar program, but realized almost immediately it wasn’t the school for me. Their graduate rate was about 45% and everything seemed generic and uninteresting. In fact, most of the instructors seemed generic and uninteresting as well.

I went back to all my college applications and brochures and decided that I really needed to find a program that was unique – one that really looked at each student as an individual. I decided to take a trip to Minneapolis and see first hand what IPR was all about. I toured with Tanya Norman and couldn’t believe how much time she spent with me. She knew all of the gear, seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the school and instructors and made me feel completely at home. I knew right then that IPR was the school for me. I flew back to New York and immediately started planning my move.

What teachers had the most impact on you and why?

There were many teachers that had an impact on me for all kinds of reasons however there are two who stand out the most- Mary Ann O’Dougherty and Judith James.

Judith was one of those teachers who never accepted mediocre work. I remember turning in an essay that I spent a lot of time on, did all the right research on, and yet when it was returned to me it was covered in red ink. I was shocked to see that something I was so proud of had a big red C on it. I spoke to Judith about it and she said she wasn’t grading my paper in comparison to everyone else in the class she was grading my paper based on what she knew I was capable of. From that moment on, I realized that you should never assume that you are done with a project. You can always make something better. Everything should always be a work in progress.

Mary Ann O’Dougherty will always have a special place in my heart. She was incredibly smart, extremely funny and so engaging that you couldn’t help but want to have her in your life. She used to tell me that I was smarter than God. It is obviously a ridiculous thought, but somehow it made me want to work harder. It was almost like she knew that if she laid down that challenge, I would try to meet it. She also taught me to cherish each moment. When I think about everything she had done and everywhere she had been it makes you realize that you only get one shot at this. Don’t wait for something to happen, make it happen. I was lucky enough to have a few drinks with her a couple of weeks before we lost her. My last memory of her is one of laughter, pride in her family, and of course joy.

What is the one thing “they never teach you in school” which has proven beneficial to your career path?

I can’t necessarily say I wasn’t taught this – Judith James, a former IPR instructor would kill me, but effective communication is key to all careers. I don’t just mean professional e-mails and proper phone etiquette either. To be a successful communicator you must be able to read people quickly. You only get one shot at a first impression, so having the ability to figure out exactly what kind of mood someone is in, and what is driving their motivation will always give you an advantage.

How did you discover the School of Rock; what circumstances lead to your gaining employment there?

I first heard about the School of Rock from (former IPR instructor) Pamela McNeill. I was hanging out with some friends at Bunkers on one of the nights she was performing. During a break in her set she came over to say hi and to catch up on things. She told me that she had been teaching voice lessons at the School of Rock in Eden Prairie. Immediately I knew it was a program that I wanted to be a part of. She told me that she would ask around and see if they needed any help. It had been over a year since I had graduated from IPR and I still hadn’t had the opportunity to put my education to use. About two weeks after I spoke to Pamela, I came across a Craigslist post and I couldn’t believe it, the School of Rock was looking for an intern! I immediately called Pamela to let her know that I would be submitting a resume and asked if I could mention her in my cover letter. She promptly called the school and told them they had to hire me! I was called in for an interview about three days later. I was hired as an unpaid intern to assist at the St. Paul location. I started off only working about 15 hours a week, subsidizing my income with evening shifts serving tables at a downtown restaurant. I did whatever I could around the school in order to prove how much I wanted to be there. I spent a lot of time getting to know all the students and their families, cleaning bathrooms, moping floors and learning the business the best I could. Within a year I was promoted to General Manger.

What are your duties as the General Manger; what does a typical day involve?

When you are working with kids (100 of them between the ages of 8-18) nothing is ever typical. You never know what the day will bring, which is absolutely the best part!

My job has many titles- boss, friend, teacher, mentor and principal. Knowing how and when to transition into these different roles isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but something I really enjoy.

One of the biggest aspects of my job is making sure every student feels welcome in the school. For many of our students, the School of Rock is the one place where they get to be whoever they want to be. There is no such thing as bullying, clothing labels, color, or anything else. They are all here for the same purpose- rock & roll. It means a lot to me to be able to provide that kind of community to these amazing kids.

I received a phone call from a parent last week thanking me for the smile her son now had after his first day at the School of Rock. She talked about the relentless bullying at his school and how for the first time in a long time, he had a smile again. A smile that was bigger than she had ever remembered.

At the end of the day, after I have answered a hundred e-mails, called prospective families, given tours, directed the lesson traffic, done the instructor payroll, had one on ones with students having a bad day, picked up used ear plugs and addressed parent concerns, all I have to do is think about what we are actually doing here. We are giving these kids an opportunity that so many never get the chance to have. That’s what makes this job so special.

How was Woodstock Re-Rocked? Other Upcoming shows?

Our Woodstock event was a blast! Every summer we offer camps at the School of Rock. It is a great opportunity for young rockers who can’t commit to our standard program to experience what it is we do here at the School of Rock and perfect for current students who can’t get enough! We decided (along with all the other School of Rock’s around the country) to host a camp celebrating the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Every school would have a free outdoor concert on August 15th– that means over 2,000 young musicians all paying homage to what Rolling Stone Magazine called “One of the 50 Moments that Changed Rock & Roll Forever.”

We just had our “End of Season” shows at The Rock Nightclub in Maplewood. Every time I see the students perform I am blown away. What they can accomplish in four months is still amazing to me. We saw almost a thousand fans come over the two day weekend to see for themselves what I’m talking about. I will never forget the first show I attended. I had only worked for the school for a week and didn’t quite know what to expect. These kids got up on stage, jumped around, engaged the audience and nailed the songs… Keep in mind that many of them were under the age of 12!

It is the start of our Fall Season and already the shows are coming together. We have five shows we are working on for January: “80s Prom”, “Classic Guitar Rock”, “The Beatles”, “Funk & Reggae” and “Arena Rock.”  There is definitely something for everyone in this line-up. The Rock Nightclub will once again be our venue and we are thrilled to work with them. All of the show information is listed on our website, so make sure you tell everyone you know! Sorry for the shameless plug.

Any advice for currently enrolled IPR students?

The biggest thing to remember is that you really have no idea where you will end up. The more diverse your education and experience is the more likely you will find a job you are excited and proud of. When you are choosing electives don’t focus all of your attention on one area.

Another thing to consider is the work that you put forth in your classes. You will hear all the time that no one asks for your GPA when applying for a job. That is true, but keep in mind that Pamela McNeill probably wouldn’t have recommended me for the School of Rock had I not proven myself and my work in her class at IPR. Networking is essential and the only way to network successfully is to have a great reputation to back it up.

Big Thanks to Mark Erwin for taking the time to share his perspective with the IPR community!