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Lessons and Advantages at, and After Berklee, part 1

This week, former intern and current Berklee City Music faculty member Kyle Pyke shares unique perspectives gained from his experience as a student and intern. Next Tuesday, part two includes thoughts on the advantages of combining Berklee education with real-world experience.

Whenever I meet a high school Berklee-hopeful, the one piece of advice I repeat the most is this: “You’ll get out of Berklee what you put in”. I made sure to reiterate this point in my last blog, but when that blog was written, I was still a couple of months from graduating.

The you-get-out-what-you-put-in ideal was definitely true then while building my portfolio, but it is even more apparent now as I begin building a career. Looking back on my internship, I can say that the knowledge you gain is important (that goes without saying). The most important thing you can learn for an internship, however, is how to interact with your coworkers, and how to apply the knowledge you’ve gained in a realistic situation.

Using an example from my internship at the recording studio- I had read multiple books and taken multiple classes on studio production, but I’d never heard of “striking a microphone.” Apparently this means to unplug, put away, and ravel the cord for a microphone that has been set up, but is no longer needed. This particular jargon didn’t exist in any book I’d read. I think it’s also important to point out that the things you read about in books are only useful to a point.

Books will give you a perfect scenario of how to mic a drum kit, but following it exactly doesn’t always lead to the best sound for the room you’re in. Take chances, be open, and experiment- sometimes things get dirty, and symmetry is rarely the answer.

Anyway, moving right along- if you imagine your life-career as a pyramid, then the day you first took a liking to music and started practicing would be like the first shovel full of dirt and sand used to stabilize the mushy swamp that was your brain. All through middle and high school you practiced, filling the pit so you could build on it, and, once it was full enough, you chose Berklee to be the educational foundation for your musical career.

Lesson 1: Your assignments are your building blocks- use durable material. Complete each assignment as if it were a job you were being paid to do, so that, by the time you graduate, you’re equipped with enough demos to solicit work. If you graduate with an unfinished foundation, you enter the music industry 100 paces behind the other 907 Berklee graduates, and may face a Big-Dig scenario. I recently had an interaction with one of my 8th-grade students that went like this:

Me: “Ok, I want you to write me a four-bar melody in Garage Band”

–47 seconds later–

Student: “Ok I’m done”

“That was fast, let’s hear what you’ve got. Hmm… It’s ok, I guess I can’t really say there’s anything wrong with it. It’s a bit monotonous and wandering. Write me another one.”

“How many do I have to do?”

“As many as you can before class is up”

I tried to explain to him that I would have rather he written two or three good melodies than eighteen so-so melodies I ended up with. Point is, he did the assignment to appease me rather than doing something that sounded good.

Don’t be an 8th-grader- do your assignments so that you learn something, and so that they can be used later. At your internship, this means to do each task (whether you can take it with you physically or not), so that it can be applied later in a real job.

Lesson 2: Don’t let your personal life ruin opportunities that could arise in your professional life. You may have to sacrifice some personal liberties to advance your career. Personal expression is important, but paying rent is even more important, and the people who hire you for a job so that you can pay rent will expect you to look and act a certain way.

Take a look at your teachers and learn from them. You don’t see them crowding the sidewalk, smoking and practicing their scales. They were all hired by Berklee because they were successful in the industry, and not one of them presents an unprofessional image (inside the classroom or out).

The other day, I was making copies in the library, and upon trying to leave, I was blocked by someone practicing skateboard tricks between the inner and outer doors of the 150 building. Y’know which doors I’m talking about right? Yeah the ones that are always congested. The conversation went like this:

“Hey, don’t you think this isn’t a good place to be doing that?”

“Not really” (continues skateboarding)

He had no idea who I was, but, I would NEVER hire him for a gig, or, if I owned a studio that employed Berklee interns, and if he came to interview with me two semesters from now, he would have unknowingly ruined an opportunity for himself just by disrespecting a stranger.

He could be the second coming of Jesus reincarnated as a Berklee student, but I would think twice about hiring him. Your internship can run the same way- don’t turn off the professionalism after the interview as soon as you’re hired. Remember that anyone can be fired for disrespect, and often, the people you work for make very valuable references.

This should be common sense, and it’s easy to read this and say that it’s easy to simply act with respect. Sometimes, however, the lines can become gray- at what point does being friendly to your employer cross over to being friends with your employer? As long as you are employed as an intern, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

On a side note, don’t be the stereotypical music student with an ego the size of Texas. There is no reason to be so smug. You haven’t done anything yet.

Lesson 3: Always remember that your music education is just a foundation, not the tip of the pyramid. It is easy to get complacent. Don’t. This is just a rest stop, and the bus is already loading. It’s an all too common story, that after graduation, you’re so relieved to be finished, you let the motor go cold while you take a break. The first six months after graduation are the most important.

Keep in mind that, unless you’re a presidential scholar (If you are a presidential scholar, why are you reading this instead of touring with Stevie Wonder? Get back in the shed), you only have a six month grace period before you have to start paying your loan bills.

The thing is, after graduation, there is an eerie silence. The phone doesn’t start ringing just because you completed your coursework. You need to work twice as hard in the real world to get where you want to go. Internships are a good way to get a head start on this.

In other words, once the foundation is done, and the real building begins. From here on out, every angle and move needs to be calculated and executed to precise detail. I asked a saxophonist what he was doing after graduation, and he said he was going to “make the rounds in the theater pits in New York for a while.” The pits in New York? I’m not sure he fully appreciated the extra experience required and the fierce competition he should expect to encounter in that job market.

Lesson 4: Dropping out- Berklee is rigorous, but don’t do it.

Now it isn’t all gloom and doom- there things to look forward to and i’ll talk more about that next week…


Kyle Pyke is a former Berklee intern at Time Bomb Studios. He currently teaches Music Technology for Berklee City Music– Faculty Outreach, and works as a freelance composer/producer. He graduated from Berklee in December 2010 Magna Cum Laude.

Check out Kyle’s other posts:

Tips for Students, Interns and All Human Beings

Tips for Students, Interns and All Human Beings (cont’d)


Berklee City Music All Stars At the TED Conference


Berklee City Music/Kris Allen Tour Recap

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