Paul Bower explains why the CV may be more important than you think — even in the music business...
There's been a fair amount said about the qualities needed for a successful career in the studio business in the past months — but just how do you get on the first rung of this ladder? The answer is the not-so-humble CV. It's a subject that seems to be increasingly ignored by trainee sound engineers, or just omitted from their training. Recent CVs I've received include the perennial spelling of Cubase with a 'Q', electronic documents that spill out half a dozen blank pages, and the whole text of the CV jumping back and forth from the first to third person (read just about any CV and you'll see); yet these are job applications from degree graduates or final-year students. I've had calls from young hopefuls who've even been advised by their centre of learning that submitting a CV would be too formal in the music industry. Remember this: the phrase 'music business' is only 35 percent music and 65 percent business, so lesson one — submit that CV. While we're at it, lesson two — check your spelling (in Sound On Sound obviously). If you can't correctly spell the name of the application you're using, why should I have any confidence in your ability with it?
I know there must be form CVs out there, but if you're at college, and you copy the form CV handed out, as does everyone else, and then you all send your CVs to the same list of studios, what happens? That Stepford-like mantra "I am equally capable of working alone or as part of a team." As an employer, I want individuality, integrity, and attention to detail. At the bottom of the ladder, assistant engineers, tape-ops, runners, and so on are like Victorian children — they shouldn't speak unless they're spoken to, and they'll be expected to clean chimneys on a regular basis. You can teach the technical stuff to a monkey. The attention to detail, however — the natural urge to tidy away discarded cables, the ability to disappear when the artist is about to throw a wobbly — is something far harder to teach.
And so we move onto showreels. Many would-be engineers think it necessary to send in a CD of tracks they've produced either at college or at home, or even for a commercial session. I'm personally against the use of showreels as they tend to have little relevance to a large studio, and really can only serve to undermine any prior good thoughts I'd had about that candidate (through reading their CV of course). In my experience, showreels are, on the whole, badly labelled, and in the age where the majority of masters are archived on anonymous-looking five-inch polycarbonate discs, what do you think I'll notice first about your showreel?
Back to the CVs. "I am currently studying at [insert name of college here] in London and will be finished my studies this August." Our friend then goes on, as many do, to list every single piece of equipment he's ever used, most of it duplicated in the 'tracked with' and 'mixed with' sections. I also just got an email from Luke: "i wanna get into music an would like 2 work in ur studio, so if there is any jobs available plz contact me!" OK, so maybe our friend is still in school, just chancing his arm, but Luke — if you're serious, that's not a good start. Ben writes from Woking with a letter containing a little information about himself rather than submitting a formal CV — this is not a bad thing in itself, and does help to give the applicant an air of individuality. However, the opening gambit reads "I have recently quit university after completing my first year due to lack of interest and enthusiasm for my chosen course: Media Studies..." I won't go into Ben's haphazard career approach, but this is certainly not the first sentence I expected to leap off the page (and there was the minor problem of writing the wrong address on the envelope and just scribbling it out). I'm not trying to uphold the Queen's English — for instance I use the American spelling of 'rumor', and I write all my emails in lower case. And I start sentences with 'and'. My argument is this: you are spending years of your time and thousands of pounds in training for your career of choice, and you're just going to piss it all up against the wall because of one very tiny detail.
OK, maybe I've concentrated a little too much on what's wrong with many CVs — so what would I like to see ?
I've not seen a single CV that mentions the applicant has knowledge of the paperwork side of the industry. If I had and I was hiring, that CV would be at the top of the pile. Various sample usage forms, BPI Consent forms, the odd Joint Notification Of Works, and those brooding MCPS Studio Recording forms, even the simple tracksheet are just as essential as knowing which is the business end of a microphone. Get some practical experience 'moving air' in your educational establishment of choice. Learn different computer applications for both PC and Mac, not just the one your accredited music school tells you to, and if you can't get any practical studio experience, get some live music experience.
Finally, you have the training, the certificate, and now the killer CV, but where do you get the experience, and more importantly, are you sure you want a career in what is basically a declining industry? Oops, there goes the phone again — ah yes, it's the liquidator, but that, boys and girls, is another story...
Paul Bower has worked in a well respected studio for a few months shy of a decade. By the time you read this, it will be closed.