One thing led to another when Solotech representatives visited Belmont for an event this spring to talk to students about careers in the audio production industry.
Emily Pikul, a recent graduate of Belmont’s Audio Engineering Masters program, hosted the event’s panel of experts and began talking with Jim Yakabuski, director of audio projects at Solotech, after the event. She told him her dream job was to work in live audio for tours and local shows.
The networking that ensued resulted in Pikul, along with nearly a dozen other students and recent graduates, landing freelance work this summer with the company in its audio, lighting and video departments.
Solotech provides audiovisual solutions for all types of events in the live production and entertainment industry, and the company is seeing a surge this year in local and touring events. Opportunities with the organization for Belmont students have been extensive, one of which included this year’s CMA Fest.
The students hit the ground running, jumping into vital roles in the audio tech crew at CMA Fest, paired with experienced mentors from Solotech who walked them through the event and supported their success. As one of the company’s freelance engineers, Pikul got hands-on experience at the festival–preparing the console show file, packing necessary equipment, loading gear in and out, running soundchecks and even mixing the shows herself if there wasn’t another engineer available.
“It was a fast-paced environment where I really needed to know the ins and outs of the console so that I could efficiently explain the setup to the engineers coming in. It was the experience of a lifetime working with an amazing sounding console, PA, talented artists and experienced engineers,” Pikul said.
While their Belmont education has served as the groundwork for the students to be successful in live production, getting to be a part of building systems with experienced show techs has provided significant additional learning opportunities.
“Belmont’s graduate AET courses challenged me to understand signal flow and signal processes much more fully than I had ever known, which is critical to being a successful audio engineer,” Pikul explained. “There were a lot of things I did not know and was unsure of going into CMA Fest, from load in/out procedures to the literal console itself. There’s just so much planning, preparation and teamwork that goes into making shows happen successfully four days in a row, and I got to be part of the entire process.”
With many moving parts to a touring audio system, joining a team responsible for constructing all the parts and pieces alongside experienced leadership from staff engineers has allowed the students to jump in as mixers and stage techs at events like CMA Fest after only a couple of months.
Yakabuski said the students performed with flying colors. “I truly believe they were super proud and excited to see that their extensive education at Belmont had prepared them so well to be assigned as festival audio techs. And to do that in their hometown…on the biggest entertainment event of the year…that’s pretty cool!” he said. “To take all the knowledge gained and apply it in the field so quickly, and to succeed on so many levels, had to be a thrill and a huge confidence booster for the students.”
CMA Fest was simply a jumping off point for many of the students who will be working and traveling on tour this summer. Pikul, for example, is continuing to follow her dreams and work as a PA Tech on a seven-week tour across the country this summer.
The students have been able to express interest in developing certain skill sets and are assigned to shifts where they will be able to gain more hands-on experience in that area, such as audio or tour prep. With many tours gearing up for the summer season, the students and alumni help check, clean and test gear prior to it being added to a pull list for the show. They also build racks and cable looms which helps them understand how the equipment on a big production show works together.
Yakabuski said he hopes these hands-on experiences and mentorships at Solotech will help students confirm their passion for working in the industry like it did for him many years ago.
“I hope they also discover that education will never stop in this business. There is always new gear and software, more advanced networking systems and ways to get to the end result, so the students will always be learning, even as they develop their skill sets and careers,” Yakabuski continued. “It’s not without its challenges, but I would recommend this career to anyone who wants to grow into the greatest job there is. The education never stops, and the friends and memories I’ve made along the way have been the biggest payoff of all.”
Pikul said Belmont career services, staff and faculty have provided valuable opportunities to meet industry professionals throughout her education, which is absolutely key to navigating the industry, and advised others to get to know the helpful career services team and make the most of all networking opportunities.
“Go to as many open events and learning opportunities with industry professionals as you can because people will remember your face and you showing interest in learning and growing,” she said. “Ask people about their journey to getting where they are now and where they may want to go. It will provide some amazing insight for you to reflect on and explore yourself. Be yourself and be honest and it will take you far.”