Have Knowledge, Will Travel

Several months ago, this column looked at how to leverage your recording smarts into technical-writing gigs (see Working Musician: Landing the Write Job

Several months ago, this column looked at how to leverage your recording smarts into technical-writing gigs (see “Working Musician: Landing the Write Job” in the September 2005 issue of EM). This month, I'll examine another route for profiting from your knowledge and experience: training others through speeches, seminars, clinics, and college courses.

These sessions can range from a 15-minute trade-show demo to a three-hour training seminar to a course that lasts several days, weeks, or months. Some events pay only a token honorarium or travel expenses, while others — usually longer seminars and college courses — can yield decent money (see the sidebar “Seminar Pay Scales”).

Beyond the pay, seminars often bring you indirect benefits such as product sales, postsession consulting work, and other music gigs. Teaching also builds your industry reputation and extends your network of contacts, both of which can pay dividends over time.

Opportunities abound for teaching others what you already know. You can speak locally on music topics at community events, clubs and organizations, park districts, and music stores. You could even host a session yourself. For example, if you're a studio owner, you might offer free or low-cost clinics on recording techniques as a way to bring potential new clients to your facility.

Regionally and nationally, the AFM, NARAS, ASCAP, and BMI all sponsor events and hold training and informational seminars. There are national trade shows such as AES and NAMM, as well as shows in related industries. Topics can range from music-career advice and promotion strategies to a host of technical subjects. Community colleges and technical schools offer production-related classes — both noncredit and for credit — that need teachers. For instance, at the College of DuPage, near Chicago, I teach Audio Production for Film and Television.

Hone Your Skills

To be an effective trainer, you need broad-based and extensive experience with your chosen topic. Some situations require that you have a college degree or other credentials, such as Pro Tools certification. But most trainers earn their reputation through real-world expertise and experience. You'll also need to develop good presentation skills.

In most cases, seminar attendees are there because they want to be. They want to hear your opinion and learn your techniques, and it's up to you to deliver the goods. Think of the most positive learning experiences you've had, and try to use similar methods.

Think of training as being like performing. You have to convey information in a pleasing, entertaining, and compelling way. Just as with a musical performance, rehearsal is the key to success. There are plenty of books on the subject of giving seminars, and you can learn a lot by watching others. However, nothing replaces actually giving presentations because the more you perform, the better you will become. Consider videotaping a few rehearsals or actual sessions with the goal of improving both your content and your presentation.

Presenting is demanding and requires lots of mental and physical energy. Strive to provide what the audience wants despite your own moods or other distractions. It can be exhausting because you are constantly “on.” Between travel and lugging any necessary gear around, you're likely to have some long days.

Find an Opening

I wouldn't suggest trying to develop your own seminars when you're just getting started. First, find built-in audiences by approaching organizations that already host training events. Let them do the promoting, registering, and handling of attendees, leaving you to focus on content and delivery.

Start with organizations that you're already affiliated with or have some knowledge of. If they offer training, look for the topics they've featured in the past and devise a course that is unique or fills a gap in their current lineup. If they don't offer training, propose a pilot program.

Find out who is in charge of booking presenters. Make contact by phone or email to gauge interest and to ask for class-proposal guidelines. Typically, your proposal should contain the program title and length, a paragraph or bulleted list about what you'll present, a recommended target audience and its skill level, and a brief bio that shows your credentials. Also include a promotional blurb about your seminar, and copies of any handouts, demo files, or CDs that you plan to use.

If you do put on your own event, consider teaming up with sponsors or other presenters. Music-equipment manufacturers may cough up some dough to have you promote their products for them during your presentation. Joint ventures with other speakers can spread the expenses around and bring in a wider audience. For example, a recording studio might team up with a graphic designer, duplicator, and publicist and present a course on creating and marketing an indie-music release.

Break It Down

When developing the content of your presentation, remember that people want information that is applicable to their situation. Therefore, use your knowledge to solve problems for them in a logical, practical way. Start by stating the problem or challenge, and then present step-by-step details for overcoming it. For example, in my scoring-to-picture sessions, I explain how I break the scoring process down into a predictable sequence of tasks. Obviously, you can present more detail in a longer session.

Playing before-and-after music examples will help to drive points home. You might deconstruct a recent project and then show how you pulled it together.

For a seminar on mixing techniques, you could play a song demo, switch to the raw multitrack, and then rebuild the final mix for the audience. Discuss your mixing approach, step-by-step. Be generous with your advice and don't leave anything out. At the end, play the finished mix for the audience and then take questions. When teaching how to score to picture, I replay the same video with four different musical soundtracks. I then dissect each approach and explain why it may or may not be the best musical solution.

People prefer active, hands-on learning to straight lecture, so try to involve the audience by soliciting questions, polling opinions, and doing group activities. Encourage attendees to share their experiences; tell your own only when they reinforce specific, practical points.

People attend seminars because they prefer learning that way. Prepare and give an entertaining, interactive live presentation. If you use audiovisual aids such as Keynote or PowerPoint, they should complement and augment your presentation, not be the whole thing.

Props are another way to involve your audience. Doing a session on recording techniques? Bring the mics, stands, and other accoutrements you need, and show specifically how you set up and record. Ask audience members for assistance, or set up hands-on situations.

Defeat the Butterflies

Most presenters get nervous before the event. The key to beating the butterflies is to be totally prepared. Thoroughly rehearse your presentation in advance. Audiences will forgive a little nervousness on your part if you look prepared and your content is good.

Focus on your audience and their needs. Poll them at the beginning for insight into what they are really expecting from your session. Tailor your presentation based on your findings, altering your content on the fly.

Start and finish at the appointed times, and ignore latecomers and those who leave early. Be wary of humor at other people's expense and stick to self-effacing examples. Be open to taking questions, or reserve time at the end for them instead of interrupting your prepared presentation. Don't fall prey to unexpected technical glitches. Check and recheck everything before the audience arrives. Also, have backups for crucial files and any software programs that you use. Most of all, enjoy your moment in the spotlight and the good feelings that come from helping others make their music and careers better.

Jeffrey P. Fisher's latest book is Cash Tracks: Compose, Produce, and Sell Your Original Soundtrack Music and Jingles (ArtistPro/Thomson, 2005). He can be reached through his Web site atwww.jeffreypfisher.com.

LEAVE THE DOOR OPENMake sure to let attendees know how you can continue to help them after the session concludes. The real money is rarely made from the seminar itself. You can use your appearance to get new clients, additional music projects, other speaking engagements, consulting jobs, and back-end product sales. To do this effectively, collect contact information from attendees so that you can follow up later.

One method is to offer a “tip sheet” that complements what you presented, which you'll give to any attendee in exchange for his or her business card or contact info. Don't just parrot what you said in the seminar. Feature more detail about a specific topic or explore an adjunct to your main presentation. I have articles that explain compression and provide composition exercises to supplement my sessions on mixing techniques and scoring to picture. Be sure that your giveaway contains your contact information and an indication of other products and services that you sell.

SEMINAR PAY SCALESHow much you can make from a seminar depends on the particular circumstances. A one-hour session could pay anywhere from nothing to a few hundred dollars. An all-day seminar will likely range from a few hundred to maybe (big maybe!) a thousand dollars.

The pay for college courses depends a lot on the institution. Expect to make somewhere in the neighborhood of a few thousand dollars as a part-time instructor. If you're putting on your own seminars, the sky's the limit, but there's also the potential that you might lose money.