Educator Brian Kraft has unique connection to the entertainment and recording industries. Not only is he a successful independent filmmaker in his own right, but he is also the COO and Chief Academic Officer for Recording Radio Film Connection, an accredited school that teaches students by placing them as apprentices in actual studios and production facilities. The Recording Connection branch of the school has enabled hundreds of students to launch successful careers in the recording industry by placing them into working recording studios all over the country, where they receive one-on-one instruction from real producers and engineers. Brian Kraft sat down with MIMO to talk about his school’s unique methods for teaching the skills of audio engineering and music production.
MIMO: In your opinion, what is the single most important benefit of apprenticeship-based training over traditional classroom methods?
BK: The single most important benefit of apprenticeship training is the fact that you’re making connections that can get you employed when you’re done. This is huge for a job seeker, a dreamer, anyone who has a career in mind. Given the state of the world, given the fact that the world is overpopulated, the markets have all been saturated, and that the economies of the world are imploding, doesn’t it make sense to get as close to the employment prospect as possible? To [do that] in this context, means to train, to get educated, to go to school in the place where you could get hired once you graduate.
Before 1970, you went to school in one place, and you got employed in another place. And that worked really well when the world wasn’t a global marketplace…I mean, there are people who would argue that it didn’t even work that well then, but this idea that you paid a bunch of money to go to school, then you got out, then you hit the job market–to use a youthful colloquialism, that’s so twenty years ago. This idea that you get educated then get out there and really hit the pavement–the problem is, the pavement is cluttered and flooded with other out-of-work people now. That’s the point. No matter what city you go to in the world, you’re going to be met with hundreds of other people competing for the same job you want. So what we’re saying is this: why not spend a lot less money on your education, pay for a one-on-one education, be an apprentice, and learn from the very person you hope to hire you one day? That’s the single most beneficial thing you can get from an apprenticeship.
MIMO: How are apprenticeships different from the internships that other schools might offer?
BK: That’s a great question. Very important that we make the distinction here–what’s the difference between an apprentice and an intern? They’re similar, but they’re different. And what my school is offering is the opportunity, first and foremost, to be an apprentice.
Apprentices learn a trade or a craft. They’re actually doing the homework and studying how to become something specific. For example, if you want to produce music, you want to be an audio engineer or music producer, there are certain things, obviously, that you’re going to need to learn–certain technical skills…Our apprentices do homework out of a book and on their computer, and they bring that homework in to their mentor, and then learn from the mentor privately, one-on-one inside a real recording studio. Inside your class is just you, your teacher/mentor, which is usually the studio owner or the chief engineer of the studio, and your books, and all the gear. That’s it. There are no other students there…Now that’s [being] an apprentice–learning the craft, learning the technical aspects of that career.
An intern is different; an intern basically is a gopher. An intern is somebody that is usually working, answering phones, cleaning up the lunch room; they run errands, they pick up dry cleaning, they go on coffee runs, they may be able to do some bookkeeping. They’ll help with the actual chores of the company, whether it’s a recording studio, a radio station or a Fortune 500 company. Interns are basically free employees that do the dirty work. And let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong, in my opinion, with interning, as long as the person is not being taken advantage of. If they’re just looking for a foot in the door, it’s a good secondary way to do that. But it’s a lot different from apprenticing. An apprentice is a student, doing homework, taking a class, and actually completing one lesson and module after another so as to learn a craft, whereas an intern is just an extra hand who is a gopher. Now our [Recording Connection] program is 80 percent apprenticing and 20 percent interning. Our apprentices actually take an accredited, structured course curriculum and are guaranteed private, one-on-one education. And on some of their other days, they do the interning, so they do all of it at once with the end goal of getting hired.
MIMO: Is there a screening process for the mentors you select? What steps do you take to choose mentors who will be invested in the success of your students?
BK: Well, we have been working with mentors for over 30 years, so many of the mentors that we use have been proving themselves as educators and employers for going on 30 years. But if we are going to use a new mentor, we do it the old-fashioned way: we sit down and talk to them. “What do you want to accomplish by being a mentor?” we ask them. “How long has your studio been in business? Are you interested in helping young people find work? CAN you help people find work? Who are your clients? Can we come in and see your studio? What is your knowledge base?” We not only ask them questions about their abilities as educators, but we also visit their studios and stations and production companies, to see if they’re suitable, professional environments. We also take a long hard look at their job placement track record. We also talk to their employees and see who they’ve hired, and see what their environment is like. So the vetting process to become a mentor for our institution is pretty rigorous.
MIMO: What’s the most satisfying part of your own work as an educator?
BK: I would say that there’s nothing more exhilarating for me personally than the dissemination of information. That’s challenge number one: conveying information to another human being. Challenge number two is the way in which you convey it–finding different ways to mentor. Being an effective mentor means understanding different people, different personalities, and finding a way in to make a connection. It’s probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever undertaken, and yet, when it is successful, it is the most exhilarating. Trying to reach one person and then moving on to another private session and trying to reach a completely different person is a really fun thing to do. It’s both selfish and selfless, you know? It’s quite a beautiful thing to be able to share in knowledge, because let’s face it, here we are on this crazy planet, spinning in the middle of nowhere, and we’ve got hundreds of thousands of years of information embedded in our DNA, and as educators we get to simply share that information with another person that represents generations that will be here long after I’m gone. Pretty fantastic alchemy there.