View from the top: The Educator (Jim Parsons)11 August 2015
The former owner of rental outfit Tiger Hire is now giving something back to the industry he loves…
Who are you?
My name is Jim Parsons. I used to own a PA company until I realised how daft that was. It took me 28 years to realise this.
What do you do now?
For the last 10 years I have been running a Live Sound degree course.
Where do you do it?
Based in Plymouth, UK, dBs Music is a specialist music technology provider that allows me the freedom to design and run the course in a way which combines structured learning with plenty of practical work using cutting edge audio technology. We have a 400-capacity working venue as the main teaching environment and we have pro gear like Midas, Avid and Martin Audio – which is not always the case with publicly funded college courses.
Why do you do it?
I felt for a long time that the old ‘junior dogsbody’ assistant engineer pathway to learning live sound engineering was a bit random as it really depended on the senior mentor engineer being able to communicate information clearly and accurately and, of course, it depended upon them being right in the first place.
The other thing is that the live sound industry has undergone rapid change over the last thirty years. In the past, being physically strong, having a driving licence and having a positive attitude were the main prerequisites for a budding engineer. Now you need to know, understand and remember pretty complex technical stuff, particularly since digital technology has revolutionised sound consoles, audio networks and loudspeaker control.
The good news is that this all means that there’s a good variety of jobs for the new generation of tech-savvy technical crew in this digital age. So I suppose my goal is to inspire and train the new specialist technicians and engineers who ultimately will replace my generation.
What’s your biggest success to date?
I find my role in education very rewarding. You know why? When I finished the last lesson of the academic year in May the whole graduating class applauded.
What’s the biggest challenge coming up?
Here at dBs Music we have a new collaborative partnership with Martin Audio, so Plymouth’s own sonic guru Simon Honywill will be instructing the new students in September in the mysteries of loudspeaker design – and particularly the principles and operation of the revolutionary MLA speaker system. This of course is the main challenge that we always face: keeping up to date with the rapidly changing technical landscape. Not so different to running a PA company, really!
What is the ‘issue’ that never seems to go away?
There are some basic laws of physics which govern all audio, and understanding the principles of acoustics and the mechanics of sound transmission and reception will always be at the core of live sound education. This will never change – unlike the latest mixing desk upgrade.
What can the industry do better to encourage youngsters?
The relationship between young Live Sound students, equipment manufacturers and sound rental companies is crucial to the renewal and development of the new professionalism in pro audio. In particular, manufacturer led equipment training is essential to the successful adoption of new technology, because this in turn makes the student more employable to the rental company. It’s a kind of synergy in operation.
Can they get work?
We have good relationships with all our local sound companies and a steady trickle of students end up finding employment with them. Education is now an expensive business for any student, so I find that most of them are keen, hardworking and really want to have a career in some part of the live sound workplace.
Why are there more courses now than ever before?
Unfortunately there are quite a few courses available now, both publicly funded and private – meaning pay to learn – and many cover a bit of everything connected with music technology. This means that the student ends up with a little bit of knowledge about lots of different subject areas, but has no proper depth of understanding about any one thing. This is what sets the dBs Music Live Sound degree apart from the rest: we live and breath pro audio, obsess about it and dream about how to do it better. That is what we do!
If you were 18 today what advice would you need?
Now is a great time to be 18. Get as much education and training as you can, take every opportunity that you are offered, buy some decent ear protection and don’t restrict yourself to particular job roles or types of work. Remember: you always need to keep on learning so that you’re prepared for the future.
This is #4 of 10 ‘views from the top’ appearing in PSNLive 2015, PSNEurope‘s 10th annual analysis of the European live sound industry. This year, we quizzed incumbents of key industry roles on the ups and downs of the business. The result is a range of insights (views from the top, no less) from a diverse group of individuals, all of whose careers are inextricably linked to the fabric of live sound.