Graduating from OIART is only the beginning. Thankfully, Robert Breen is there to get things started. His official title is "Career Development and Industry Relations," but to OIART grads, he's much more. He's a coach, a personal agent, and a headhunter that'll help track down good gigs in the industry. "I get to know all of the students on a personal level, get to see them in sessions, do fake job interviews with them, make them cold call me as if I were a potential employer, help them with resumes," he says. "I teach them how to find work and network. Then I go hunting for job postings and employment opportunities. Because I know them personally, I know what they're looking for and where they'll fit in."
Breen knows music recording. He has played guitar from an early age and managed Ocean Studios in Burbank for four years. "My main interest in life, no matter what I was doing, was always music—playing guitar, recording, everything," he says. "I was always in a band, always listening to music, always studying."
Like most musicians, Breen started playing seriously in high school. The more he played, the more he learned. Soon he became fascinated with studio recording techniques, investigating the tricks and tools used to make legendary albums like the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. "When I learned how they made that album, and how other albums I grew up with were made, I wanted to spend all my time in the recording studio," he says.
Despite a deep passion for music, audio recording was an unusual career choice in the mid '80s and a high school guidance counselor suggested he study English. Breen took the advice and got a degree from the University of Western Ontario. "It seemed more like a real job than what I actually wanted to do." But Breen knew that he couldn't give up on music without at least trying. A trip to the old Motown studio in Detroit was inspiration enough to get him to enroll in OIART." I was 27 at the time and I signed up for the program at OIART. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made," he says. “It enabled me to do the things I always wanted to do but didn’t know how.”
After OIART, Breen moved to Los Angeles and landed an internship at Ocean Studios in Burbank. The studio is known for its vintage gear vibe and big-name clients. Breen worked as an intern, then an assistant engineer, then engineer, then worked his way up to managing the studio. "I had the opportunity to work on vintage gear, which was something that really interested me," he says. "We had basically the biggest and best-sounding vintage Neve console on the planet. I got to help restore that, and had access to every kind of old microphone I ever wanted to touch, every kind of old piece of outboard processing gear I ever wanted to use. We had all of it. And some of the clients I got to work with were the people who had done some of my favorite records. I was able to watch and learn from them. It was really, really exciting, and I just wanted to live at the studio."
Breen's experience at OIART was key to his success at Ocean Studios. "Not only do they teach you about audio, but they teach you professionalism, and they teach you how to learn things," he says. "They give you such a broad base of knowledge in so many things that it gives you a technical understanding to interpret the world with. It's such a great foundation for being able to learn more. You come out of a program like this able to be a world-class engineer if you have the talent and drive."
Back to School
The engineer returned to OIART in 2004. "I came back as a guest speaker and ended up in this position," he says. "I'd planned on staying in Los Angeles for two years and stayed seven. I was ready for something new. I wanted to be closer to my family. Mostly I wanted to do something where I could really help people. This job was perfect. The fact that music was my life and that somehow a ‘guidance’ counselor either didn’t notice or take it seriously stuck with me. I understand you have to care about your students enough to get to know them. It’s the only way you can help them find a path to do what they love."
Breen meets with OIART students early on. "I have everybody in for a one-hour, informal conversation, just so we can get to know each other," he says. "Then we follow up with assignments on resumes, career goals, finding employment, specifically in audio. We cover everything you need to know to look for and find the right job or internship."
The process is tailored to each student. Breen seeks out strengths and uses them to help students realize their goals. "There are a lot of audio school grads now, so it's really important that each of these kids understands what their past experience means to their employability. They may have worked construction for five years before coming here. That's not irrelevant experience, that's a real asset to potential employers. We go into that with everybody—try and figure out what your special skills are, what your aptitudes are, what you bring to the table that other people don't."
Then, of course, there's the interview. Breen uses his experience in the recording industry to craft tough interview sessions. "It's a well-studied interview," he says,"better than the ones I used to do when it was my job, actually. It's a combination of a technical interview and a behavioral interview, where they have to be able to describe how they handle themselves in certain situations over and above just knowing what the gear does." The thorough interviews are meant to be more strenuous than any interview grads might face. If a grad can master the interview, they'll be ready for anything a potential employer may throw at them.
Breen's background is in music studio recording, but he preps OIART grads for careers in any industry that may need an audio professional. He meets with professionals in many fields to determine where the jobs are and how to get them. "That's the industry liaison part of my job," he says. "For instance, I've learned that the real growth areas in the past few years have been in live sound and video games. Sound installations are more sophisticated everywhere, from auditoriums to concert halls to malls to cruise ships. It's really a diverse industry to get into. Location sound recording for television and movies is also growing."
The career counselor also helps students launch freelance careers. "If you're an entrepreneur, music recording is better than it's ever been," says Breen. "It's the major-label thing that's gone down the tubes, but what's happened is the ability to connect with like-minded people globally on the Internet has completely leveled the playing field. Small, personal studios have really been a growth area. Right now, in the London area alone, we have five grads at least who own decent-size studios. They make a living at them—they're making records that sell, and sometimes win awards. They're making exactly the kind of records they want to make, with the kind of people they want to work with. They're having a great time. That's just something that never could have happened 10 years ago."
In the end, Breen's job is to guide grads to their career paths. "Part of my job is to help them find things they'll really enjoy, that perhaps they hadn’t thought of" he says "I bring in the guest speakers in every year and they talk about all kinds of different things they do in audio. It's a real eye-opener for everyone. Still, if a student wants to chase their dream we teach them exactly what is involved to make it a reality. I got to live my dream, so I understand."
Breen's main advice for any OIART grad? "Keep an open mind, because no matter what you plan on doing, you'll probably wind up doing a lot of different things," he says, “but that’s a great thing because so much of what you get to do in this industry is just plain fun.”
Vintage Studio, at Home
Breen spent years in one of the best studios in L.A. When he returned to Ontario, he decided to recreate as much of it as he could for his own projects. "I wanted to build a studio where I could work in the manner to which I was accustomed," he says. "Because I came from a big, vintage studio with lots of tube mikes, and a tracking room and a console, and nice speakers, I decided that's what I wanted when I got back here. So I actually built an analog studio with a tracking room and a console, and can do everything I used to do back in LA, except now it's in my house." Breen produces albums in his new home studio, and consults on other analog studio builds.