By John Owen
Berkleemusic student Michael Jobson has spent most of his life in the music business, building a distinguished career first as a guitar tech and second guitarist for seminal English groups like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Echo & the Bunnymen, and then as an elite tour manager specializing in handling some of the biggest personalities and toughest clients in the history of rock—Public Image Ltd., Jane’s Addiction, Ministry, Hole, Slayer, Amy Winehouse, and even Riverdance among them. When this seasoned road warrior with more than a quarter-century of experience needed to learn new skills fast, he turned to Berkleemusic, where he has taken two online Pro Tools courses—with more to come.
Born in Scotland in 1965, Michael started in the music business on “the 24th of October 1977, when I saw a four-band bill on the eve of my 12th birthday. It was my brother’s band [The Skids] as the first of four that comprised The Lou’s, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and—the band that sealed my fate as a lifer in the music industry—The Clash. I knew from that night that this was what I wanted. I had no idea in what capacity, but I was having a slice of this vibe for sure.”
At 14, Michael left home to follow the legendary Siouxsie and the Banshees, eventually becoming their guitar tech. Soon thereafter, he won a job as second guitarist and tour manager for Echo & the Bunnymen at the height of their career. He stuck with that job through the mid-1980s, honing his managerial skills and learning lessons—some the hard way—to help him flourish in his chosen role—including the fundamental lesson that has shaped his career: “if you look after your guy well, you will prosper.”
Michael moved into full-time tour production, and soon was managing touring affairs for major groups like UB40, the Waterboys, and Public Image, Ltd. He also found a mentor at this key juncture—a young manager named Peter Mensch who was overseeing the career of his brother’s next group, The Armoury Show. Mensch (who, with his partner Cliff Bernstein, would go on to manage major artists like Def Leppard and Shania Twain as Q Prime Management) “was a hard taskmaster, but a supportive and incredibly generous man, and I guess he saw something
in me,” Michael recounts.
The management and negotiation skills he learned from Peter Mensch, plus what he learned working with PiL, gave Michael a knack for handling tough situations. Indeed, hard cases became his specialty as Michael spent the early 1990s handling touring affairs for famously messy groups like Jane’s Addiction, Ministry, and Hole. He was even tapped by Perry Farrell to stage manage Lollapalooza, from its inaugural run in 1991 through 1994.
Today Michael is an elite tour manager, with an office, a staff to handle the details, and a nice house in the Southwest of England. He still works with groups like Slayer, Regina Spektor, The Fratellis, and Amy Winehouse, taking to the road many weekends and spending the week at home. He still plays guitar in his spare time just like he always has.
When asked for advice that could be passed on to young people who are considering a career of their own in the music business, Michael offers, “It is very difficult to get into the business. So get qualified via college for technological positions, do business studies for accounting and management positions—these are a great foundation for a good start. Berkleemusic offers a vast array of courses that will give you knowledge of the fundamentals, but let’s not forget that the best way forward in any job is practical experience—run the phones and offer your services on a local level for free to gain some experience.”
“My youngest son has his sights set on playing—he is a very good guitar player. However, I have put great stock in him having a great academic base so he can make educated choices about his career—I had a single vision, and I recognize that it will not be that easy for everyone. Be educated and go far.”
One way Michael is contributing to his son’s musical education is by building a home studio for the two of them to play around in. “I built a room next to my house,” he explains, ”filled it with instruments, bought a Pro Tool LE setup and an 8-core Mac, had my speakers from 1982 reconed, and Bob’s your uncle, I had a studio. And then I thought, ‘Jesus, I need to know how to use it.’”
And so Michael “literally Googled ‘Pro Tools courses,’ went to the Berkleemusic website, read the course description, and realized [Berkleemusic] was the perfect scenario for me.” He signed up for Pro Tools 101 with Andy Edelstein, and twelve weeks later had mastered the fundamentals of that famously powerful and complicated technology.
Michael hastens to point out to prospective students an important but oft-overlooked aspect of the Berkleemusic experience—that is, Berkleemusic’s partnership with Digidesign—the makers of Pro Tools—which makes deep discounts on Pro Tools products available even to online students. In Michael’s case, this “really incredible” discount, combined with a weak dollar, put the cost of an elite Pro Tools rig surprisingly within reach.
As for the course itself, Michael quickly learned that Berkleemusic’s online courses are designed to make the teaching experience as interactive as possible, and the individual assignments designed to give you back what you put into them. “When you’re a first-time student,” he explains, “it doesn’t matter whether you’re forty-three or eleven, I was absolutely petrified when it was time for the first lesson. I was there, man, I had my tie straight, I had a lunchbox and everything.”
Michael soon found that two of the biggest reasons for choosing Berkleemusic are the caliber of the teachers and the diversity of the student body. “Maybe that’s just me,” says Michael, “but I was getting to know the characters and I was having a lot of fun with that. In particular the instructor, Andy Edelstein, who wrote the course. He’s such a gentleman, and so knowledgeable and accessible, and he’d make time for me whenever he needed me to make time. For an internet-based course, he made it not very internet-based, and I mean that in the best sense.”
As for collaborating with the other students, Michael explains that “we’d do a chat every Sunday, and you could access the other students so easily—you figured out who were the most like-minded anyway from the chats, and then you get to see each other’s homework and hear what other people’s musical influences were. And that was great—that should be the essence of it. There were the metal guys, the Joe Satriani shredders, the techno guys, the hip-hop guys. I learned a lot from the hip-hop guys. My weakness would be rhythm programming—I’ve got a million melodies, but I couldn’t keep time for toffee, me.”
When asked how he fit Berkleemusic into his touring schedule, Michael explains, “I would work on Amy Winehouse stuff during the day, come home, have dinner with the family, and then disappear into the studio to do the course. It was really perfect for me. The course work is challenging, but I would lock up the studio at 5 A.M. really feeling like I was achieving something.”
After almost thirty years in the business, and after building a career out of knowing how to make things happen in impossible circumstances, Michael Jobson turned to Berkleemusic when he needed to expand his knowledge of recording technology for his own enjoyment. When asked about his future plans, he reports that he plans to enroll in more courses from Berkleemusic’s extensive Pro Tools curriculum, and to continue recording music with his children. “I bought my son a [Pro Tools] rig for his sixteenth birthday so he can record some things himself,” says Michael. “And he can send me files that we can take into the studio. He can go be a little bud, and then come into the studio and be a flower.”