Part2: I literally started by sweeping the floor

Here's me with the bike taxi in New York. This is how I paid for music school, but I didn't go to NYC to find music school.


I just went because I wanted better record stores and more DJ nights than they had in Austin TX. Packed up and went. Sold my truck when I got there, sold my camera, sold everything that was not music equipment. Started buying synths and building a studio with my roommate.

He was working as a DJ and we lived on the 3rd floor of a house in Brooklyn, pretty deep down close to Coney Island. There was a tight little staircase up 3 flights to our attic apartment, and when we had to carry the DJ coffin up those steps at 4am we almost dropped it down the stairs every time. Hysterically laughing does not help you carry a heavy coffin.

This is the period of my life when I entered the freelance hustle. That means having more than one job at the same time, and not having anything that's "a job". It felt amazing to get my first paying DJ gig, but $50 for one night, you can't pay rent with that.

One of my other jobs was at a pro audio repair shop called EARS -- Expert Audio Repairs and Services. I got the job because our mixing board was broken. 16 channel Mackie we bought used and the Left main output didn't work. I took it to the shop and the guy tested the Right main output, said it was fine. I told him how to reproduce the problem and he offered me a job on the spot. Jeff Blenkinsopp, amazing tech, now I think he's making custom analog synths. Cool guy.

I literally started by sweeping the floor and adding water to the sponges in the soldering stations. Repairing headphones. Stacking equipment in the outgoing repairs room. Found out that a $99 pair of headphones has only $20 of electronics in it, the rest of what you pay for is the plastic and the name-logo. I learned to solder like crazy. It's easy when you have the right temperature iron.

Got to hang out with guys who had been roadies for Pink Floyd, who had personally built amps for Bob Marley, who had made studios for WuTang. Every day I was handling equipment from famous bands who needed repairs, but the best part was bench testing.

SMITH they said check this and make sure it works. Every piece of gear that came through the place, I got to plug it in at the end and test the repair. Giant 96 channel mixing boards, vintage Oberheim and Prophet synths, a set of Calrec EQ's (like Neve but different) and tons of other stuff. I got to run a test tone in and sweep all the frequencies through the gear, check the outputs, just listening and tweaking knobs and learning what that equipment did.

Can you imagine how much fun that was? Hearing gear, playing with stuff I could not afford... it was like being on a spaceship.

Also I picked up a good bit of New Yorkiness, for example how money works. Guy called up one day and complained about something. Doug Tow, one of the E.A.R.S. owners, Doug was on the phone with him for like an hour. After that he hung up and said in frustration, "That guy made me feel so bad now I have to charge him more so I can feel better."

HAHAHAHA! I'm not making this up, he really said it and that's how New York works.

Those guys gave me my first compressor, a Behringer composer pro. I strapped it onto the outputs of my mixing board and started learning how to use it. Got totally confused. I understood how to make it function but I didn't know the RIGHT way to do it. I knew there was a better way to use a compressor for recording but I could not figure out what I was missing.


And it's not like you could just google it. Searching online was hard back then because mostly all you could find were PDF owner's manuals for equipment; this was 2001 before the internet had video or high-quality audio. Before youtube. When you wanted help you had to find a forum where you could ask specific questions.

And there was RTFM. "Read The Fucking Manual." If you asked a question and people thought you didn't do enough research on your own, they just answered RTFM. That meant go look it up and stop asking stupid questions.

I ran smack into the solid wall of compression and couldn't understand it even with one at home to play with, so...

...I went back to school. This was about 5 years after I had dropped out of college (forestry). I found a really great school called the Sonic Arts Center up in Harlem and I wanted to get in so bad I could taste it. I applied, took the intro class, worked my ass off, made a demo tape, sweated, freaked out, and by some miracle I got my acceptance letter one day before the semester began.

Started driving this giant tricycle to pay for it. And that led to ANOTHER strange night-time economy, like the taco truck but different.

People in the daytime will argue about $4 for a bottle of juice, but at night they'll pay $8 for a bottle of beer... repeatedly.

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Steve Knots

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