WMSE’s Music Symposium this Saturday could be said to be a great melding of the musical minds with the benefit of those green, but eager to learn musicians, in mind. In part, acting as an extension on WMSE’s Radio Summer Camp music festival (remember about a month ago, when you got to see tons of national and local bands in one fell weekend’s swoop?), our music symposium is the left-brained side of that weekend, providing some real, solid points of learning for those who want to know everything from how to book a show to the legalities of writing songs and how to repair a blown tube.
In its third year, the symposium has drawn even more experts than ever before to share their knowledge, lead by keynote speaker Victor DeLorenzo of the Violent Femmes. Some of the topics covered/guest speakers present will be: booking/Marc Solheim (Turner, Pabst, Riverside), record labels/Bruno Johnson (Okka Disc), becoming a professional musician/Scott Schoenbeck (bassist for Dashboard Confessional), social media/Fred Gillich (Too Much Metal For One Hand), current trends in jazz and classical music/Steve Peplin (musician, composer, teacher) and music law/CJ Krawczyk (attorney).
One of these panelists is one of WMSE’s very own DJs. DJ Jon Blick of the Overnight Sensations program (Thursdays from 12 a.m. – 3 a.m.) still finds a way to noodle with electrical and audio equipment when he’s not on the air, doing repair work for his own Blick Engineering. Sonic Diet talked to Blick, as a pre-symposium appetizer, about some of the golden coins of knowledge he’ll be dispensing in regards to his part in the music industry.
How and when did you get your start in audio engineering and repair?
I’ve always been a huge music fan, which led to an interest in audio. I was a major stereo geek in high school and beyond college. After getting a degree in Electrical Engineering, I landed a job at Zenith in their Stereo/Radio department where I learned a lot about audio electronics. This was the first of several electonic design jobs that I had over the next twenty years.
During this time, going out for live music was pretty much a weekly thing. Sometime in the early 80s I wound up doing live sound for a Milwaukee band called the Squares, which was a real education. I was completely new to the world of pro audio. I naturally did a lot of repair and maintenance on the equipment, which prompted a few people outside of the band to ask “Hey, can you look at my amp?” Word of mouth led to Beihoff Music getting me set up as a Fender service center. Things took off from there as repair became a serious part time business. I eventually quit my design engineering job in the late 90s.
What is the most common repair you’ve done?
Equipment gets hauled around and things get physically broken. Controls get sheared off. Jacks break or come loose. I spend more time replacing broken parts than I do diagnosing electronic problems.
What’s been the toughest?
Earlier this year, a PA company brought in a pile of Crest power amps that someone else had been cannibalizing for years. This was all leftover broken stuff that someone else had been working on and couldn’t fix. “Can you make us some working amps out of this?” It’s been a tough slog, but I’m down to one last amp.
What advice would you give to new musicians who want to try their hand at repairing their own gear? Try it, or leave it up to the experts?
You’ve got to trust yourself and your abilities, but you also have to know when you are getting in over your head. I’ve seen some expensive mistakes that people have brought to me. Practice soldering on some old broken junk, or build a simple kit, before you tear into your $1000 Marshall head. If you can solder a decent connection, you should be able to replace simple broken parts. Don’t be afraid to replace a preamp tube. But learn some electronics before you try anything complicated.
The WMSE Radio Summer Camp Music Symposium will take place on Saturday, August 21st, starting at 9:30 a.m. and ending at 6:00 p.m. at the MSOE Student Life and Campus Center (1025 N. Broadway). For more information and the complete lineup of symposium events, visit WMSE.org.