When it came time to looking for internships at an audio studio in Chicago, senior Audio Design and Production major Ralphie Serpico was hoping to learn from professionals while honing his skill set. He found that and more at VSOP Studios in Chicago.
Originally from Melrose Park, Illinois, and a Walter Christian Academy High School graduate, Ralphie used his experience in the classroom to secure a spot as an audio intern at one of the premier studios in Chicago. Working under the tutelage of owner Matt Hennessy and engineer Ty Caughell, the internship has given him a new perspective in terms of being open-minded. According to Ralphie, “I learned a valuable lesson in terms of adjusting to a completely different workflow and how to apply the things I knew into an entirely unique style of learning. I think now when I go into new educational situations, I don't expect to learn a definitive way, rather I expect to learn a certain perspective that can be adjusted to an individual's preference and optimized to fit into a unique workflow.”
Ralphie has been able to see firsthand the impact of hospitality and the results of these positive experiences. “I've gained a lot of experience on how to communicate with clients professionally while still being able to make things feel like a comfortable and friendly environment. I've also been lucky to grow as an engineer in terms of both feel and technical aspects. VSOP's workflow is very challenging to understand at first, but once you get a grip on how the system runs everything makes sense, and it is no surprise that they have so many returning clients.”
His positive experience at VSOP and the professionalism he has developed has come in handy with recording projects outside the studio. Along with fellow Audio major Jon O’Brien, they embarked on finding a client to record during the summer of 2021. This was a successful endeavor as Ralphie relates, “This was our first major project working on music that we were not playing on, or directly connected to, and our first time working for pay and not just as a favor. The band had not had any traditional recording experience other than compiling lo-fi demos themselves, so after their first take as a band seeing their satisfied faces listening back to how we recorded them was a moment that reaffirmed that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
In addition to having direct contact with clients at times, Ralphie has been able to learn critical aspects of the industry that will assist him in his career moving forward. “I've gained a deeper understanding of signal flow and how to set up a space in addition to working in one. I've learned a lot about communication and how to phrase things so clients clearly understand, given their various levels of experience with professional audio. I've been exposed to many situations where I've become more adept at thinking fast and fixing something on the spot. Troubleshooting has also been a huge part of my time at VSOP.I expected to go in learning more about recording and mixing. However, what I've found is that more often than not the recording and mixing skills you've learned at Columbia and developed through your own trial and error are in fact more than good enough. In actuality, the skill that’s needed to work at a professional level is being able to recognize what is going wrong “
For any student looking to intern or starting an internship, Ralphie, now in his third semester with VSOP, had these words of encouragement. “Familiarize yourself with the gear and space beforehand. Going in knowing the tools they use and the spaces they occupy will help you in the long run. I'd also advise that you be respectful of their work, especially when paid clients are in the room. Once a session is finished and the clients have left there will be plenty of time to ask questions, so take notes while the session is happening! If you interrupt the session to ask a question, you're taking away from a paying client’s time. Go in excited and make the most of it. The professional experience will be reassurance that this is the right career for you!”
The excitement that Ralphie has is contagious. His dedication to his craft doesn’t end the minute he leaves the classroom or VSOP Studios. According to Ralphie, “I find every day when I walk away from VSOP I am inspired to get back into my DAW and start working on whatever project is in front of me at the time. Seeing Matt and Ty work makes me want to improve and one day be at their level.”