Lots of graduates have a pretty clear idea of what they want to do after they leave Full Sail. 2007 Recording Arts grad John Rupp is no exception.
“I went to Full Sail knowing that I wanted to be an audio engineer,” he says. “I really dove into it. I learned the science behind how a console does what it does, and why the same PA system sounds different on an outdoor stage than on an indoor stage. I always wanted to tour. I love working in the studio, but I’m a very active person, a ‘can’t-sit-in-one-place-for-too-long’ kind of guy.”
After graduation, John’s path seemed straightforward. He moved back to his hometown of Fogelsville, Pennsylvania and started applying to studios. After a string of internships in New York, he landed a paying gig as a monitor engineer at the largest concert venue in the Lehigh Valley, the Crocodile Rock Café. After a couple of years, bands coming through began to take notice of John’s exceptional live mixing skills. This led to tours with Boyce Avenue and Secondhand Serenade.
John enjoyed being on tour and got along great with the bands. Everything was going according to plan, but a phone call from an organization called ArtsQuest changed everything. Founded as part of an initiative to promote art and culture in the former steel town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, ArtsQuest was looking for a seasoned engineer to help their newest live venue get off the ground. Suddenly, John found himself drawn in to the world of non-profit arts.
The organization manages the SteelStacks campus, a 10-acre facility that includes two movie theaters, an acoustic stage in the town square, a dinner theatre, and more. For two years, John worked as the head audio engineer for the Levitt Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater situated at the heart of the campus. Five blast furnaces from the old Bethlehem Steel plant still serve as the backdrop for live performances.
“I took a break from touring,” he says. “I started working at the Levitt Pavilion from the very first show. It all just kind of fell into place.”
Although working for a non-profit organization meant taking a pay cut, John says he gained a whole new appreciation for the business during his time at ArtsQuest. For one thing, he discovered he enjoyed teaching.
“The company hired a lot of people who were fresh out of school. I would train them on how to use a console. A lot of them have moved on now, and they work for bigger audio companies all around America,” he says.
John also enjoyed the opportunity to connect with people in and around Bethlehem.
“When you’re on tour, you’re part of a little family. When you work for a non-profit organization, your family is the entire community,” he says.
John has since returned to touring, but he still works for ArtsQuest part time when he’s home between tours. He’s also the co-owner of Sixwill Studios, where he continues to explore his love of teaching by offering audio classes. He still uses the skills he learned at SteelStacks on the road, especially when it comes to making the best of unconventional venues.
“Outside the Levitt Pavilion, you get a lot of slap back off the old steel mill behind the stage. There’s really no way around it.” John says that learning what you can and can’t control is key when it comes to running sound in unpredictable locations.“This is actually something that took me a few years to become comfortable with,” he says. “I’ve learned that once you understand the gear that you’re working on, you can ignore the issues you can’t control and just move on with the show.”
While working for a non-profit isn’t what most engineers have in mind when they’re starting out, John says he’d recommend it to anyone looking to do what they love while supporting their community.