Music has always been a part of Marco Puente’s life.
“I started playing guitar when I was 9 or 10,” remembers Marco. “And in high school, I was always the guy in the band who had a PA system and knew my way around using it.”
Being that guy ended up paying off: After Marco enrolled in the U.S. Air Force, he auditioned to join the Tops in Blue, the Air Force’s active-duty entertainment ensemble composed of some of the branch’s most talented musicians, singers, and dancers.
“You submit a video of yourself playing an instrument, and the Air Force invites about 175 people or so down to San Antonio, Texas, for live try outs,” says Marco. “It’s kind of like American Idol. And after that, about 30 people get picked to go on tour.”
He didn’t hear back his first year, but in 2001, he was asked to join as a bass player after another member had to drop out. But when he got down to Texas and the leaders of the ensemble heard about his experience behind the soundboard, his role quickly changed.
“I started asking questions about the audio, and the next thing I knew, I wasn’t playing bass anymore, I was actually running the entire audio system with another guy,” says Marco. “I’m really glad it worked out that way, because it taught me a lot about music production. I got to learn instead of just playing an instrument onstage.”
For a year, Marco toured the world with the Tops in Blue, working as a front-of-house engineer. The ensemble’s mission is to entertain troops stationed in remote and deployed locations, but to also serve as ambassadors for the Air Force and the United States worldwide. From Alaska in the dead of winter to Bosnia in the midst of war, the group performed for thousands, using music to boost morale.
“It was really rewarding to be able to give the troops entertainment when they needed it the most,” says Marco. “We went to locations that nobody else could really go to.”
Marco’s tour with Tops in Blue ended in 2002, but he was a part of the ensemble for several years after, often being asked back to help run audio during try-outs. Later, while stationed in Germany, he decided to further build off of the audio skills he had acquired on the road and enroll in Full Sail’s online Music Production program.
“When I saw what Music Production had to offer, it really inspired me,” says Marco. “Because I could get to play music but also compose.”
Being active duty and going to school online at the same time had its challenges, but Marco capitalized on the time difference and did most of his work at night to get ahead. After finishing the program in 2013, he signed up to study Instructional Design shortly after. At that time, he was back stateside, working as a corporate trainer for the Air Force, and he thought the Master’s program would be a great way to potentially merge his love for music with teaching. He graduated from the program in 2014.
Today, after 20 years of service, Marcos is retired from the Air Force and living in Texas. He’s working a good amount with his local church, helping with the audio, lighting, and a weekly podcast. It’s a gig that’s keeping him both busy and happy, and it’s evident that music will continue to be an integral part of his life.