Steve O performing

Berklee Distinguished

Alumnus Award

Acceptance Speech

September 29, 1998

Delivered at Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco, California

First of all, I want to thank everyone at Berklee College of Music for this honor, and I especially want to thank my friend Don Puluse, who has kept me involved as a member of Berklee's extended family for years. This award means a lot to me. I'm both amazed and delighted. And I hope you'll forgive me if I take advantage of this opportunity to speak my mind on something I think is important.

This past Saturday night at the Bay Area Audio Manufacturers party, some friends were congratulating me on this honor, and they asked me what I was going to say in my remarks. I told them I wanted to talk a little bit about how what I learned while at Berklee about being a disciplined, professional musician has affected my life in other ways, and how that has helped make possible some of the things I have accomplished at Electronic Musician magazine. These friends, who are highly respected engineers--many of you would recognize their names--didn't understand what going to music school had to do with learning how to be a professional, other than the obvious musical training.

Until that moment, I had wondered if this was a topic worth discussing considering that you folks are all top professionals yourselves, and you've been there and done that. But then I realized that perhaps my friends were not thinking about a college as a place to teach self-discipline and responsibility, which are the essence of professionalism. So maybe, after all, this needs to be said. Because many of the people in this room are influential leaders; if you don't teach in a school, perhaps you manage a staff, or you lead a band, but in some way or another you are in a position to provide leadership. And I want you to communicate a lot more than just the nuts and bolts of your business to those you lead. In fact, I want you to consider that perhaps you have a responsibility to do more.

In my current position as the Editor of Electronic Musician magazine, as in my career as a musician and bandleader, I've encountered a stunning number of people who call themselves professionals but who prove by their actions that all they mean by the term is that they make a living at their gig.

Yes, if you are using your skills to make a living, you can call yourself a professional. But I'm talking about something more. I'm talking about accepting responsibility for your work, respecting the people you work with and work for, being mentally and physically prepared, being willing to accept criticism, and getting past your failures, which we all have, without blaming them on someone else. You can and should teach these things. They're every bit as important as theory and technique.

How many times have you seen a musician walk out on a gig and leave everyone in the lurch for no good reason? Teach your students that sometimes you have to put aside your ego to deliver what a bandleader or producer or audience wants. As long as you are capable of doing the job you have agreed to do, and you aren't being abused or asked to violate your principles, you do your best and then you can move on. We can teach these things overtly, and by our personal examples.

How many times have you seen players decide that the simple accompaniment part that makes an arrangement work is beneath their abilities, so they don't want to play it? Teach you students that pros are willing to play a role as an accompanist and yet be ready if and when it's time to step out and lead.

I have played piano since before I entered grade school, and by the time I got to Berklee, I had played a lot of gigs, but I wasn't a professional musician. By the time I left Berklee, I was well on the way to being a pro, and it wasn't just what I learned in classes and private lessons. I learned about professionalism because of the examples set by certain members of the faculty, both at school and at their musical gigs. If you observe people like John LaPorta, Bill Pierce, Gary Burton, Tony Germain, and Greg Hopkins, and you don't learn something about how a pro plays a gig, you are missing the point.

These aren't things you get just from going to school, of course; you have to want to learn them. Berklee provided a focal point for me, a place where I could put the parts together in a competitive atmosphere and could find role models. Few of my instructors discussed issues of professionalism in class; I hope that more of them do so nowdays.

As the editor of Electronic Musician, I head up a department that includes ten other editors and four artists. And basically, I approach it like I would leading a professional band. The editors, freelance authors, and artists are the musicians; while the marketing, sales, production, and circulation staff are the business-management structure of the band.

When I conceive what I want the magazine to be, it's as if I were looking for a band "sound." The group discusses and helps develop the concept. I hire "players" I think will fit and help us get the sound we want, and I teach the editors their parts. At various times everyone writes, everyone takes solos, and everyone plays accompaniment. I try to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each player and write our arrangements--that is, assign articles and other tasks--accordingly. In this, I work closely with Managing Editor Mary Cosola and Art Director Dmitry Panich. You might say Mary directs the rhythm sectionˆëˆëthat is, the editorial assistants and copy editors--and Dmitry directs the horn section--the artists.

So, as the editor of EM, I try to apply what I have learned during my subsequent musical career. Being a pro is still about self-discipline, preparation, and taking responsibility. We teach our staff that there is an EM way to treat manufacturers, readers, and competitors, and that is with respect and courtesy. Sometimes a manufacturer's representative is furious over an article, sort of like a club manager who hates a song you played. How many times have you seen a band get huffy in that situation? We try to control our emotional responses--which is not always easy--and consider whether we really blew it. If we're convinced we're right and decide to publish the article as is, we try to find a nonconfrontational way to communicate that because we want to do business with that company again. The point is, Mary Cosola and I talk to the staff about these things as well as show them by example. It's a conscious indoctrination. If we can teach that kind of thing to our staff, you can consciously communicate these important values on to those you instruct in your capacity as teachers, as managers, as parents, and as community leaders.

I thank everyone at the Berklee College of Music for the great honor you have done me tonight. I only hope that some day I might deserve it.