Meet Theo Nelson, Recording Arts and & Show Production instructor at F.I.R.S.T. Institute. At around 15 years old, he joined his high school theater program. From there, he started meeting with production companies, and doing jobs of his own, knowing this was the industry for him.
Nelson giggles as he reminisces about one of his first jobs, “milking cows up in Minnesota.” He saved up some of his money, and used it to buy a small PA system. He used the system for his local high school ponke bands. And, that’s where it all began for the aspiring artist.
From there, things just kept progressing. Theo found more and more people to work with that actually helped him become better at his own skills as an engineer. He hopes that he was able to assist them as well.
Career Doors Open for Theo Nelson
Nelson went on to attend the University of Minnesota in Morris, where he studied physics and music. He then moved to Denver for a while, playing house gigs here and there. After moving back to Minnesota, he landed a house gig at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant in Minneapolis.
Theo says he feels very fortunate to have had such an opportunity. He was introduced to, and had chances to work with, some really great artists, such as Chick Corea, Béla Fleck, Larry Graham from Sly and Family Stone, pop star and icon Prince and more. There were so many amazing artists that he feels privileged to have worked with in the past.
That helped to open a lot of doors for the creative teacher, who moved to Florida to work at F.I.R.S.T. Institute. Now, he’s really excited for the opportunity to bring all of his skills, knowledge and experience back down to Florida with him.
Finding Inspiration to Take It to the Next Level
Nelson credits his high school band teacher as the person who inspired him to get into the recording arts and show production industry. Mr. Mark Eaves??? showed him a new path in life. He learned that his different skills could be combined to create a prosperous career.
Basically, Theo says the band teacher pointed him in a direction that put him on his current career path. He was a true inspiration, who pushed him to seek the opportunities he wanted within this industry. His career now fulfills both his geeky, techy side, and his artist side, as far as “mixing, understand and performing music,” and how it’s all put together to create something amazing.
“Time and place” is one of the biggest ideas in this industry, the F.I.R.S.T. Institute instructor says. You need to have the skills necessary to back yourself. But, you also have to know how to identify when a valuable opportunity has presented itself to you.
Working with the Legendary Prince
He feels very fortunate because he’s worked with so many amazing artists, namely Prince. Nelson worked for Prince as a stage manager for about a year. Basically, he had a house gig, and Prince came through the venue. The pop stars’ crew really appreciated Nelson’s skills as a stage hand and sound engineer, as well as how easy he was to work with as a professional.
Theo was presented with an opportunity to work with Prince and his band. He jumped at it, and it work out in an awesome way. The young up-and-comer even had the chance to tour a big portion of Europe for a while with the group.
Theo Nelson on Working at F.I.R.S.T. Institute
Today, Theo Nelson is a full-time instructor at F.I.R.S.T. Institute. On the weekends, he does a lot of side mixing gigs in Orlando. Most of his mixing gigs are downtown Orlando, on Wall Street, Church Street and other hot, party spots in the local area.
Nelson says he loves what he does and makes an effort to stay relevant. He loves mixing. And, he loves teaching, one of the most rewarding things he’s ever done in life. The teacher notes that he never thought it could possibly be this rewarding.
The F.I.R.S.T. Institute teacher says he loves when his students have “light bulb” moments. They’re talking over things, he’s trying to explain something… in multiple ways. Then, all of a sudden, it’s “Ohhhhhh.” And, they get it!
He says it’s as rewarding as having a successful show. Making a student realize something they didn’t before helps to make them better at what they do. This is as rewarding as it is to make that show happen. And, that’s his whole inspiration for working at the recording arts and show production school.
Show production is Nelson’s favorite thing to teach at F.I.R.S.T. Institute, because he’s most fluent in the area. But, even more specifically, the teacher really likes the physics behind sound. Teaching how it reacts in open air, how temperature effects that sound and other clear concepts of waves and how things work brings him major excitement.
Learning Recording Arts and & Show Production at F.I.R.S.T. Institute
Another thing he likes about being a part of the F.I.R.S.T. Institute team is that the instructors teach the core concepts needed to start a career in the industry. There’s no fluff to keep you in school longer than necessary.
Instead, students learn the core concepts that everyone must know to break out into the show production and recording arts industry. From there, students are encouraged to network, which could be a task, but it must be done to achieve career goals.
In the end, after graduating, students have the skills they need to backup what they’re trying to accomplish. His students spend weeks on prepping tasks, like setting up systems, setting up monitors, setting up lighting etc… Eventually, they’re able to set up entire systems in 4-5 minutes.
The Hands-On Approach of F.I.R.S.T. Institute
Nelson’s hands-on approach to teaching includes bringing in a live band to do a live show, in-house. They complete a full multi-track recording, which the students mix later. This becomes an accomplishment under their belts, as well as on their professional portfolios.
Students in his class also do some video work. They take some angular shots, and sync up the video with the mix they completed. That’s even more to add to their professional portfolios as recording arts and show production students.
Theo thinks it’s really cool that his students get to do real live shows there on campus. They multi-track it, mix it, do the lighting, monitors, front of house, record film, and sync all that together into one final project. Then, they present it to the band, the same way they would for future clients.
If you have a passion for this industry, Theo says, “Go for it!” There are so many aspects to this industry that you’ll figure out where you fit. And, don’t take no for an answer. Just keep trying, because you will eventually get a yes, and that will be your career maker. So, “keep going at what you’re passionate about, and you will get a yes.”