Experience: Drugs and music on the road

By Beth Ann Conahan
September 27, 2001

Joe Holden

“Sex, drugs and rock and roll. It’s real. It exists,” Jeremy Birnbaum, owner of Studiotek, lived it and he came to campus Thursday, Sept. 20 to speak to English/communications majors about his life.

“I’m used to working with machines not people. So I’m a little nervous up here,” Birnbaum said when he stepped up to the podium. But he didn’t seem nervous as he confidently relayed the beginnings of his career and the hardships of life on the road.

He did not start out working in the music industry. He graduated from college with a degree in cell cloning. It was a lucky phone call that got his new career started. It was lucky for him but not for the Newport Jazz Festival. Its equipment was injured in an accident and Birnbaum was called to come in and fix it. He left work and school and spent 48 hours working on the equipment.

From that experience, he was offered a one-night gig as a monitor engineer with B.B. King. That one night gig turned into a two-week gig and he never went back to cleaning pitri dishes.

Birnbaum admits he had a great time on the road. He loved working with the Go-Gos, a group, he says, only out to have fun.

A lot of the good times are lost for him though. “I don’t remember much but I remember a ton of drugs.”

His time on the road and working in the industry left him with a 20-year addiction to cocaine. “Drugs, alcohol are out there and are handed to you free to keep you working,” he said.

He’s been clean for five years but the effects of the drug are still with him. A diabetic, he was told by his doctor the condition was a result of his former lifestyle.

That lifestyle came to an end when he was in the process of adopting a daughter from China. He realized that there was no way he could smuggle a bag of cocaine into China. It isn’t easy to get clean but it is something he has been able to stick to even after going back on the road.

Birnbaum opened the floor to questions and students wanted to know what their chances were in the field. He admitted that it was a difficult industry to succeed in and the money wasn’t always going to be great.

Twenty years ago, a person had to go to a recording studio to make a demo. Today, people have the means to do that from home. Since demos and CDs can so easily be made from home these days, there are half as many studios out there and therefore half as many of those jobs.

He is positive of one thing though. Knowledge is power. “What you had back then and what you have now are totally different,” he said of the changing technology. Being students in a time when new technologies in the industry are just coming out, gives students now a heads up. He’s only just learning the tools coming out himself. “I’m practically old school,” he said.

Questions stuck to the area of his career and not his personal addiction, which he had felt so open to talk about. Birnbaum still goes on the road but not so much lately. Still a dedicated father, he is staying close to home because his daughter just started school.

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Beth Ann Conahan

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