T.J. Callaway’s Love of Music Drove Him to CRAS for an Education in Music Production; that Journey Led Him to a Career in Post Production
Dec. 2, 2021 – From an early age, T.J. Callaway knew what he wanted to do with his life.
But what we are destined to do sometimes finds us, instead.
Growing up in Carrollton, Texas, Callaway was fascinated with sound and music. His love of music, and playing it, began when he’d pick up his brother’s bass.
Reflecting on his youth, Callaway, now 45 years old, said he is a musician at heart, playing in bands since he was 13 years old. “I love many different kinds of music…I took private bass lessons throughout high school and for a few years afterwards,” he explained. “Playing in bands and going to local studios is what got me interested in recording. When I was 18, I started hanging out at a studio where my band would record. The owner let me hang out and watch. Eventually, he let me start doing small stuff, such as setting up mics and doing overdub sessions for vocals or guitar. I was helping out enough that he started giving my band free time when the studio wasn’t booked and we spent hours there recording and learning to mix ourselves. It was a really fun and exciting time.”
Callaway explained that he eventually interned at another studio that had better gear, including an actual large format console, tons of outboard, etc. While interning there, he was trying to learn about the gear on his own and the theory of how it all worked, but it was very slow going since he didn’t want to bug the engineers while they were working.
“It was exciting, but it just seemed like I wasn’t getting where I wanted to be as quickly as I wanted to get there,” he said.
At this point is when the idea of a formal education in audio engineering first became a serious consideration. “Another intern came through that had just gone to the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS), and he seemed to know everything that I didn’t know or was just learning at a snail’s pace on my own and through reading books. I understood the gear and how it worked, but I knew then that I had to get serious and go to school to accelerate my path into studios. That got me looking into CRAS. I applied and went to Tempe (Arizona) with a friend to go check it out. I toured the school and knew that was where I belonged.”
Callaway went to CRAS thinking that he wanted to stay in music, such as continuing to work in a music studio and hopefully to one day own his own studio. But, then again, the path you choose isn’t always a straight one.
“When I went through CRAS’ audio post production classes, I fell in love with the idea of working on sound design and foley work for film and TV,” he explained. “In 2003, I obtained a diploma in CRAS’ Master Recording Program after interning at Reel FX Creative Studios in Dallas.”
After graduation, Callaway landed a gig as an assistant audio engineer at Fast Cuts Mix, a boutique commercial post house in Dallas. A year later, a spot had opened up at Reel FX and they wanted Callaway to come back and start working as a sound designer and mixer.
“I spent twelve years at Reel FX, and it was full of great experiences such as high profile national commercial and corporate work, working on animated feature films and short films, direct-to-DVD releases, as well as interactive and virtual reality projects.”
Since 2016, Callaway has been an independent sound designer and mixer. He has also taught audio post production classes at MediaTech Institute in Dallas, and has spoken to film classes at Southern Methodist University and University of Texas-Dallas. Callaway is an active member of Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE), a professional member of The Recording Academy, and serves as an advisory member for the Collin College Video Production Advisory Council and EarthX Films Advisory Council. A special passion of his is working on independent films and cause-related documentary work.
Callaway’s credits can be found here.
The road that led to Callaway’s success solidified with his formal education.
“CRAS gave me a great foundation,” Callaway continued. “When I got out of school and was interning, the engineer I interned under said that he was pleasantly surprised by what I had learned at school. He said he hadn’t seen many interns that dedicated and knowledgeable. We were having higher level discussions about session templates and set up, workflow processes, and mixing in surround. I learned a ton from him, and CRAS got me to a point where I could have those conversations with a more experienced engineer and learn more advanced concepts in audio-post production.”
What would Callaway’s advice be to current CRAS students?
“Never stop looking for new challenges,” he continued. “Join professional organizations related to what you want to do, like I have done. These memberships offer a lot of great opportunities for growth and networking. Most of them have student membership rates, so join them. Keep your credit list up-to-date. I make sure my IMDB page is accurate a few times a year.”
Callaway added that students and young professionals should network and talk to people who will become their potential employers or clients. “Without them, you have nothing,” Callaway concluded. “Get your head out of the box and out of the dark cave of a studio and meet people. If you want to work on music projects, go to artist’s shows locally and be a part of the scene. If you want to work in film, go to film festivals and get to know people. Support other people’s creative endeavors, as well. No opportunity will come to you because you understand everything about the latest plug-in. Employers and clients want to work with someone they know and like who does good work. Opportunities come to you from relationships. Have patience with building these relationships. It doesn’t happen overnight. Be open to new experiences and projects, even the ones you don’t think you will be interested in. Those are usually the best growth experiences for you as an artist and engineer. And don’t forget to have fun!