Tom Niemisto ’08

Major: MusicTN

Concentration: Media Studies

Current Position: Producer for Performance Today at American Public Media

What is your current position? What are your responsibilities?

Performance Today is a daily classical music national broadcast, produced by American Public Media. My role as producer is largely behind the scenes work to ensure smooth production of the show and creating special features that highlight the best of classical music today. On any day that might involve programming music, writing scripts for broadcast, editing audio, and coordinating interviews.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in this field?

This role in radio has been on my radar for quite a long time and it’s a thrill to finally land at a great production unit like American Public Media. I grew up performing classical music, but was looking for an alternative to being a professional musician. My training and education in music, plus being a big fan of radio has proven invaluable. It’s an exciting industry that is rapidly changing with mobile and social media changing media consumption.

How did you gain the experience necessary for this position?

I gained solid experience for this position mostly from media training institutes, workshops and internships I engaged with while at St. Olaf or immediately after. The Media Institute for Social Change, an internship at, and Third Coast International Audio Festival in Chicago were instrumental in setting me up for a higher level of professionalism. I mostly learn by doing and doing and doing. I wouldn’t be where I am without just going out and creating media, making lots of mistakes along the way, but learning and growing as I go. It helps to be a rabid consumer of media, too. Listening to podcasts, watch films in my spare time, and having an opinion about current events in media. I often think back to my time with St. Olaf music history professor Dr. Alice Hanson as foundational to my drive in writing about and sharing classical music. I’m sure I would not be where I am without her strong guidance and mentorship.

How did your Media Studies coursework or experiences help you get where you are today?

The media studies concentration coursework helped me learn about the landscape of media production and consumption, and more importantly, helped me figure out where my voice fits in and where it stands out.

Any advice you would give a Media Studies student knowing what you know now?

First, I’ll pass on advice I heard years ago from Ira Glass that has stuck with me: force yourself to make a lot of media. Put yourself in an environment where work is expected of you from others on a regular basis, for free or otherwise, and deliver. Get out there, meet deadlines and you will get good at what you do – it will take time. Second, always have a resume, work samples, and a personal contact/business card on hand at all times. Could be on a flash drive resume, could be a Tumblr blog. Have that ready when someone wants to know more about your work and your unique voice. Three, watch and deconstruct a lot of media:  watch the special features and making-of videos on DVDs, which I sometimes find more informative than the feature. People often reveal interesting media secrets that can be informative. Four, leave a good impression with everyone you meet: that means be on time, be informed about other people’s work, read the newspaper, follow through with requests, and be nice.