Emmet Robinson has reinvented himself about half a dozen times over the course of his career — and at 78, he's not done yet.
The founder of King Street Recording at 15 E. King St. in downtown Malvern, Robinson runs a one-man business operation that's the culmination of years of different jobs — jobs that built on themselves, including club management, audio recording, photo restoration, voice-over work for corporations and law firm video, and business coaching for other seniors.
After leaving the Army in 1961, Robinson picked up an instrument, and "I discovered coffeehouses and folk music. I started haunting those kinds of places, and I still play guitar today. Except now, I play at retirement homes around the Philadelphia area."
The Malvern resident's repertoire currently includes numbers from the Great American Songbook, including tunes from 1925 through 1955, the popular melodies that nursing-home residents remember from their youth.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Robinson worked as a nightclub manager and began taping live shows, saving enough money to open a small recording studio for musicians like himself. For 16 years, he worked at the famed Main Point in Bryn Mawr, the live-music venue, now-closed, that featured top musicians such as Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, and Bruce Springsteen in an intimate setting.
"That was where I first began learning about live music, narration, and recording with audio," he recalled. With a deep baritone voice, he began reading for radio commercials and hired himself out for voice-over work to companies in fields from pharmaceuticals to banking.
He opened King Street Recording Co. 50 years ago in Montgomery County and shortly thereafter moved to his current location in Malvern — over the years teaching himself how to use all kinds of recording equipment, learning to preserve old eight-track or reel tapes, then transfer their content to cassettes, CDs and, now, digital files.
Computers and the internet have made reinvention so much easier, Robinson said. He has four business cards and maintains two different websites: one for his recording studio, one for his other work as a voice-over actor, singer and performer, writer and editor.
"Everything I learned represented an opportunity to diversify, as work came in and it looked like fun," he said. "I would lock myself in the room and teach myself. I've never retired. What would I retire to?"
Robinson also encourages seniors like himself to continue networking constantly — even if they're not working anymore.
"I meet once a week with unemployed people who are trying to learn how to present themselves, including many people who've retired and want to get back in the game," he said. "I wouldn't have gotten this far without diversifying my career over and over."
But for those who want to work again? One group he's joined and recommends is Philadelphia Area Great Careers Group, which provides support and resources for career transition and career management (www.greatcareersphl.org). The group has chapter meetings all over the Philadelphia area, including at the Berwyn Fire Company every first Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m.; in Plymouth Meeting every second Wednesday at 6 p.m., and strategic LinkedIn workshops in Paoli and King of Prussia. (For more information, contact Lynne Williams by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 610-405-9756.)
Other career-transition groups Robinson recommends include the Association of Talent Development (ATD), Philadelphia chapter; Barnabas West Chester; Business Executives Networking Group; Career Networking Group in Montgomery County; Learning & Development Professionals of Greater Philadelphia; My Career Transitions at Penn State Great Valley; and SCORE of Chester and Delaware Counties.
He encourages seniors to join and post their work on LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube to show the public their successes. To promote himself, he uses EmmetRobinson.com for his performance work, writing and editing, and business consulting, and KingStreetRecording.com for his audio, video and photo-restoration work.
Robinson learned ProTools on a Macintosh computer a few years ago and now uses that software to digitally repair photos, especially the very old, damaged kind you might find in an attic.
He often acts as a coach for his peers, including a professional musician who also teaches music and owns a music store, and others who have been "liberated" from the workforce and are having difficulty finding their way.
"One guy I know loves green energy and recycling. But he's having difficulty finding a paycheck in that field, so I'm trying to coach him a little bit," Robinson said. "Another woman, I'm helping with her elevator pitch," the 30-second career plug explaining what type of work she — or anyone else — is looking for.
"Everyone these days is a contractor, because of cost containment at companies. That's why I don't work in corporate America, I run my own businesses. I ask people what they need, and then I do it."