Hi Mike, glad to see such enthusiasm for this industry - its probably one of the most rewarding industries to work in and one of the best things I have done in my life.
I packed my job in to start a custom install company from scratch. Just be like a sponge. completely and utterly soak up everything that you can get your hands on - including the likes of CEDIA and THX. there are plenty of people out there who say that '"mmm, this CEDIA thing isnt worth it" but it really does come down to an individual - and i'm glad i went through with it, its paid off and we're steadily growing.
The "work for free in exchange for experience" is also a very good way to start.
Stick with it and you'll slowly but surely get there if you have the passion and enthusiasm for it - there is nothing like the look on a satisfied customers's face. for everything else there's mastercard...