Two years ago, we started the journey of creating a degree that would address the current and future needs of music students at Houghton College. Today I found out that the degree had been approved by our second accrediting body - NASM (National Association of Schools of Music). The journey has been one of great triumph and, at times, extreme frustration. I have learned a great deal from this process - both personally and professionally. And, while I have wanted to throw the "towel" in and give up at times, it has been the journey that has been the most rewarding.
There have been some key lessons I have learned along the way and wanted to share them here so I could look back and remember this time - and the crazy journey. Here are some good lessons learned on this journey:
1. You will be the greatest champion of something you deeply believe in.
Don't expect everyone to get as excited as yourself when you are on the journey. At times you will feel like a lone wolf. That is not a bad thing. We are motivated by what we are passionate about and others will not be as passionate when it has nothing to do with them or their passions.....and that is OK.
2. Success requires hard work - and a steep learning curve.
Success and the learning curve require focus and perseverance. I will be the first to admit that both of those are not my strongest attributes. I was diagnosed with ADD later in life which brought about an "aha" moment of why I couldn't stay focused for a very long time. Through understanding and hard work, I came up with systems to help me stay focused - and on task - when dealing with my ADD. Now, throw in the mix of putting a degree together and there were days when I felt like the wheels were going to fall off my brain. This degree challenged me beyond what I felt I could be - and taught me more about myself and success then any one single thing I have done. Success in anything is hard work...I kind of knew that from life lessons, but this process brought that "hard work" thing to a whole new level.
3. Failure is going to happen along the way.
I would love to write here and say that our first attempt at having our music industry degree approved was a complete success. It wasn't. With New York State it only took around a month, but our other accrediting body (NASM) took two years with two full out rejections. Failure happens...and when it does we can either give up - or get up. Failure is a way to reevaluate and then readjust our course. It took two failures to reevaluate and then make the necessary changes to make sure the third time was "the charm".
4. Keep the main thing, the main thing.
Along this process I was pouring myself and every waking minute working on this degree. One day my former and wise bossman said to me, "Kevin...you need to keep the main thing, the main thing." What he meant was keep your priorities straight - which is your wife, your home and relationships. He assured me that the paperwork would still need work the next day, so go home and focus on what matters...my wife and home. In life, always keep the main thing, the main thing. Hard work is a good thing, but being a workaholic is not.
5. The journey is the destination.
We have reached our goal and destination...a new degree. All along I thought that the end result was the most important. It wasn't. The journey was the goal all along. The journey was filled with triumph and disappointment, extreme happiness with extreme frustration and moments of fast movement with months of waiting. The journey tested and stretched me along the way, but every step of this journey has been rewarding - no matter the stress or frustration. I don't want to go through this process again, but I wouldn't trade it for anything because over the past two years I have grown more than previous years within my career. I have also learned about myself - both strengths and weaknesses which is a very good thing.
Now...time to celebrate this journey!
This article appeared here, but it was too good not to share. A lot of truth in this post.
A few years ago I shared some thoughts on how to annoy your sound engineer. They seemed to be helpful to people so I thought I’d share some more. Obviously, you might not want to implement all these suggestions on the same Sunday.
Make him touch your ears
You’re too important to learn how to put your ear monitors in the correct way, or in the correct ear, so make him do it for you. Bonus points if you make him try to figure out how to put your belt pack on without getting sued for harrasment.
Have long rehearsals
Sound engineers have nothing better to do than sit at the console while you rehearse that one song again. They love being trapped there while you figure out what songs to do. They don’t mind a bit not being able to go home and sleep because you’re goofing around. It’s fun for them!
Sing like you’re telling secrets
If you can master the art of singing with a whimpery, yet raspy, yet emotional, yet passionate, yet secret whisper from the inner regions of your soul, your sound engineer will have no trouble at all finding a good place for your vocals in the mix. Bonus points if you choose random moments to sing normally before reverting to the whisper again. It’s hilarious.
Tell him what you think about the mix when you’re on stage
You’re standing on stage. You’re behind the speakers. You can’t actually hear what it sounds like in the room. But go ahead and tell him it sounds like your guitar isn’t loud enough. Keep telling him. Until your guitar sounds loud enough to you. You’ve successfully made him your best friend.
Display your awesomeness
First song: you’re on acoustic. Second song: you’re on accordion. Third song: back on acoustic. Fourth song: floor tom. Fifth song: you’re on banjo (but let’s be serious: you can’t really play banjo, so he should turn it down so no one knows). Sixth song: you’re on electric. Your sound engineer will love you.
Can you do me a favor and give me a bit less hi-hat, and bump up the kick by 2b, and pan the electric to the right, and give me about 6db more acoustic in my left, and give me a bit more reverb on my vocal?
Oh and can you get me a Latte too? OK thanks.
Throw him under the bus
Lets say you get an email from Verna, a long-time member of the church, and she complains that it was too loud on Sunday. What should you do? Blame the sound engineer. You are not responsible for your music. Throw the sound engineer under the bus and go buy yourself another scarf.
Expect him to do eight things at once
1. Run sound. 2. Run monitors. 3. Run projection. 4. Record the sermon. 5. Hand out assisted-listening devices. 6. Control lights. 7. Play the video at the right time. 8. Touch your ears. He’s superman.
Give feedback feedback
He loves when you do this! Hear feedback? Tell him you hear feedback. Try to recreate the feedback by thumping your mic with your pointer finger. Or, better yet, try to fix the feedback by holding the palm of your hand over your mic. Then you might create even worse feedback, in which case you can prove to your sound engineer that you really were hearing feedback. Then he might kill you.
Pretend his first name is “Hey”
All sound engineers have one first name, and it’s “Hey”. Seriously, it’s so convenient. “Hey, can you turn my mic on?” “Hey, can you give me a bit more keyboard?” “Hey, can you bring me my scarf?”
What am I missing (besides my Latte)?
I remember when I started making music back in high school and college. I also remember the struggle of writing new songs, but there was so much fun in the struggle. Back then I had something to prove, so I would spend countless hours throughout the night writing and rewriting parts, lyrics and rhythms. There was something so amazing and so fresh about those days.
You see, they were the days before life became complicated with bill paying, 40 plus hour work weeks and multiple responsibilities. There are many days I long to go back to those days when everything seemed fresh and new. I also long for those days in the music industry. Things change, we all know that and sometimes for better, other times for worse. Currently, the music industry is a logistical mess attempting to make its way back to the glory days of old. The problem is that those days will never come back. This is a new day in the music industry with digital and streaming services driving the current industry model.
I also know that many artists long for the simple days before the business took over their lives. The reason most artists get into the music business is to make...music. They are artists at heart and they could not picture life without writing or making music. They breathe it and love it. The definition of an artist is; a person who displays in his work qualities required in art, such as sensibility and imagination. Many of today's artists fit that definition through and through. The problem isn't that they have forgotten what the definition of artist entails, it is that the business of music gets in the way of the creative process. We recently watched, in my class at Houghton, the documentary Artifact which follows the story of Thirty Seconds to Mars making their third album This Is War. In the documentary, the band is being sued for thirty million dollars for breach of contract. The film shows the band struggling to create great art while being distracted with the business end of the industry. The question raised in the documentary is, "Can art and business coexist peacefully in the music industry?" I believe it can, but it doesn't. This is the reason why so many artists long for the day when they were a "nobody" and there wasn't pressure to perform or write a hit. You made music... for the love of music.
The other night I was driving home from Houghton College, where I am employed as a the Director of Sound and Recording, and a music industry instructor. It was about 1 AM as I was making my way back through the dark lonely roads between Houghton and my house. I turned on the radio to keep me company and heard these words:
Yeah, yeah, somebody take me back to the days
Before this was a job, before I got paid
Before it ever mattered what I had in my bank
Yeah, back when I was tryin' to get a tip at Subway
And back when I was rappin' for the hell of it
But nowadays we rappin' to stay relevant
I'm guessin' that if we can make some wishes outta' airplanes
Then maybe yo maybe I'll go back to the days
Before the politics that we call the rap game
And back when ain't nobody listen to my mixtape
And back before I tried to cover up my slang
But this is for the hater, what's up Bobby Ray?
So can I get a wish
To end the politics
And get back to the music
That started this sh**?
So here I stand and then again I say
I'm hopin' we can make some wishes outta' airplanes
The song started to move me. I could hear the emotion and passion in the vocals. I could hear the longing for the simple life. I could see the small room as this artist started to write songs. I could see the tiny venues with family and friends supporting the unknown artist. And, I could see myself. I saw myself buying my first piece of studio equipment. I saw the tiny second floor room in Norton Village in Rochester where I started creating computer music. I saw my small beginnings before life became complicated. And at that very moment, listening to those lyrics, that song partly became my story. And in a strange way, at that moment, I fell back in love with this amazing thing called music. We all need reminders from time to time, and that song was mine.
If I were to ask my students to name an amazing producer or mix engineer, many would not be able to do it. Once upon a time, you sat in front of your stereo, unwrapped a freshly packaged vinyl album, cassette or CD and read all the credits while listening to a new masterpiece. For me this magical experience came in the form of Def Leppard and the album "Hysteria". I remember the day vividly as I sat in a dank, cold dorm room listening to this amazing sonic explosion coming out of my speakers - over and over. The album absolutely mesmerized and hypnotized me - so much so that it would stay in my CD player for three months. The album was played so much that my dorm mates would end up giving me a Golden Pear Award for the most likely person to work with Def Leppard in the future. As I was reading the credits inside the liner notes of this incredible album, the name Mike Shipley kept appearing. This was the day before internet and easy access, so you had to do some major investigating to find out about this magical mix engineer. I could go into Mike's long list of top artists that he produced and mixed, but you will have to do that on your own. His credits are truly amazing.
It is sad that we so quickly forget - or maybe don't care - about the people who make the industry "go 'round". If I said the name Lady Gaga many of you would instantly know and visualize the eccentric blonde haired bombshell with the wacky outfits. But if I were to say the name Zedd, who would know of the person I speak? He is Lady Gaga's producer - as in the person who makes her and her songs sound incredible. In this day of iTunes and quick downloads, most of us do not even care to take a look at the "people behind the people". Yet those of us in the industry, know and do care tremendously. So let me take a moment to care and talk about the late Mike Shipley.
Many times we view guys like Mike as being untouchable and unreachable because their accolades are so enormous that they wouldn't even bother talking to us "lowly engineers". Mike was not like that, and to the contrary, was very involved in the lives of us "lowly ones". He would post on the Gearslutz forums and share with us his engineering knowledge regularly. He would answer any question directed at him under the moniker "shipshape". I heard great stories from others about Mike mixing an indie album for a beer and some lamb chops. He was a man who cared more about the industry than money or prestige. His last video appearance, talking about his craft (you can view the video below), was on Pensado's Place where he gladly shared his wealth of knowledge with the rest of the engineering community. He was a giving person, not selfish in the least and was not in the industry for selfish ambition or promotion. He loved music and loved the people in the industry. He was always in his element behind the board - or at the producer's helm. He loved the people he worked with and the people loved him. On July 22nd, we lost this industry giant and amazing talent.
So, what can we learn from a man like Mike Shipley? Passion, excellence and humility. Passion for music and this awesome field of engineering. Excellence in the way he crafted each mix - sonically beautiful and pure. Humble in the truest sense of the word - family members weren't aware of projects he had been involved with. I want to encourage each person who reads this blog to go out and find out about the people who have worked on the albums you love - the "people behind the people". People like Mike.
Though Mike has passed, his music and productions will live on for years, decades and centuries to come. I am a testament to Mike's life. At the age of eighteen, I put on a Mike Shipley mixed album and heard sonic perfection. I decided at that point that I wanted to learn this craft and how to mix like the man who mixed that album. And so began my journey to become the next Mike Shipley. I may never win a mixing or production Grammy like Mike, but my life has been rich in attempting to hit the excellence mark of this man. May you now rest in peace, Mike. You will be missed by all.
Yesterday I was channel surfing and came across the movie "Gangs of New York". I really love the historical value of that movie in showing the start of, and the struggle that existed to build what would become New York City. The movie is long, but my favorite part comes at the very end as Amsterdam Vallon states, "My father told me we was all born of blood and tribulation, and so then too was our great city. But for those of us what lived and died in them furious days, it was like everything we knew was mildly swept away. And no matter what they did to build this city up again... for the rest of time... it would be like no one even knew we was ever here." As the words are being spoken and the moody music starts to rise, the camera stays stationary on a cemetery, and the skyline, as New York transforms from decade to decade as buildings start rising and the modern era is ushered in. As New York transforms to modern times, the cemetery slowly disappears and is no longer visible being buried by human progress. It is a sad and sobering reminder that we are expendable and one day we will face certain mortality.
That part effects me for days after watching as I question my own life, and probe as to what my legacy will be here on planet earth. Yesterday I felt as if I could see what I would leave. I was privileged enough to be part of an academic council meeting where 6 new courses were approved for the start and possible future of a commercial music/music business degree at Houghton College. We have been laying the ground work for such a program for the past five plus years, but it needed time and the right people to bring it to fruition. All of that happened this past year when Houghton hired a new dean in the school of music - Stephen Plate. Stephen (Dr.) Plate brought with him vision and experience in building successful programs in other institutions. His vision and experience has been a driving factor in bringing this program from border-line obscurity to the spotlight.
As I listened and observed yesterday, my heart became full of joy as I finally felt that maybe my legacy could be more than just laying the ground work for a program, but actually seeing a program launched that would train future musicians and tech people in the creative field, thus allowing them to impact their world with their art and lives. The question then is; what will your legacy say about you? It is a question that can not be taken lightly or answered quickly. It requires deep thought and time to process. Will it be beautiful music that lives long after you have left? A film that still impacts decades later? A painting that will hang in a home or museum long after your last breath? Just like in "Gangs of New York" we will all become part of the earth again, and slowly be forgotten - but the legacy we leave can be the one thing that memorializes our memory for many decades. Is your legacy one that will impact others for ages - or will it be easily forgotten? My hope and prayer is that my life will be the first.
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.