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!
I am all for new technologies and the rise of social media sites. I believe they can be used to expose people to new ideas, artists, other like-minded people, and creative ventures. However, I have seen a total withdrawal of person-to-person interaction recently in the music industry (and in everyday life).
Every year I attend a festival called Kingdom Bound in upstate, NY, which draws around 50,000 people over the course of 4 days. As a family, we have been attending that festival upwards of 25 years or so, and have seen some good and not-so-good changes within the festival. One of the big changes I have noticed, in recent years, is the lack of networking and camaraderie that use to be so prevalent within the festival. There would be all kinds of "rubbing elbows and shaking hands" going on at the festival - in other words, a lot of human to human networking.
While at the festival, I was telling my wife that I remember a time when bands would stay the duration of the festival. The festival is held at Darien Lake theme park, which provides a great get away for bands, managers, artists, stage crew members and family. For many years, I would see bands stay in the rental campers with their families, and fellow band-mates enjoying not only the festival, but other bands performing. It would create a synergy that was rarely seen back then, and something that is even rarer in today's music climate. I remember our camp site being filled with band members every night as we sat around the campfire reminiscing of the day's events. Of course, there were plenty of jokes, practical jokes and laughs too. It was such a different time, a time where the future of the music industry was uncertain, but knowing we would all be OK if we stayed tight as a community.
I miss that camaraderie, and networking. Back then (and back then was not too long ago - think 1999 to about 2002/03) networking was talking face to face with the person. It was interacting on human levels, and not all through machines. Real humans, real hand shakes and real poking (literally) were the staples of the day. We handed out real paper business cards and physical copies of CD's...all in packets called promo packs complete with photos. This was all before social media and the rise of the internet, as we know it. I am not saying that we have stopped this practice all together, but I have seen a steep decline in recent years.
Music has been and should be a community of artists all coming together for one purpose...art. There is a common saying "strength in numbers", and that applies to the music scene. When artists unite together and form communities, people take notice and want to become part of it. In other words, people networking together to form something new, something fresh and something very different that people want to support.
Not too long ago, I formed an entertainment group whose sole purpose was to launch new and exciting bands. We were heavily involved in the festival circuit and sponsored the fringe stages. We would set up a booth at the festivals with the purpose of finding new acts and artists. At the end of the various events, I would leave with a suitcase full of promo packs, CD's, phone numbers and business cards. But it wasn't the suitcase filled with promo packs that made the event special, it was interacting with artists, bands and festival goers. Talking, laughing and hanging out with some of the coolest people was the highlight of many a festival. Did we find great bands to launch? Absolutely - but what I thought would be scouting opportunities only, became something much more meaningful...deep networking, deep human interaction.
I believe that we need to get back to networking - and not NET-working. The internet should be a tool to connect people with each other, but only after initial human contact is made and relationships built. When I talk about this at the college, many of the students totally agree that the internet is isolating and cold. They agree that the rise of the internet and social media sites have caused people to withdraw from human interaction. This generation feels more alienated then ever, yet it is the most connected than any other. Technology isolates. As a human race, we are wired to interact with each other. When we stop interacting, and get absorbed into our technology we start to feel more like machines than humans.
A recent study showed that when a person is touched by another, the person's life can increase anywhere from 1 to 12 years! I am not saying we go up to a person, hand them a promo pack and start giving massages, but we need to start shaking more hands and giving more pats on the arm or back. If I am signing a band, I want to know that band or artist before I work with them - and not through a chat conversation or e-mail. I want to find out what they are about, what makes them "tick" and their passions. Music is still about community, human emotion and interacting with each other - and community can be interchanged with networking. After all, it is through this amazing thing called a music community that we all get to network - and that is what makes the music scene so cool. Let's start networking again....coffee anyone?
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.