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!
In a few weeks, I will be saying goodbye to my assistant - John Buteyn. I have been wanting to write a fitting tribute to my assistant for some time, but every time I started thinking of writing this...my brain went into denial that he was leaving. I would then close my laptop and try not to think about this approaching day.
Many of you who visit this site (and blog) do not know John. But to me, John has been my right hand man for four years or so, and a brother-like friend for over seven. John was the first person I worked with as the new Director of Sound and Recording at Houghton College. From the start, I knew that John and myself would have a good working relationship, and more importantly, a good friendship.
A wise man once told me, "Kevin, when you meet a friend...a true friend, never let that friendship go because true friends are very rare in this life. When you meet the type of friend that 'gets you'...make sure you stay friends. That type of friend will walk the mountain tops and the valleys with you". The wise man, also known as my high school music teacher, was right on. I have traveled this earthly road for 45 years and have rarely found "true friends". I have many "friends", as a matter of fact over 3,500 "friends" on Facebook, but I have very few "true" friends...the kind of friend that sticks closer than a brother and gets me as a person. Many people become your friend with an agenda in mind. For many, that agenda is breaking into the music industry or befriending you to swindle you out of your industry contact list. I have had a few "friends" in my lifetime who attempted to use me as a stepping stone for the next level in their career...a few church tech "friends" come to mind here.
What I have always liked about John is that he never became my friend to "use" me, nor did he have an agenda to gather my contacts. He became my friend because we had so many common interests, especially in music technology and recording. We would sit in the office during the slow conference season time dreaming about Houghton, and what it could look like if we ever offered a music technology or a music industry degree. At the time, that seemed like a big huge pipe dream and talk, but as every year passed our dream and talks started becoming reality. It was the dream and vision that drove both of us at work - and common interests that drove our friendship.
After my first two years at Houghton, John went away to Georgia Southern to pursue his master's degree in music technology. When he left, during that time, you could feel the void that was left in my department. The old Charles Dickens phrase from A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." was being lived out in real time during the years he was away. The department and staff just wasn't the same with John gone.
Then John came back. At first is was to head up the summer conference tech team. Eventually, after a couple of years and a couple of jobs he worked around Houghton, we were able to hire him in my department as the Assistant Director of Technical Arts. And a new (and very cool) chapter started to be written again.
This past year, John, our boss and myself, started to create and pursue a major in music industry at Houghton College. Everything we had talked about seven years prior to this, started to become reality. We created a music industry minor, had upwards of ten new courses approved and finally a music industry major approved at Houghton. I don't think either one of us could believe how much was accomplished this past year. At times it was stressful...and at others times it was filled with celebration.
And so, it seems right that John is now leaving to pursue the next chapter in his life. In the time he has been at Houghton, and my assistant, we have seen great things happen. We have had a lot of fun and laughs with events, concerts, conferences (for the most part), classes, our team and most of all our friendship. Bill Hybels (a leadership guru - look him up) once said at a leadership conference, "Surround yourself with the best. Because you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with." For me, John was and is the best. He has been the definition of excellence and work ethic. He is a great husband to Kaylan, a great father to Fin and has been a great friend and brother to me. My only hope is that each person who reads this will have the same fortune that I have had these past seven years. I hope that each of you will find that person who makes you not only a better teacher and tech, but a better man or woman. As iron sharpens iron....Yohann, you will be missed.
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.
I have been a nomad for quite a while, traveling all over the globe with bands and business. I grew up in a small area of New York State - Corning, NY. The older I get, the more I appreciate that small city and area. In my young years, I use to think, "When I turn eighteen, I am going to kick the dirt off these shoes and leave this lame area behind. I am going to become a rock star and make something of myself." When I turned eighteen I applied for a college in the Philadelphia area, and true to the words spoken....I shook the dust from my shoes and left the Corning area. I would only return briefly to work during my college years - and to live there for just a few months after college. I have been away for over nineteen years. Do I still visit? Yes, I do. The reason is that all of my family live there, which forces me to make trips to the area pretty frequently. I love going home now...it feels familiar and warm. It feels like home.
So, what does this have to do with music, music technology or music business? Nothing. I just thought all of you would want to know where I was born and raised....no? OK then, what this has to do with music - and this industry - is never forgetting your roots. During my travels and time away, I started to forget where I had come from and stopped appreciating it. My dad was a hard working contractor who put his dreams on hold so that his kids could see their dreams realized. My mom was a stay at home mother who wanted to get an education to better the family, but she felt a duty to raise us boys so we could get a better education to better ourselves. Both of my parents put their dreams on hold so we could pursue our dreams growing up. I always had a "chip" on my shoulder growing up and thought everything I had accomplished was the result of my own hard work. I forgot the sacrifice my parents had made - and I forgot that small community of people who always cheered me on. In other words....I forgot my roots. Recently I have been reconnecting with old friends from the Corning area. I realized that many never left the area. It hit me one day....I forgot them along the way too. My whole journey has been one of forgetting my roots, but within the past two years I see myself appreciating where I came from more and more. And in a way, I have been returning to those roots quite a bit.
See, many artists and musicians forget their roots too. They forget the struggle to get where they are today. I mean if you travel and perform 200 shows a year, everything eventually starts blurring into one. When that happens, you start forgetting where you came from, what got you to where you are and the people who helped you on the journey. I was there; it happened to me. It is easy to forget. But there are artists who still remember and stay grounded.
The other night I was watching a documentary on Eminem. I had a chance to meet and talk with Eminem before he was huge - back when. He was a driven rapper who wanted nothing more than to succeed so he could give his child a great life. Eminem forgot his roots - but not for long. He had a revelation of sorts, a moment of clarity. He is from Detroit. He knows it, he is not ashamed of it - he embraces it. He embraces it so much that he currently lives in Michigan. Many artists move to LA, NYC and Nashville - but not Eminem. And there are more than just him, but for the sake of keeping this blog, blog length I will stick to Eminem. Eminem hasn't forgotten his roots or the city he loves - Detroit.
It is important to always remember where you are, where you are going and where you came from. Never forget the struggle to get were you are - or forget the people who got you to where you are today. Nobody ever rises to the top on their own accord...it takes hard work and people believing in you (and helping you to succeed). For many, it was a person (or people) who mentored and poured themselves into you. For many, it could have been one person who gave you your "break" to be able to do what you love so much. For others, it was a music teacher (or any teacher) who saw the talent and then did everything they could to help you along on your journey. Roots.
I have so many people that fall in those categories that I would need a separate blog - or book - to thank them all. I hope they all know how much I appreciate what they have done for me - and I hope they know that I will always remember them. Never forget your roots.
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.