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.
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.
Rude and arrogant people tick me off. Yes, they do - big time. Some of the human race should go to some kind of manners training institute. And for others, they need a full degree in ethics and manners - or programming in the fine art of non-arrogance. Let me explain...
Last week I went to a Daughtry, 3 Doors Down, Halestorm and Bad Seed Rising concert. Like any concert, there are people who really love the music and band. These people scream, cheer, dance and sing along with the music. I love people like this. They are passionate about the music and artist. It is refreshing seeing people who are into the music. At the concert there were - for some reason - a lot of older people. I mean like REALLY old - retirement age old. I am not against "older" people going to a rock concert. I believe wholeheartedly that older people can rock just as much as younger people. Except for the older couple sitting in front of me with Grumpy Smurf scowls. Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy Smurf, who stayed seated the whole time, started complaining about the young gal in front of them who was standing up cheering singing, and dancing as 3 Doors Down performed. About two songs into the set list, this old-ish couple stood up, marched down the steps, stopped for a moment to yell at the young gal and then proceeded to exit the concert venue. The young gal just stood there in disbelief. Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy Smurf ruined the young gal's concert experience for a moment. I wanted to run down the aisle and say to Mr. Grumpy Smurf, "Hey there. I noticed you yelled at a young lady having fun at a ROCK CONCERT. I think a Rochester Philharmonic concert is more your speed. Next time go there instead." Many days I scratch my head trying to figure out why manners and hospitable people are hard to find now days. As years pass, I see more and more people becoming more selfish - and self absorbed. I also see a lacking of common sense. Common sense should have told Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy Smurf that if they showed up to a rock concert then people would be on their feet dancing, singing and cheering. Having manners should have told them that yelling at a young person having fun at a concert was a very dumb idea. Duh.
At this same concert, I overheard some people complaining about the price of the concert tickets and other life topics. I thought to myself, "Well, if people bought their music then maybe the prices of concerts would go down a bit". Back in the "good ole days" artists would perform shows for their fans, but it wasn't a concert driven industry. Back then CD sales could support the artists or band. Now in order for artists to survive they have to tour. The industry has shifted. I could go on and on here about illegal downloading and the state of the industry - but I will save that for another blog.
When the concert finished, we were in a traffic line trying to make our way out of the parking lot. I looked to my left and saw this older man with his older man-friend cutting through traffic at a speed not fit for the congestion present. There were a few things wrong with what I was witnessing. The first thing; he was in his later 50's (I would estimate) and driving an ugly banana yellow Porsche convertible. Come on....really? That color...on that car? He should have painted "mid-life crisis" in bright fuchsia on the hood and doors because the car was screaming that out loud. Second thing; he almost ran over one of the concert goers and laughed when it happened. The female concert goer yelled some very colorful words, and I believe was totally justified in doing so. I then chimed in with a few words of my own - and a bit less colorful than hers. I just simply asked, "Having a mid-life crisis, huh?" Third thing;, he came about three inches from hitting us in the front end of our car. That may not have been a bad thing since it was very apparent he had a lot of money - and could have bought me a new banana yellow convertible Porsche. In which, when receiving said Porsche, would immediately go to a body shop and be permanently painted black. This man and his friend were and are the poster children of rude, arrogant and manner-less people. God help us.
In my line of work, I have a lot of contact with interesting people. Some are gems, and I absolutely love being around them. Some are arrogant and manner-less - I leave drained and exhausted when I work with people like that. But one thing that I will never get (maybe its my age) are the young engineers, producers and artists that think they know everything. It just seems like many of the new generation are more rude and arrogant than the previous year's crop - and generation. Some have an opinion on anything and everything. Instead of listening to the wisdom of others, they ignore it and then get frustrated when their careers are stalled. Some think that success is an easy road and that it happens instantly. I like to call that the McDonald's mentality. I want it quick and I want it now. When I try and explain to them that it takes time to be successful, they close their ears and minds. Not every single person is like this - so I do not want to generalize a whole generation. There are rare gems, occasionally, that actually listen and absorb.
When I meet a rare gem, I take great care in teaching and mentoring them. I want to do my best to make sure they are successful. When I meet the arrogant person I do my best to reach out, but if they will not listen or change then good riddance (Ain't nobody got time for that). Sometimes people get a little bit of information, and then think they know everything about music, sound and engineering. Sometimes it gets disheartening having to deal with people like that over and over.
Recently, corporations were asked to list the top things they look for when hiring. Within the top ten, the words teachable and team player showed up. Teachable means you are willing to learn - and want to learn. It means you absorb, like a sponge, the wisdom of industry people. Normally, teachable people make it in this industry and other industries. Yet, every year it is becoming harder and harder to find those teachable gems. Team player means just that - you work well with others. You give credit to the team when you succeed and never take all the credit. Not one person in this industry - or other industries - succeed without good people (or a good team) surrounding them.
So, in this day and age where manners are lacking and arrogance seems to run rampant; what does it take to succeed? The answer is pretty simple....be the opposite. If a person becomes the opposite of the "norm" then that person will stand out as the exception. I (along with many others) want to work with the exceptions. I want to work with the teachable, non-arrogant, well-mannered people who are passionate about this industry.
Be the exception.
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.