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.
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.
About a week ago I received a call from my landlord's son. My wife and me rent our comfortable, beautiful and renovated carriage house from an elderly woman (83 years old to be exact). We would have purchased a home by now, but I had some doubts as to what our future may bring and wanted to stay mobile - "just in case". The son brought us the news that his mother (our landlord) was experiencing dementia, and the family had made the decision to have one of the children move closer to their mother so they could take care of her. The son stated that we had 60 or so days to move out - but he also stated he would work with us. I definitely can relate to this scenario. My mother who is sixty six had a massive heart attack about a year ago. My wife and me have been discussing how we could get my mom and dad closer to us. So it didn't come as a big surprise when the son informed us of his mother's ailing health. We had discussed this very scenario a few times in our years at our current rental home, but never came up with plan B.
If you are like me, and I know I am, then you will understand the statement, "I do not like change". I am sure I am not the only person out there that dislikes change or changing. I want my world to be orderly, somewhat predictable and organized. When things change it can ruin my day - or what I like to say, "It eats my lunch". But there are some things that are totally out of my control, and in this particular case it was my elderly landlord. Yet change can be a good thing, and it can be a healthy thing. In our case, it has moved us to pursue buying a home. For others, it stretches them out of their comfort zone to do something great. Of course, this ordeal is definitely stretching me out of my comfort zone a bit. And if you haven't been able to tell already, I do not like stretching very much.
The same could be said about the music industry...The Times They Are A-Changin'. I know many engineers and producers who are fighting the change. In fighting the change, they are just prolonging the inevitable that the music industry will never return to its former "glory". It is a never-ending cycle of change from music styles to recording techniques....and personnel. People come, people go; styles come and styles go, but the world keeps turning around.
In these changing times we either adapt - or we die. We adapt to the new business model or we no longer stay relevant to the cultural shift, thus dying out. I know a lot of engineers and producers who have adapted to the change. They focus on platinum acts, but they also produce indie bands. They have changed their pricing structure to meet the demands of the new business model, and many of them are doing quite well. I also know many who refuse to change, and they voice it constantly on social media sites or forum groups. Maybe the saying is right, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks". In this case, you can't teach an old engineer a new way of doing business. Yet, many of the younger generation could benefit from the wisdom of these guys.
So, it is a new day. It is a new day in my personal life - getting up and crawling the web for home listings. And, it is a new day for the music industry. A new day to figure out how to change with the changes within the music industry. How you go about changing is totally up to each of you - but I am sure persistence and perseverance will be key with a touch of flexibility. The times they are definitely changin', have changed and will continue to do so. Now it is our turn to change with them.
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.
Recently our good friend Russ Hughes (at Pro Tools Expert) wrote a blog on "5 Ways To Get a Great Job In Music Production and Keep It". I wanted to post a similar blog for a while, but Russ really nailed it. I would only add that this advice applies to all fields - not just the creative field.
Here are the top five things I tell my kids on how to get a great job, stay hired and get promoted.
I currently have a love/hate relationship with the music industry - in general. I love being part of it and get to work with some amazing talent. I hate what it has become and how it has slipped into prostituting itself to the lowest bidder. I ran errands today with my wife (yeah I know exciting rock star stuff). As she was driving, this thought went through my head, "I hate the music industry". Let me clarify by saying I love music and artists, but hate the "industry". The dictionary defines industry as, "Commercial production and sale of goods", and that is what I hate so much about the "industry".
We have gone from artists who played music for the love of the art, to artists who play music for fame and fortune. I do not see anything wrong with making a living making music, but I have a real problem with artists who get into the business just to make a fortune. I despise record companies who rip off their artists to make a fortune for themselves. I loathe radio stations who take payment from record companies to spin certain artists and songs. If you think that practice died off in the 1950's payola scandal, it is as prevalent today as it has always been (even as recent as 2007). Money wins and great indie artists lose out - as does the music industry as a whole.
When I hear about the loss of big profits from major labels, I laugh and smile. It makes me happy (weird I know). I wouldn't be so happy if record companies were integrity filled corporations looking out for their musicians and people, but they are unfortunately not. While they accuse other people of being pirates and ruining their business, they have been pirate kings from their inception. Their downfall can be directly correlated in the way in which they have conducted themselves and their businesses. There is the old cliche saying "what goes around comes around" (which ironically was also a Ratt song back when). What the major labels have sown they are now surely reaping - and I do not feel sorry for them.
I like the word Jay-Z used - "purging". there is currently a purging happening in the the industry. The indie movement has garnered support and steam. The internet has opened up a whole new world of bypassing the major labels and has allowed great artists being able to break away from major label bondage. Recently, some good friends of mine lost their major label. Instead of hanging up their instruments and "calling it quits", they took their career into their own hands. They reached out to their fan base and asked them for support on Kickstarter. Their initial goal was to raise $20,000 for their new recording project, but they ended up raising almost $30,000. $30,000 clear without having to repay a major label....big win! They can now record the album that they have always wanted to record, but couldn't due to a major label dictating their every move. I will give credit to the major label for allowing my friends the opportunity to build a fan base large enough to support their current endeavors, but that is where the praise stops (the label was horrible).
I would like to imagine a world where the fan fully supports the artist through funding. Fan funded record labels and fan funded music industry. The old model was the fan buying the album at XYZ retail store and "supporting" the artist that way. The unfortunate truth of that model was that the artist saw very little of that money (the majority went to distributors and the record label). Now revamp the model to where the fan actually has the ability to fund the album through Kickstarter (or any other crowd funding service) and that is a big win for both the artist and fan. I do not believe that major labels are going away anytime soon, though I could be wrong. I believe there will always be a need for major labels to handle major artists like U2, Madonna, Lady Gaga and so on. But, I also believe that the days of the major labels reigning supreme are coming to a quick end - and that is great news for everyone.
We have entered a brave new world, but I believe a better world. If you liken the music industry to universal health care ((just track with me here I'm having an ADD moment) you can see parallels. Right now hospitals and healthcare companies are big businesses with little regard (for the most part) for a patients total well being and health. Doctors are multimillionaires and health insurance companies are seeing record breaking profits. Offer universal health care and you "weed out" doctors who are in it for just the money vs. doctors who are in it to help out the people. Then healthcare insurance providers start losing their power in Washington and have to revamp their business models. It becomes a win for the patients and people who need good quality healthcare. The same could be said of the music industry. If artists are not able to make their millions - or major labels - then that will purge the industry of people who are in it for themselves and not for the love of the art, music, or the people they entertain.
The state of the music industry is hanging in the balance with the fans holding the scales. It is a great time to be in this field (I no longer want to refer to it as an industry). My hope is that through these past years and rough patches we have learned a few good lessons. I hope we have learned that the number one reason for wanting to enter this field is for the love of the art and communicating with people on deep emotional levels. My hope is that each musician has learned to fall in love with the music again and not be infatuated with fame or fortune. My hope is that each fan has learned to invest in artists who have connected with them on multiple emotional levels. And finally, I hope we have all learned that a world without music is a mundane world - colorless and boring. Music is life and the music industry is the cancer killing it.
One day I was having a conversation with an artist about her career. The artist was a female lead singer of a band that was a small indie outfit in a large city. The band had been together for a few years with very little success in their surrounding area. It was a bit of a shock since the band had a great stage show, sported a great look and wrote really good music. After about 10 minutes of talking with this singer, it was very apparent the issue that had plagued the band from succeeding and winning people to "their camp". In the midst of the conversation, the singer told me that, in more or less words, they knew everything there was to know about music production, studio recording, performing live, sound, microphones and the meaning of life. Well, maybe not the meaning of life, but from my perspective it seemed as if that was about to come out of her mouth along with the words that she and the band had created the heavens and earth in 6 days.
There is one thing that always happens year after year no matter how long I have been teaching, or speaking at industry seminars, and that is musicians and artists overstating how awesome they think they are - or how much experience they think they have. I start my classes every year with these questions; tell us your name, where are you from, what are your experiences in the audio field and why did you join this class or expect to get out of it? It never fails that various students will give everyone their verbal resume, so we are all very much aware of their uber audio expertise. I am not saying that some do not have a decent background in the industry, but you have to look at their age versus the years of experience - and then scratch your head in wonder. Some of the students are 18 years old with, maybe, two years max of experience in audio, yet to hear them talk, one would think they could teach the course at any university nationwide (at least that is the perception they would like everyone to believe). A lot of people remark about my "BS" meter and how I can call it for what it is "a mile down the road". So, in class I promptly call it like I see it. I tell my students my background, in which I get the looks with oooohs and ahhs of impressing them, and then I tell them how I am still learning something new every single day of my life. I continue to tell them that I do not have it all figured out - and that maybe as a group we can teach each other which in return will make us all better at what we do. I finally tell the class that if anyone feels as if they have "arrived" they should pack up their stuff, leave and promptly head over to the academic records office so they can drop my class.
The one thing that will kill a career, faster than a McDonald's drive through stop, is....pride. Pride is the thing that tells a person that they are awesome, better then everyone else and have it all together. It is the one thing that will stop a talented engineer or musician from hitting their pinnacle. It is the one thing that will make a talented band break up. It is the one thing that will sabotage any career including one in the music industry. It is the one thing that everyone could do without. Pride says, "You have it all together, and don't need anyone's help." I have been in the industry long enough to see pride wreck careers and people. Let's face it, nobody wants to work with the guy or girl who thinks they have it all together - and who believes they are better than everyone else. Pride can be the difference between being teachable or continuing in a flat lined rut leading to "nowheresville". I wish I had five dollars for every band, artist, engineer, producer and industry professional whose careers have been side lined by pride. I would own a hefty bank account by now. Pride is the ultimate career killer.
As we (music industry veterans) get older, we need to teach the next generation the art and skill of what we do. This applies to all career paths, as well. How can we do that if we are raising a generation of spoiled, know-it-all brats? That thought alone has frightened me as I walk into a new classroom every year, only to be greeted by more apathetic, more prideful and more distracted than ever students. I want teachable sponges who latch on to every single word, so they may grow, learn and be successful. It is becoming harder and harder to find students who do that. I had a student come up to me after a class last year and state, "I want to be more entertained in your class." I made clear that they needed to join a drama class, and leave mine, if all they wanted was to be entertained. Education is fun! We share A LOT of laughs and good times with relevant subjects in my classes, but I am not an entertainer....I am an educator. There is a difference. I was concerned, after that student approached me, that maybe I was losing my teaching "edge". I started speaking with other professors across campus and each had similar experiences. It wasn't a coincidence that multiple professors were experiencing the same. It is a shift in the quality of students and the current generational mind set.
The one thing that is prevalent in my mind when thinking about pride, arrogance and the entertain me mind set is this thing called a career killer. I wonder how many of those students are working some place that they hate because of their pride and arrogant thinking? I knew of an individual who told me that they felt I should do whatever I could do for them because they attended one of my teaching seminars. They also felt that I needed to give them the contact information of everyone I knew in the industry, as well. That was pretty bold and set me back a little bit. I gave that individual this advice, and I will end my blog with it as well. I stated, "The industry is way too small of a place to be burning bridges when you are so inexperienced. I would strongly suggest that you change your attitude so you will be able to eventually do this for a living. If you do not change your attitude and mind set then I can confidently predict right now that you will be working at McDonald's expediting Happy Meals for the rest of your life. Stop burning bridges, stop feeling entitled, stop being so darn prideful and start working hard. Put in your dues like the rest of known audio world, including myself, have done for years. Nobody owes you a free ride son."
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.