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 have been reading a lot of posts lately about creative people types and why they are hard to understand - or why they do not make sense at times to certain kinds of people. I wanted to share, what I thought, was the best post about creative types. I know that many times I felt "backwards" in comparison to others - and it took me some time to figure out why I felt that way. Then one day it really hit me...I am an eccentric creative which naturally puts me at odds with other people that can not understand my mindset - or how I think. Once I figured that out, life was more enjoyable with reduced stress. Here are the reasons why creative people do not make sense....
Most creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but are often quiet and at rest. They can work long hours at great concentration.
Most creative people tend to be smart and naive at the same time. “It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas. These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure, and that most creativity workshops try to enhance.”
Most creative people combine both playfulness and productivity, which can sometimes mean both responsibility and irresponsibility. “Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.” Usually this perseverance occurs at the expense of other responsibilities, or other people.
Most creative people alternate fluently between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality. In both art and science, movement forward involves a leap of imagination, a leap into a world that is different from our present. Interestingly, this visionary imagination works in conjunction with a hyperawareness of reality. Attention to real details allows a creative person to imagine ways to improve them.
Most creative people tend to be both introverted and extroverted. Many people tend toward one extreme or the other, but highly creative people are a balance of both simultaneously.
Most creative people are genuinely humble and display a strong sense of pride at the same time.
Most creative people are both rebellious and conservative. “It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it’s difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.”
Most creative people are very passionate about their work, but remain extremely objective about it as well. They are able to admit when something they have made is not very good.
Most creative people’s openness and sensitivity exposes them to a large amount of suffering and pain, but joy and life in the midst of that suffering. “Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.”
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."
I love this video. The video shows what people can do when they think creatively. I am a firm believer that the studio should be a place for creative experimentation, and not a quick hit factory. The video is currently hitting 6 million views and climbing each day. Check it out and watch these 5 intriguing guys make the instrument sing.
Also love this video...mashup of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know"
Everyday I see people who are miserable in their professions. For most individuals, it is truly a job and not a career. It is a place where they work, so they can pay the bills and nothing more. I can totally relate because I was that person too. I had dreams as a young high school student to be in the music industry, and do nothing more. There wasn't really a plan B, it was all or nothing in the music industry. After high school, I attended a college in Phoenixville, PA, where I would study both music and youth ministry. Looking back, I can see where both of those careers could intercept one another (music, youth...youth, music - they go hand in hand). In college, I got involved playing in, and for, many bands. I had a synthesizer in my dorm room, and wrote music constantly with friends. We would stay up to the very early hours of morning writing, creating and just having fun (not the best idea for grades, but terrific for creativity).
After college, I kept pursuing music where our band saw some regional and semi-national recognition. It was a lot of hard work, but the passion kept us fueled to keep going. Then something happened that changed the trajectory of my life. I found a woman who wanted me to settle down, start a family and pursue a "real" career. When you are young, stupid and in love - you will do anything, for the most part, to please the person you have given your heart. I always vowed that I would not wear a suit, Dockers or polo shirts, yet this is what I had to do so I could "look the part" when interviewing. I was definitely young and stupid. I was able to find employment as a retail manger trainee in the tire and car repair industry. Thus , started the most miserable years of my life.
I made a huge mistake back then thinking that money and prestige would make us happy. She was very happy because she had everything a young woman would want or need. On my end, I was the most miserable human being on planet earth. I had friend at the time tell me that I was the most miserable church goer that he had ever seen. It was true, I was tired, burnt out and angry at life. I knew I needed to make a change, and I knew that it had to be quick for sanity's sake.
Church involvement can put you in good contact with people who know people. Duh, right? It is very much like the six degrees of separation which states that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person. I can tell you from experience, churches prove that theory...it is like a melting pot of who knows who. At the church I attended, the worship leader had a brother in law who owned a beautiful studio in Rochester, NY. The brother in law was looking for an assistant to help him with the running of the day to day business at the studio. I met with Dave (the studio owner) and we hit it off. Dave hired me which changed the trajectory of my life, once again. Working for Dave and the studio was the catalyst that would allow me to continue doing what I love....music.
When I am teaching at the college (Houghton College), I always tell the students to pursue their passions. I also tell them that in pursuing those passions they may need to work a job that they do not like, but if they pursue what they are passionate about it can and will work out. It seems like easy advice, kind of like, good things come to those who wait or any cliche. I truly believe that if your heart is set on something, and you are extremely passionate about it, then you can make a living doing what you love (as long as you have the talent for it - had to clarify that a little bit). I tell my students that life is too short to be doing something that you hate for your entire life.
Everything I am talking about boils down to this....risk taking. I have seen way too many people get stuck in their lives because they are afraid of failure, or, in other words, afraid to take the risk. Risk is scary, risk is crippling, but risk can be rewarding. If most people are afraid of taking risks, then a person taking risk is actually in a better position to succeed (it's all a numbers game). One of the great staples of being a great leader is that they are willing to take risks. Risk taking is not being reckless, risk taking is doing something that you wouldn't normally do, but doing it in a very calculated fashion.
When I think about risk taking, and being stuck, my father comes to mind. My father is a gifted musician, a gifted construction worker and a great person. From the time I was born, the only thing I can remember my dad ever doing for a living was construction work. He needed steady pay so he could provide for his wife and children. He is a great construction worker and went from working for others to starting his own business. It was a big risk, but he had built a good name for himself in the construction business. He is now semi-retired, and does little jobs for friends here and there. One day when we were camping, I looked over at my father and saw him lost in thought. All of a sudden it had hit me that I had never asked my own dad about his passions in life. I have done that year after year at the college with my students, but never with my own father. That day, while camping, I asked my dad, "What were your dreams and passions growing up? If you could have been anything in life, what would it have been? Would it have been a construction worker - or did you really want to do something else?" His answer almost broke my heart. He told me that his dream and passion in life was to be a musician.
He told me that growing up he and his sister had played at fairs, bars and various venues. They had played at a contest for a chance to win a recording contract with RCA records back in the day and won. When the chance came for them to sign the deal his parents said that no son or daughter of theirs would play music for a living. Their kids would work for a living and not be caught up in an easy life style like music. After that, my dad would continue to play music, but not pursue it as a career or living. I was very sad that day talking with my dad about his life and realizing that he never pursued his passion.
Life is a small journey we take from here to there. There are no guarantees on how many years we have - or have left. So why would we chose to waste away the very short amount of time we have on this earth? Why would we waste half our lives pursuing misery in professions that we can not stand? Life doesn't have to be that way. Life isn't suppose to be that way. And it is never too late to change the trajectory of our lives. I know of 80-somethings who have pursued a college degree and have finished. I know of 60-somethings who finally decided to pursue painting for a living - and have succeeded. It is never too late, nor early, to pursue our passions and dreams. All it takes is hard work and a little risk. Today is the day to start the journey and take the risk.
Good Ted Talk Video On Risk taking - "The Art of Living Dangerously"
Recently I was in a talk with my wife and made the comment that I am finding something very alarming which is the lack of promotion amongst my friends and indie artists. When I talk with my friends or various musicians they all tell me how much they want to do the "music thing" for a living, how they get excited when they think about making music and how it is their passion or calling.
When I hear an artists talk like that I get excited and start dreaming with them about the present and future. After my talk, I will often start searching for my friend, the artist, band or musician online. Some I find on Soundcloud, others on Indaba or like places. I search for websites or YouTube channels...basically anything that will point me to the artists and their art. Then it all starts to hit me, many are not promoting themselves.
In the technological age there is no excuse or reason not to promote your music or craft. Soundcloud has given anyone the opportunity to share their music with the world and what I have found on there is just plain sad. Out of all the friends and artists I know (which are hundreds of people), only three had anything to share on Soundcloud. Almost all of them had an account but when I went to listen to their music ....birds tweeting and tumbleweed blowing around their site.
Of course there are other sites as well to promote your music on. Sites like YouTube, MySpace (yeah I know its so 2005 but still a place to point people to your music), Reverbnation, Indaba, Bandcamp and many more offer services so a person can promote their music. So the questions this...if you don't post your music, or promote yourself, how are venues or anyone else for that matter suppose to know who you are or what you are about? If I were running a venue and an artists didn't have anything "out there", I definitely wouldn't be having you play my venue.
So, here are a few tips for promoting your music grassroots style:
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.