In a few weeks, I will be saying goodbye to my assistant - John Buteyn. I have been wanting to write a fitting tribute to my assistant for some time, but every time I started thinking of writing this...my brain went into denial that he was leaving. I would then close my laptop and try not to think about this approaching day.
Many of you who visit this site (and blog) do not know John. But to me, John has been my right hand man for four years or so, and a brother-like friend for over seven. John was the first person I worked with as the new Director of Sound and Recording at Houghton College. From the start, I knew that John and myself would have a good working relationship, and more importantly, a good friendship.
A wise man once told me, "Kevin, when you meet a friend...a true friend, never let that friendship go because true friends are very rare in this life. When you meet the type of friend that 'gets you'...make sure you stay friends. That type of friend will walk the mountain tops and the valleys with you". The wise man, also known as my high school music teacher, was right on. I have traveled this earthly road for 45 years and have rarely found "true friends". I have many "friends", as a matter of fact over 3,500 "friends" on Facebook, but I have very few "true" friends...the kind of friend that sticks closer than a brother and gets me as a person. Many people become your friend with an agenda in mind. For many, that agenda is breaking into the music industry or befriending you to swindle you out of your industry contact list. I have had a few "friends" in my lifetime who attempted to use me as a stepping stone for the next level in their career...a few church tech "friends" come to mind here.
What I have always liked about John is that he never became my friend to "use" me, nor did he have an agenda to gather my contacts. He became my friend because we had so many common interests, especially in music technology and recording. We would sit in the office during the slow conference season time dreaming about Houghton, and what it could look like if we ever offered a music technology or a music industry degree. At the time, that seemed like a big huge pipe dream and talk, but as every year passed our dream and talks started becoming reality. It was the dream and vision that drove both of us at work - and common interests that drove our friendship.
After my first two years at Houghton, John went away to Georgia Southern to pursue his master's degree in music technology. When he left, during that time, you could feel the void that was left in my department. The old Charles Dickens phrase from A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." was being lived out in real time during the years he was away. The department and staff just wasn't the same with John gone.
Then John came back. At first is was to head up the summer conference tech team. Eventually, after a couple of years and a couple of jobs he worked around Houghton, we were able to hire him in my department as the Assistant Director of Technical Arts. And a new (and very cool) chapter started to be written again.
This past year, John, our boss and myself, started to create and pursue a major in music industry at Houghton College. Everything we had talked about seven years prior to this, started to become reality. We created a music industry minor, had upwards of ten new courses approved and finally a music industry major approved at Houghton. I don't think either one of us could believe how much was accomplished this past year. At times it was stressful...and at others times it was filled with celebration.
And so, it seems right that John is now leaving to pursue the next chapter in his life. In the time he has been at Houghton, and my assistant, we have seen great things happen. We have had a lot of fun and laughs with events, concerts, conferences (for the most part), classes, our team and most of all our friendship. Bill Hybels (a leadership guru - look him up) once said at a leadership conference, "Surround yourself with the best. Because you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with." For me, John was and is the best. He has been the definition of excellence and work ethic. He is a great husband to Kaylan, a great father to Fin and has been a great friend and brother to me. My only hope is that each person who reads this will have the same fortune that I have had these past seven years. I hope that each of you will find that person who makes you not only a better teacher and tech, but a better man or woman. As iron sharpens iron....Yohann, you will be missed.
If I were to ask my students to name an amazing producer or mix engineer, many would not be able to do it. Once upon a time, you sat in front of your stereo, unwrapped a freshly packaged vinyl album, cassette or CD and read all the credits while listening to a new masterpiece. For me this magical experience came in the form of Def Leppard and the album "Hysteria". I remember the day vividly as I sat in a dank, cold dorm room listening to this amazing sonic explosion coming out of my speakers - over and over. The album absolutely mesmerized and hypnotized me - so much so that it would stay in my CD player for three months. The album was played so much that my dorm mates would end up giving me a Golden Pear Award for the most likely person to work with Def Leppard in the future. As I was reading the credits inside the liner notes of this incredible album, the name Mike Shipley kept appearing. This was the day before internet and easy access, so you had to do some major investigating to find out about this magical mix engineer. I could go into Mike's long list of top artists that he produced and mixed, but you will have to do that on your own. His credits are truly amazing.
It is sad that we so quickly forget - or maybe don't care - about the people who make the industry "go 'round". If I said the name Lady Gaga many of you would instantly know and visualize the eccentric blonde haired bombshell with the wacky outfits. But if I were to say the name Zedd, who would know of the person I speak? He is Lady Gaga's producer - as in the person who makes her and her songs sound incredible. In this day of iTunes and quick downloads, most of us do not even care to take a look at the "people behind the people". Yet those of us in the industry, know and do care tremendously. So let me take a moment to care and talk about the late Mike Shipley.
Many times we view guys like Mike as being untouchable and unreachable because their accolades are so enormous that they wouldn't even bother talking to us "lowly engineers". Mike was not like that, and to the contrary, was very involved in the lives of us "lowly ones". He would post on the Gearslutz forums and share with us his engineering knowledge regularly. He would answer any question directed at him under the moniker "shipshape". I heard great stories from others about Mike mixing an indie album for a beer and some lamb chops. He was a man who cared more about the industry than money or prestige. His last video appearance, talking about his craft (you can view the video below), was on Pensado's Place where he gladly shared his wealth of knowledge with the rest of the engineering community. He was a giving person, not selfish in the least and was not in the industry for selfish ambition or promotion. He loved music and loved the people in the industry. He was always in his element behind the board - or at the producer's helm. He loved the people he worked with and the people loved him. On July 22nd, we lost this industry giant and amazing talent.
So, what can we learn from a man like Mike Shipley? Passion, excellence and humility. Passion for music and this awesome field of engineering. Excellence in the way he crafted each mix - sonically beautiful and pure. Humble in the truest sense of the word - family members weren't aware of projects he had been involved with. I want to encourage each person who reads this blog to go out and find out about the people who have worked on the albums you love - the "people behind the people". People like Mike.
Though Mike has passed, his music and productions will live on for years, decades and centuries to come. I am a testament to Mike's life. At the age of eighteen, I put on a Mike Shipley mixed album and heard sonic perfection. I decided at that point that I wanted to learn this craft and how to mix like the man who mixed that album. And so began my journey to become the next Mike Shipley. I may never win a mixing or production Grammy like Mike, but my life has been rich in attempting to hit the excellence mark of this man. May you now rest in peace, Mike. You will be missed by all.
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.
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 am all for new technologies and the rise of social media sites. I believe they can be used to expose people to new ideas, artists, other like-minded people, and creative ventures. However, I have seen a total withdrawal of person-to-person interaction recently in the music industry (and in everyday life).
Every year I attend a festival called Kingdom Bound in upstate, NY, which draws around 50,000 people over the course of 4 days. As a family, we have been attending that festival upwards of 25 years or so, and have seen some good and not-so-good changes within the festival. One of the big changes I have noticed, in recent years, is the lack of networking and camaraderie that use to be so prevalent within the festival. There would be all kinds of "rubbing elbows and shaking hands" going on at the festival - in other words, a lot of human to human networking.
While at the festival, I was telling my wife that I remember a time when bands would stay the duration of the festival. The festival is held at Darien Lake theme park, which provides a great get away for bands, managers, artists, stage crew members and family. For many years, I would see bands stay in the rental campers with their families, and fellow band-mates enjoying not only the festival, but other bands performing. It would create a synergy that was rarely seen back then, and something that is even rarer in today's music climate. I remember our camp site being filled with band members every night as we sat around the campfire reminiscing of the day's events. Of course, there were plenty of jokes, practical jokes and laughs too. It was such a different time, a time where the future of the music industry was uncertain, but knowing we would all be OK if we stayed tight as a community.
I miss that camaraderie, and networking. Back then (and back then was not too long ago - think 1999 to about 2002/03) networking was talking face to face with the person. It was interacting on human levels, and not all through machines. Real humans, real hand shakes and real poking (literally) were the staples of the day. We handed out real paper business cards and physical copies of CD's...all in packets called promo packs complete with photos. This was all before social media and the rise of the internet, as we know it. I am not saying that we have stopped this practice all together, but I have seen a steep decline in recent years.
Music has been and should be a community of artists all coming together for one purpose...art. There is a common saying "strength in numbers", and that applies to the music scene. When artists unite together and form communities, people take notice and want to become part of it. In other words, people networking together to form something new, something fresh and something very different that people want to support.
Not too long ago, I formed an entertainment group whose sole purpose was to launch new and exciting bands. We were heavily involved in the festival circuit and sponsored the fringe stages. We would set up a booth at the festivals with the purpose of finding new acts and artists. At the end of the various events, I would leave with a suitcase full of promo packs, CD's, phone numbers and business cards. But it wasn't the suitcase filled with promo packs that made the event special, it was interacting with artists, bands and festival goers. Talking, laughing and hanging out with some of the coolest people was the highlight of many a festival. Did we find great bands to launch? Absolutely - but what I thought would be scouting opportunities only, became something much more meaningful...deep networking, deep human interaction.
I believe that we need to get back to networking - and not NET-working. The internet should be a tool to connect people with each other, but only after initial human contact is made and relationships built. When I talk about this at the college, many of the students totally agree that the internet is isolating and cold. They agree that the rise of the internet and social media sites have caused people to withdraw from human interaction. This generation feels more alienated then ever, yet it is the most connected than any other. Technology isolates. As a human race, we are wired to interact with each other. When we stop interacting, and get absorbed into our technology we start to feel more like machines than humans.
A recent study showed that when a person is touched by another, the person's life can increase anywhere from 1 to 12 years! I am not saying we go up to a person, hand them a promo pack and start giving massages, but we need to start shaking more hands and giving more pats on the arm or back. If I am signing a band, I want to know that band or artist before I work with them - and not through a chat conversation or e-mail. I want to find out what they are about, what makes them "tick" and their passions. Music is still about community, human emotion and interacting with each other - and community can be interchanged with networking. After all, it is through this amazing thing called a music community that we all get to network - and that is what makes the music scene so cool. Let's start networking again....coffee anyone?
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.