In a few weeks, I will be saying goodbye to my assistant - John Buteyn. I have been wanting to write a fitting tribute to my assistant for some time, but every time I started thinking of writing this...my brain went into denial that he was leaving. I would then close my laptop and try not to think about this approaching day.
Many of you who visit this site (and blog) do not know John. But to me, John has been my right hand man for four years or so, and a brother-like friend for over seven. John was the first person I worked with as the new Director of Sound and Recording at Houghton College. From the start, I knew that John and myself would have a good working relationship, and more importantly, a good friendship.
A wise man once told me, "Kevin, when you meet a friend...a true friend, never let that friendship go because true friends are very rare in this life. When you meet the type of friend that 'gets you'...make sure you stay friends. That type of friend will walk the mountain tops and the valleys with you". The wise man, also known as my high school music teacher, was right on. I have traveled this earthly road for 45 years and have rarely found "true friends". I have many "friends", as a matter of fact over 3,500 "friends" on Facebook, but I have very few "true" friends...the kind of friend that sticks closer than a brother and gets me as a person. Many people become your friend with an agenda in mind. For many, that agenda is breaking into the music industry or befriending you to swindle you out of your industry contact list. I have had a few "friends" in my lifetime who attempted to use me as a stepping stone for the next level in their career...a few church tech "friends" come to mind here.
What I have always liked about John is that he never became my friend to "use" me, nor did he have an agenda to gather my contacts. He became my friend because we had so many common interests, especially in music technology and recording. We would sit in the office during the slow conference season time dreaming about Houghton, and what it could look like if we ever offered a music technology or a music industry degree. At the time, that seemed like a big huge pipe dream and talk, but as every year passed our dream and talks started becoming reality. It was the dream and vision that drove both of us at work - and common interests that drove our friendship.
After my first two years at Houghton, John went away to Georgia Southern to pursue his master's degree in music technology. When he left, during that time, you could feel the void that was left in my department. The old Charles Dickens phrase from A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." was being lived out in real time during the years he was away. The department and staff just wasn't the same with John gone.
Then John came back. At first is was to head up the summer conference tech team. Eventually, after a couple of years and a couple of jobs he worked around Houghton, we were able to hire him in my department as the Assistant Director of Technical Arts. And a new (and very cool) chapter started to be written again.
This past year, John, our boss and myself, started to create and pursue a major in music industry at Houghton College. Everything we had talked about seven years prior to this, started to become reality. We created a music industry minor, had upwards of ten new courses approved and finally a music industry major approved at Houghton. I don't think either one of us could believe how much was accomplished this past year. At times it was stressful...and at others times it was filled with celebration.
And so, it seems right that John is now leaving to pursue the next chapter in his life. In the time he has been at Houghton, and my assistant, we have seen great things happen. We have had a lot of fun and laughs with events, concerts, conferences (for the most part), classes, our team and most of all our friendship. Bill Hybels (a leadership guru - look him up) once said at a leadership conference, "Surround yourself with the best. Because you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with." For me, John was and is the best. He has been the definition of excellence and work ethic. He is a great husband to Kaylan, a great father to Fin and has been a great friend and brother to me. My only hope is that each person who reads this will have the same fortune that I have had these past seven years. I hope that each of you will find that person who makes you not only a better teacher and tech, but a better man or woman. As iron sharpens iron....Yohann, you will be missed.
If I were to ask my students to name an amazing producer or mix engineer, many would not be able to do it. Once upon a time, you sat in front of your stereo, unwrapped a freshly packaged vinyl album, cassette or CD and read all the credits while listening to a new masterpiece. For me this magical experience came in the form of Def Leppard and the album "Hysteria". I remember the day vividly as I sat in a dank, cold dorm room listening to this amazing sonic explosion coming out of my speakers - over and over. The album absolutely mesmerized and hypnotized me - so much so that it would stay in my CD player for three months. The album was played so much that my dorm mates would end up giving me a Golden Pear Award for the most likely person to work with Def Leppard in the future. As I was reading the credits inside the liner notes of this incredible album, the name Mike Shipley kept appearing. This was the day before internet and easy access, so you had to do some major investigating to find out about this magical mix engineer. I could go into Mike's long list of top artists that he produced and mixed, but you will have to do that on your own. His credits are truly amazing.
It is sad that we so quickly forget - or maybe don't care - about the people who make the industry "go 'round". If I said the name Lady Gaga many of you would instantly know and visualize the eccentric blonde haired bombshell with the wacky outfits. But if I were to say the name Zedd, who would know of the person I speak? He is Lady Gaga's producer - as in the person who makes her and her songs sound incredible. In this day of iTunes and quick downloads, most of us do not even care to take a look at the "people behind the people". Yet those of us in the industry, know and do care tremendously. So let me take a moment to care and talk about the late Mike Shipley.
Many times we view guys like Mike as being untouchable and unreachable because their accolades are so enormous that they wouldn't even bother talking to us "lowly engineers". Mike was not like that, and to the contrary, was very involved in the lives of us "lowly ones". He would post on the Gearslutz forums and share with us his engineering knowledge regularly. He would answer any question directed at him under the moniker "shipshape". I heard great stories from others about Mike mixing an indie album for a beer and some lamb chops. He was a man who cared more about the industry than money or prestige. His last video appearance, talking about his craft (you can view the video below), was on Pensado's Place where he gladly shared his wealth of knowledge with the rest of the engineering community. He was a giving person, not selfish in the least and was not in the industry for selfish ambition or promotion. He loved music and loved the people in the industry. He was always in his element behind the board - or at the producer's helm. He loved the people he worked with and the people loved him. On July 22nd, we lost this industry giant and amazing talent.
So, what can we learn from a man like Mike Shipley? Passion, excellence and humility. Passion for music and this awesome field of engineering. Excellence in the way he crafted each mix - sonically beautiful and pure. Humble in the truest sense of the word - family members weren't aware of projects he had been involved with. I want to encourage each person who reads this blog to go out and find out about the people who have worked on the albums you love - the "people behind the people". People like Mike.
Though Mike has passed, his music and productions will live on for years, decades and centuries to come. I am a testament to Mike's life. At the age of eighteen, I put on a Mike Shipley mixed album and heard sonic perfection. I decided at that point that I wanted to learn this craft and how to mix like the man who mixed that album. And so began my journey to become the next Mike Shipley. I may never win a mixing or production Grammy like Mike, but my life has been rich in attempting to hit the excellence mark of this man. May you now rest in peace, Mike. You will be missed by all.
I have been a nomad for quite a while, traveling all over the globe with bands and business. I grew up in a small area of New York State - Corning, NY. The older I get, the more I appreciate that small city and area. In my young years, I use to think, "When I turn eighteen, I am going to kick the dirt off these shoes and leave this lame area behind. I am going to become a rock star and make something of myself." When I turned eighteen I applied for a college in the Philadelphia area, and true to the words spoken....I shook the dust from my shoes and left the Corning area. I would only return briefly to work during my college years - and to live there for just a few months after college. I have been away for over nineteen years. Do I still visit? Yes, I do. The reason is that all of my family live there, which forces me to make trips to the area pretty frequently. I love going home now...it feels familiar and warm. It feels like home.
So, what does this have to do with music, music technology or music business? Nothing. I just thought all of you would want to know where I was born and raised....no? OK then, what this has to do with music - and this industry - is never forgetting your roots. During my travels and time away, I started to forget where I had come from and stopped appreciating it. My dad was a hard working contractor who put his dreams on hold so that his kids could see their dreams realized. My mom was a stay at home mother who wanted to get an education to better the family, but she felt a duty to raise us boys so we could get a better education to better ourselves. Both of my parents put their dreams on hold so we could pursue our dreams growing up. I always had a "chip" on my shoulder growing up and thought everything I had accomplished was the result of my own hard work. I forgot the sacrifice my parents had made - and I forgot that small community of people who always cheered me on. In other words....I forgot my roots. Recently I have been reconnecting with old friends from the Corning area. I realized that many never left the area. It hit me one day....I forgot them along the way too. My whole journey has been one of forgetting my roots, but within the past two years I see myself appreciating where I came from more and more. And in a way, I have been returning to those roots quite a bit.
See, many artists and musicians forget their roots too. They forget the struggle to get where they are today. I mean if you travel and perform 200 shows a year, everything eventually starts blurring into one. When that happens, you start forgetting where you came from, what got you to where you are and the people who helped you on the journey. I was there; it happened to me. It is easy to forget. But there are artists who still remember and stay grounded.
The other night I was watching a documentary on Eminem. I had a chance to meet and talk with Eminem before he was huge - back when. He was a driven rapper who wanted nothing more than to succeed so he could give his child a great life. Eminem forgot his roots - but not for long. He had a revelation of sorts, a moment of clarity. He is from Detroit. He knows it, he is not ashamed of it - he embraces it. He embraces it so much that he currently lives in Michigan. Many artists move to LA, NYC and Nashville - but not Eminem. And there are more than just him, but for the sake of keeping this blog, blog length I will stick to Eminem. Eminem hasn't forgotten his roots or the city he loves - Detroit.
It is important to always remember where you are, where you are going and where you came from. Never forget the struggle to get were you are - or forget the people who got you to where you are today. Nobody ever rises to the top on their own accord...it takes hard work and people believing in you (and helping you to succeed). For many, it was a person (or people) who mentored and poured themselves into you. For many, it could have been one person who gave you your "break" to be able to do what you love so much. For others, it was a music teacher (or any teacher) who saw the talent and then did everything they could to help you along on your journey. Roots.
I have so many people that fall in those categories that I would need a separate blog - or book - to thank them all. I hope they all know how much I appreciate what they have done for me - and I hope they know that I will always remember them. Never forget your roots.
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.