We’re now approaching the end of the year, and what a year it’s been! Certainly one of the most confusing times to be in our industry that I can remember, with the closure of venues and studios, let alone the loss of many wonderful artists.
At the same time, however, I’ve personally seen you all refuse to give up. I’ve seen new studios arise from the ashes of those we’ve lost, new names credited on major artists and labels, investments in your futures and new ambitions realised as well as achieved.
With that all in mind, I want to help you continue this positivity into the new year and share with you a philosophy I realised early in my career, without which I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
So, for the last time this year; let’s dive in!
Set Your Sights on your Target, And Hit It
I remember a few years ago I was at college and struggling. Not with the course, but the material we were studying: none of it seems to relate with the name of the course, Music Production. One day, I asked my then head of the course, Greg, whether or not there would be more of what I anticipated there to be on the course, actually being on the course. He said to me simply, ‘this course is aimed more at the behind the scenes work: management, label creation and running them, etc. If you want to be an engineer or a producer, perhaps this course isn’t for you?’
And with that, I left. I genuinely thought for a few days that I’d never achieve the dream I wanted, until I decided to just take a chance. So, I decided I’d post on a few social media groups local to me on Facebook and ask if anyone had any unwanted old studio equipment I could take off their hands in order to learn by myself and in turn clear some space for them. Luckily, someone replied and the next day my best friend Ryan and I, walked about a mile, collected a huge hole-ridden bag filled with broken cables, a wobbly freestanding rack and some basic equipment; a 19 band Peavey EQ, 3 patch bays, a Peavey 5 way Gate, and a basic compressor I think. Although these are inexpensive and more suited to a live setup, I had all the basics I needed and in time, could learn and train my ears to hear compression, hear the changes in each band of the EQ, and hear what gating actually did and why it plays such an important part in the everyday engineering process.
The Peavey gate kindly donated to me is still in my rack today.
I should also relay that I was currently living in supported accommodation and homeless at this point with very little funds, and in a new city, where I didn’t have many friends to interact with other than those I’d made on the course before I left. Luckily, I’d also managed to create my first band, Return To Rome, shortly before leaving, and my accommodation was literally behind the college I’d just left which meant I could still walk on the campus and socialize if I wanted. More importantly, they could also visit and record with me allowing me the opportunity to grow my skills much quicker than if I’d lived at home with my parents still (around 20 miles away from the college).
I’ve set myself many goals in the past, but more than any others that really sparked something in me, being trusted to record my own band was a huge one I wanted to achieve. Our first demos, allowed us to start playing shows and gave us reference material to work from - however, after around a year and a half a solid routine of wake up at 10am → work on my mixing and recording skills and learning → falling asleep in the early morning and repeat, my band wanted to record with a friend of ours, who admittedly at the time had much more knowledge than I, a fact which at the time I couldn’t appreciate.
Fast forward another year or so, and the same thing happened again with a single, however this time we travelled to Manchester to record with another friend of our guitarists, and in the sessions this time, I felt like I had more knowledge and that made me arrogant and blind to a great opportunity to learn (although I did learn a great deal, which has helped me endlessly since without even realising at the time that I was learning).
Recording with Mike in 2014/15
After recording with Mike, it came to around June of 2015, and I got a call to let me know that my band had been selected to play that year's Reading and Leeds Festivals. Suddenly, it clicked that had we recorded with me, that this likely wouldn’t have happened and I was very happy with the single we had put out. These facts had inspired me to reevaluate what I was searching for in a mix. After this call, it became apparent that I now had a piece of my own music worth recognizing as a reference to aim for, that felt more realistic. I kept listening back to my mixes, and wondering what I could do, listening back to mixes I admired and tried my best to recreate sounds I heard that I liked and yet still, I seemed not able to do what I had set out to do, which frustrated me, and sometimes even made me question should I carry on if I’m this far in and still not getting the results I wanted.
Reading and Leeds Festival with my then band at the time, Return To Rome
By the end of that year, I realised what I needed to do was carry on the way I had been, but now my goals had been more aligned and made more realistic, thanks to that years' unexpected achievements, and although my goal was always realistic, to eventually be trusted to record my own band, I needed to narrow it down to individual tasks or smaller achievements that would ultimately let me realise my overall goal.
I can't remember what all of my small goals were of this year, but I do recall a few: I wanted to achieve being able to create the guitar tones I liked far more efficiently, which meant I needed to learn more about how to do that - everything from pedals that tried to achieve the same sound, yet sounded slightly different, to what makes amps sound different from each other and finding my favorites, then learning how to use them properly both in the real world and digital emulations.
Another was properly learning the basics of my craft, compression, EQ and what made console channel strips so useful; thus researching and watching much more educational content would help, but also finding some form of formal education online from a renowned producer would likely help even more so than trying to learn alone (I’ve written before about Brian Hood’s course FSTG, the Creative Live Courses from Adam Getgood and Matt Halpern, and the Hardcore Mixing course from Jordan Valeriote).
Above all else though, I wanted to achieve a better understanding overall of mixing and revisit the basics to hopefully gain a better understanding. This ultimately led to even more small goals being added that were quickly achievable, like room treatment, learning the different types of compressors and EQs with a far better understanding, and so forth. Since then, I’ve been doing this year in, year out with my goals and resolutions always being fluid so I’m able to adapt if something shifts in my world, like say maybe a Pandemic…
The first step to any of this really is basic and you can start after this blog post: reflect on yourself. What have you not achieved yet that you’ve wanted to? Why is this, and how can you break it down into smaller achievements to ultimately start making strides? Once you’ve broken the main goal down into smaller tasks, break those tasks down again and prioritize the immediate ones that can be accomplished by the end of January or February, and continue to evaluate as you go. Always keep the larger goal in mind, and view each task you feel accomplished by completing, as a stepping stone towards the larger goal.
In any case, I hope you all have a safe and pleasant New Year celebration, and I look forward to helping you all on the way to your goals in whatever capacity I may be able to.
Until next year however, and throughout it all, Stay Creative!