Nail the Mix – Instructing the Next Generation Part II

Thursday, 20th April 2017

Wanasek: Here’s the thing, there’s this whole “sky is falling” mantra and I get it…it’s difficult. But what market has ever stayed static in the history of the world? Anyone who things that has never read a book on economics or studied history. Everything changes all the time and is in a constant state of change – you just adapt. When I started doing this, that’s right when the industry started crashing in the early 2000s. Or I should say, it was at its peak and started slowly declining. I have only exponentially grown in my career as a producer until I started making the conscious decision to switch over to doing this. It was just because I wanted to grow. I could still be producing and mixing – I turn down projects left and right now.

To be honest, I listen to everyone complain about how it’s so hard and I am thinking to myself about so many guys that exploded and came up through this time and thrived, because they worked hard. I feel like a lot of lazy people got booted from the industry because it got a little bit harder. A lot of people had a sense of entitlement and felt they were owed something – just because they were here for experience. They had the union machinist’s mentality that just because they were there for 30 years that they should get the highest pay and should be the last one to be fired. The reality is that they aren’t under a union contract working for a factory, they are working for the market as business owners and independent contractors and they have to put in the work, whether they want to or not. Whether that means you have to hustle at 50 years old or 20 years old, it’s the same for everybody.

If you own a restaurant you have to keep customers coming in. You have to change and evolve – you have to update the menu, try new things and invent new dishes, and buy new décor…all kinds of different stuff. The rules of economics don’t change. What changes are people’s attitudes towards it. A lot of people I feel, got lazy and just didn’t want to admit that things were changing and get with the times. In the meantime, there’s been a crowd of hungry people who have come up and said, “I’m not going to settle for that. This is what I’m going to do and I’m going to make it work.”

I’ll give you an example. I’m in a studio building up here in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin and you’d think…what records are made in Wisconsin? The guy across the hall from me just records local bar bands, and he makes a great living – very well paid doing that. Then he got into licensing songs, and he makes another entire living doing that with the local bands, just getting on TV and doing stuff like that. It just goes to show you that you can make a living just recording what most people consider the crappiest bar bands [laughs]. You have to work hard and you have to be good.

Levi: If someone takes the traditional approach and just realized that they are mainly doing drums and mixes instead of full albums and just got depressed and didn’t do anything about it…I can see why they could be so negative. But if they just were a little creative and thought like that guy, or any number of ways to bring in more revenue, they would be just fine. It really is just a matter of evolving with the market, and bringing in other revenue streams when one dries up.

Wanasek: Maybe less people want to record guitars, but maybe there is a need for more competent people that can actually mix the songs well. Mixing is much harder than editing and recording the guitar tracks. Or vice versa. There’s so many different ways and different niches you can go into. You just have to know how to seize an opportunity. It’s just like being a business owner. I think a restaurant is a good analogy. If you are a Middle Eastern restaurant, and another one opens up down the block, it doesn’t mean that you both can’t coexist in the same space. You have to find ways to differentiate. Maybe that place specializes in hookahs and entertainment, and you specialize in food and a warm-friendly family atmosphere. There’s space for both of you to thrive and evolve. You just have to adapt a little bit and work at it.

Nothing is going to be given to you or handed to you…you just have to go out and hustle and put in the work. That’s really what it boils down to. It’s very doable. I get tired of listening to people complain about “blah blah blah,” you are just complaining because you don’t want to put in the work anymore. You feel like you’re entitled because you’ve spent some time and you’ve worked on a few big bands…big deal, boo hoo. Go out and continue to work your ass off and you’ll have no problems. Everyone who is that I know, are thriving and killing it…everyone who isn’t putting in the work, but is making themselves feel better and saying, “I’m working so hard” by taking about it…they are tanking. The proof is in the pudding. There’s plenty of room and plenty of demand, you just have to find a way to go out and get it, and work at it. No one ever went out and got me a client. I had to go out and get all my clients and maintain all my clients. I had to give them a reason to want to go out and tell people to be clients. We all had to work to do this…why should that change?

Dead Rhetoric: Lastly, other than to sign up for Nail the Mix, what advice do you have for aspiring mixers?

Levi: If you want to actually do this for a living, like actually do it for a living…realize that it is going to take longer than you think it would, and it is going to be harder than you think it should. But it’s going to be totally worth it if you stick it out. The time when I see most people quit, it tends to be after they’ve had a little bit of success, and then there’s that first little dip after that. That tends to be when people quit. Not before. Before they are living with hope. Once they get a few clients, they start to get a little confidence and get the dopamine going and feeling good. Then it starts to dry up a little bit and it takes the wind out of their sails. That is the worst time to drop out. That is the time to double-down and keep going.

When I say it’s going to take longer than you think – you need to be thinking on a decade level. That might sound scary, but 5-10 years is what it takes, so I would rearrange my life in accordance to that. Meaning, if you are young, try to live at home for as long as you can. Save money. Try to find jobs that you can control your own hours with. For instance, can you drive Uber? Do you have a car? Can you do UberX? Can you do Post-Mates? Try to find jobs with a flexible schedule where you can work 1-2 days for your phone bill and all that, and then put the rest of your time into getting better. Get ready to get rid of a social life, and just dedicate yourself to this like it’s your religion for the next 10 years and you might be okay. When you aren’t trying to get bands, hustle to get better. When you aren’t hustling to get better, get more clients. End of story.

Wanasek: I have a couple points of advice, because I think of looking myself in the eye when I was 20 years old and asking myself now, “I want to be where you are sitting, so what do I have to do?” There are a couple of things. Everyone wants specific answers, but here’s a great thing the Internet does. You will go on a forum and ask how to get your bass to sound good. Some guy will come in with a philosophy answer, which is the really good answer, and everyone will be like, “piss off.” Then someone else will say, just put this plug on the bass and 100 people will say, “that’s sick.” No one wants the philosophy answer, but the philosophy answer is the one that really matters.

First thing is that you really have to have a lifelong dedication to learning and a commitment to bettering yourself. The number one killer of people’s success is complacency. If you aren’t growing you are dying. When you get comfortable is when you should absolutely be the most terrified because if you are totally comfortable and complacent in what you are doing, you should be scared shitless. Someone out there is hustling ass and working hard and they are coming for you. You may not know them and you may not have heard of them, but when they find you, they are going to run you over like a freaking streamroller. If you aren’t ready for that, you’re just sitting on your ass with your hands…not trying to get better, not trying to learn, not trying to grow. You are vulnerable and that is business. That is nature, and that is reality. It’s really important to say that you have to constantly be learning every day.

You think that when we started this business we knew how to handle payment processing, gateways, customer support, how to hire people, tax laws, or how to handle certain situations versus another one, or how to protect our liability in this or that? There’s all these things we had to learn – and we didn’t know any of that crap! We had to sit down and put in the time and study back, like we were doing a crash course MBA in business. We had to read for hours a day every day, which we continue to do in order to grow a successful business and build an actual legitimate company. Why should anyone else be exempt from that?

When I started recording, I bought every single book on recording and mixing I could find and read them like 10 times. I revisit them once like every 3-6 months and after I’ve read each one like 3-4 times, to the point where I feel like I’ve almost memorized the information…then I’m like okay. But in the meantime I was doing it, so I had a job and I’d come home and then record for a few hours and then go back to my day job and repeat. Then I had a weekend to spend recording – that’s the kind of dedication you need. Be fanatical about wanting to grow and better yourself as a person and learn more. And not just about recording but about music business and client acquisition and psychology…all these different things. But that’s a whole different thing and way out of bounds for what we are talking about right now. I could go on forever on that.

The second thing I feel is really important is that you have to put in the damn work. Like I said, a lot of people like to talk about putting in the work but few people actually do. Are you ready to work 16 hour days for a month and a half straight? Getting up at 5AM and leaving at midnight, because I’ve done that more times than I can count. Hell, I just spent a month and a half doing that with these guys, filming and growing and expanding the company so we can unleash a bunch of awesome stuff this summer. But dude, that’s what it takes! I can’t tell you the amount of times that a band like Bless the Fall has come in and called me and Joey up at 9PM and said they need changes by midnight or the world will blow up…so [the band] can get this into the pressing plant tomorrow. We are sitting there like, “well I was going to go to bed but I’ll get my shoes on and go right to the studio and tag team this and get it done, because no one is going to do it for us.” If you aren’t willing to put in the serious, hardwork…it’s going to be a long, long, long road for you.

The last thing, and the most important thing, and it’s the advice I wish I could give myself when I was 20 but I was too stupid at the time to realize it, is to enjoy the process. What will make you happy and enjoy life in doing this for a living is not getting to the goal, like “I want to work with really big bands.” Then one day you are working with really big bands and you realize that you are working with the same level of passion that you were when you weren’t…when you started. What makes you happy and makes you stoked is not the goal, it’s the pursuit of the goal – having something to shoot for and enjoying the process and living in the moment. Sitting down and saying that you love what you are doing, every single day, even on a shitty day, I could be sitting there in an office staring at the wall and running bank account/payroll numbers hating my life so much more…or swinging a hammer, or plumbing with raw sewage all over me. I could be doing that all day, but I’m sitting in a room all day making music. So no matter how stressful or bad it is, I have everything to be happy and thankful for.

When you run a business, it’s up and down and sometimes you have to be your own cheerleader. Everyone around you might say things have slowed down and maybe you need to get a real job…you have to block that crap out and say, “I know what I want to do, I know what my goal is, I have a vision, I have a concise path on how I’m going to get there, and I am going to make it happen. I don’t want to listen to these idiots – I’m going to do what makes me happy and do what I love, and make it happen.” You have to enjoy the moment. That’s the most important thing. It’s easy to get caught up in the goal, it’s easy to get caught up in the “it’s going to be amazing in the future.” The reality is, make it amazing now.

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