As a youngster, when I was just pulling into my teen years, I received some mentoring from a person in my life that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would set me up for success for the rest of my life regardless of what career path I took, if I would just buy into it. We’ll get back to that in a minute. But first…
Over the course of my career, young men and women (and some not so young) have, for some reason, gravitated toward me for insight into how to “make it” in the music business. I’ve never really reconciled why they chose me. Nonetheless, I’ve always been willing to share my experiences with them and let them glean what they can from it in order to try to apply it in their own journey if they felt so inclined. All of this of course comes with the disclaimer “Well, this is what worked for me … Your results may vary”
After many years of long and arduous bus rides, tedious plane flights and sitting around waiting for that 7:30PM walk to the FOH riser, I’ve often taken the time to reflect on what it really takes to make it in the music business. What I’ve come to believe is that, it’s rarely as actually advertised.
Of course we all need creative and musical skills to become an accomplished mixer. And, of course, we need technical and scientific skills to enhance our engineering efforts. Those skills are a necessary set of tools for you to carry to work with you every day. But I submit to you that mastery of them in no way ensures you’ll find professional success as a mixer or an engineer in the music business.
Just as we’ve all met the great musicians or great songwriters that never “made it”, so it goes for engineers and mixers. Apparently there is more in play than meets the, uh … ear. We see this all the time in sports and in other walks of life i.e. “Great golf swing, terrible golfer”. Or the more working-class version; “Big boots, no cattle”.
Apparently, other skills and traits –- more often than not, unrecognized, but always there — are vital to success. I tend to call these mysterious traits “intangibles”; those personality and character traits that can propel you to that elusive “next level”. They’re also traits that, if missing or if they go on leave, can be your undoing and are often traceable as a contributor to why, in the end, you never really got to the next rung on the ladder.
From the skills perspective, if you examine the course to “making it” as a mixer in live sound, there are, generally speaking, two paths that you can take.
1. Seek employment by a sound for hire company where you get the vast amount of your pro audio orientation by “osmosis” from coworkers and the environments that you’re thrust into, often whether you’re actually ready to be there or not. Or
2. Start out working directly for bands as a road crew member or maybe helping the band organize and produce demos etc. This way, you begin to build your profile and persona through the organization or band you’re working with. A similar path can come into play when working directly for a venue or house of worship etc.
Now this is not to exclude production schools from this process but, in the vast majority of cases I’ve seen, the school experience simply comes before or after one of these two paths has been established.
So if you’re making all the right moves professionally, you’re getting the right training and experiences and, in turn, refining your skills and becoming accomplished at your craft, what’s keeping you from that elusive and mysterious “next level”?
Newsflash: Personality and character have a huge impact on how people view you –- whether they ever mention it or not –- and consequently will have a significant impact on your chances at success; especially meaningful success.
What do I mean by meaningful success? I’m of the opinion that meaningful success is one that only YOU, and you alone, can truly reconcile and appreciate. At some point in life, regardless of how many platinum records you record or produce, or how many sold out concert tours you mix or contribute to, or whatever your quest may involve, there will be a moment when you sit down on the couch, with no one else around and you begin to internally take stock of what you’ve actually accomplished, not only professionally but personally. You survey all the things that contributed to, or IS contributing to your successes and your failures.
From my experiences, it’s actually a virtue that is the centerpiece of meaningful success and that virtue is integrity. If you are one of those “fortunate” enough to succeed without this virtue, you may soon realize that you reached the highest of heights and in the end have it all feel very shallow and unfulfilling and may not amount to all that much when all the chips are counted. Don’t believe me? Check in with Tiger Woods or John Edwards right about now.
I love how my good friend and political pundit George Will describes the concept of “virtues” and how they are often confused with “values”. Forgive me George if I paraphrase here. “Values often change over time. It’s rare that we value the same things as adults that we valued as young boys and girls and certainly everyone’s values can, in some way, be unique. Values are fluid; evolving and changing. Virtues are timeless and unwavering. Virtues are not a red state or blue state issue.”
Word up G. Politicians waving the “values” banner could take a lesson or two from Mr. Will. Now back to that advice I referred to at the top of this blog post.
It was fatherly advice, but it was delivered in the context of sport, specifically a team sport; baseball. Coach Joe Buccheri had the character and the courage to share the truth with a young teenager lacking confidence in his own abilities and potential. Coach Joe Buccheri changed my life for the better that day and every day forward.
Coach Joe Buccheri recently passed away from an extremely rare disease and while I was startled and saddened by the news of Joe’s passing (exacerbated by the fact that I did not get to say thank you to him as an adult) it gave me a chance to reflect on just how powerful the message he delivered to me was and how deeply influential he — and the way he presented himself — was to me. Even to this day, some 40 years after the conversation, I have his voice rattling around in my noggin on what seems like a daily basis. And even though his message was delivered in the context of sport, it really had little to do with sport itself. It had everything to do with life and the way you live it.
His message to me went something like this; “Scovill, true greatness, regardless of what you choose to do in your life, will be forever fleeting, and in the end hollow and meaningless if it’s not built on a foundation of integrity. It takes great courage to live a life of integrity. Integrity comes with a steep price tag and the only acceptable currency with which to pay for it is accountability. In your life you’ll be given the opportunity to make a payment every morning when you look in the mirror and take an honest assessment of yourself and your actions.”
Whew! That’s heady stuff to lay on a 13 year old. But…what Joe was trying to get through to my thick 13 year old noggin, was that all respect and status and position and results i.e. “success”, ultimately has to be earned, not given. He had the power to put me in the team’s line up that day, but was smart enough to know that it was far more important in the long run, for both the team and for my missing self esteem and confidence, to earn my way in. By doing so he took away any sense of entitlement. A mindset that is sorely missing in today’s society, let alone the music and production business we all live and work in. Without the opportunity to absorb that little pearl of wisdom, my career and life efforts would not have taken me anywhere near where I am today. So, thank you Coach Joe Buccheri, I’m forever in your debt.
Okay, yes, I know, this is all a little preachy and philosophical for an “audio-dudes” blog right? So, let me put it in a language we can all understand. (please forgive me, Joe)
I’ve been a part of the Crossfit physical fitness craze for about a year now and I totally love it! I think I know why too, because they regularly deliver Joe’s message but in a little more concise wrapper; “Accountability; it’s a mutha”. Amen.
I can’t even imagine how many other young men and women Coach Joe Buccheri positively impacted in his lifetime. Now that is meaningful success.