Jumping Darkness Parade with Eyal Levi: Should You Go to Recording School?
The other day my good friend Sergeant D. forwarded me a few questions he got asked via his amazing tumblr. Being that I get asked this all the time already, I decided to give my two cents on the topic. This is based on my experience. Don’t forget, there’s no right or wrong answers to these questions. Just constructive and deconstructive choices.
“Hey d, are student lones a good idea? Recently got a pretty big bursary to go to audio engineering school, but it dosent cover the full tuition. Should i just tale time off to save up the money or bite the bullet and be in some debt?”
“So about audio engineering, i am kind of interested in that (i have no idea what i want to do in life, just goin to the univ for funzies). What would you recommend doing, A) go to school for it, B) just keep getting hands on experience in various projects, C) both, or D) wait for eyal to post something new in MS(i dont think he checks his previous posts in anticipation of new comments/questions) and ask him there? I dont care if i have to record JBs next album as long as i do somethin and get $$ “
“Yes, I know her voice is annoying and the soundtrack is bunk.”
MUSIC SCHOOL = WISHFUL THINKING (PT 1)
I’m a dropout. Every single attempt I’ve made at a college career has failed due to my inability to care. And don’t think I haven’t tried and tried again. First attempt was Berklee in 1999. Sure, I met some awesome people, but all I wanted to learn about was how to write killer music, get signed, and start a studio. My level of focus on those topics was like a vulture on roadkill. It’s important to note that being that wrapped up with your own stuff is completely incompatible with the culture and curriculum of ANY school. After much frustration, I dropped out to form Dååth and start my first recording studio, which required moving back to Atlanta.
In Atlanta I started my first studio, called Hairy Breakfast. It was in my parent’s basement and it kinda sucked, but within three years that little dump was paying my rent downtown. This was due to crazy hustles I would run via the studio. My first promotion was, “Record three songs for free. $100 a tune after that. No limits.” I was working well below minimum wage, but I also made a lot of records very quickly. I learned how to deal with clients and deliver to their expectations. This led to repeat customers and raised rates. Again, it took a few years, but by just hustling and eating some shit I was able to make ends meet via recording.
MUSIC SCHOOL = WISHFUL THINKING (PT 2)
While in Atlanta, Dååth was starting to look like it may eventually become a thing. The Times of No Hope were fading. I got a wild hair up my ass to go back to music school. It seemed like upping the ante and experiencing some competition would be a good way to re-invigorate my playing. I enrolled in AIM and had a wonderful time with people who had just started playing guitar six months prior. The school was good, just not a match for me, and besides, my studio was booked a lot and we (Dååth) were about to finish the album that would change our lives forever.
Guess what happened next?
I dropped out to focus on my band and my studio.
The reasons I went to school were:
a) to know what to do in the studio, and
b) be good enough at guitar that a band would want me.
Well, I had both of these going for me. There was no more need for school. Some people gave me shit about not finishing what I started. I just had to remind them that all I was doing was eliminating distractions so that I COULD finish what I had started. And besides, I had a contract from Roadrunner Records to sign. I couldn’t focus on school anymore.
A FEW YEARS LATER
Fast forward to 2010. Dååth has toured the world many times over. Released a few albums. Done the do, etc. But it was starting to fall apart. Jason Suecof made me an offer to partner with him at Audiohammer Studios as a co-owner as well as his engineer. I took that offer and nearly shit myself because I knew that once again my life was going to change forever.
It should be noted that this offer didn’t just come out of nowhere. I worked my ass off and got the job offer of a lifetime as a result. Various musical projects of mine, including Dååth, recorded there. But our involvement didn’t end at the boundaries of your typical producer/musician relationship. I also brought immeasurable value to Audiohammer. I referred clients to them. I hooked Jason up with an amazing manager. I would even fly down on a day’s notice to help out if I was needed.
I was present.
I was helpful.
And I was genuine.
It’s important to note that Jason has become one of my very best friends in the world. I would die for him. But regardless of our friendship, none of this would be possible without all the dues I’ve paid. No networking, no opportunity, no shortcuts. Had I just stayed in my parent’s basement in front of Digital Performer I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now.
So why the big intro? Why the Eyal history?
There’s some points I want to get across here.
FIRST: School had zero to do with me making a killer living off of recording metal. School had zero to do with my band getting signed and doing the do.
SECOND: I am just one example of many. YOUR FORMAL EDUCATION HAS NO BEARING WHATSOEVER ON IF YOU WILL BE SUCCESSFUL IN A CREATIVE FIELD.
Schools can not help you with the x factors which are:
- How good you are.
- How much you’re willing to sacrifice.
- How well you network.
- What kind of money is behind you.
- If people enjoy your company!
GET USED TO FLYING SOLO
The writing is on the wall. The old days of having a mentorship are pretty much gone. To make something of yourself in the world of recording you need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. Let me elaborate…
What you want is to get to a point where you can work with anyone you want and the work just comes to you. Sounds great right? Well it’s not so easy. You see, now every asshole with a laptop is a producer and they are taking your work. You need to be able to navigate a hostile environment and deduce how exactly HOW you will bring immeasurable value to your clients. Because THAT is what will keep them coming back. And THAT is how you develop a career in recording. It’s not based on degrees. It’s not based on test mixes you do for a lab. It’s based on people loving your work and working with you. So much so that they feel comfortable enough to part with their hard earned money again and again.
NO RULES, NO MAP, NO GUIDELINES
There’s no set rules on how to do this. No set rules on how to promote. The only thing I find that remains true is that you have to put yourself out there and be willing to be embarrassed. If you are afraid of hustling this gig is NOT for you. And I say that in all seriousness. People need to know you, know what you do, know of you, and be willing to hang out with you. If not, you are in the dark. So a HUGE part of making a living at this is networking. Without that network you don’t have jack shit. You are just you with your studio and nobody cares. However, if you build your network and take care of it, then eventually someone will care.
Your network is where your work will come from. And your work is your only claim to any kind of legitimacy in this field. So nurture your network.
Besides, it’s fun. You get to make some really cool friends. Some of the people I’ve met networking are people who I’ve become long term friends with. Networking is also one of the key things I point to when discussing anything that’s gone right in my life.
YOU CAN LEARN WITH OR WITHOUT SCHOOL
I hope this isn’t coming off as an anti music education rant because it’s most definitely not. I started music lessons at the age of three. And have continued in some form or another my whole life. To this day I am constantly seeking to sharpen the saw. Even lately, in the middle of an album that has me pulling 14 hour + sessions I will make myself learn new tricks for a few hours at night. I’ll fall asleep in my laptop with ProTools on an endless loop. I know my girlfriend doesn’t appreciate it but my clients certainly do.
You need to have the drive to always improve. And that’s not something you can get in school. You might go to school because of a drive to improve, but you won’t gain a drive to improve from school. You are born with it or you aren’t. If you aren’t obsessed with learning every new little thing you can about recording, or guitar, or music, then a career in these fields may not be for you.
And besides, the skill that you need more than anything is to learn how to handle and cater to the expectations of clients. Pleasing a CLIENT is very different than pleasing a professor. YOU are the professor’s client!
IT CAN’T HURT (or can it?)
Despite all the shit it seems like I’ve talked, I need to say, that if you have the financial means and nothing else going on, then maybe school is an option to consider. “financial means” assumes that you have rich parents that can pay outright. NOT that you will get yourself $100k in the hole to learn how a patchbay works. The annotated history of tube microphones is just not worth being in debt for the next two decades over. The debt from a student loan can literally cripple your chances of starting a studio when you do leave school. Consider the amount of gear you need to invest in. Plus a physical space. And factor in that you won’t be making profit for a while. The last thing you need is a student loan to pay off.
THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES IN LIFE
At the end of the day there is no way to predict if going to school is the solution to your problems. You can only figure it out by jumping into whatever your gut feels is the best path for your future. We live in a day and age where any semblance of stability and security are eroding quickly. It was once common knowledge that a college degree was the path to eventual success in life. This is no longer the case. I’d wager to say that the X Factors I mentioned above are a much bigger indicator of where you’re headed. Get those in line above anything else.
With everything I’ve said, maybe school is still for you. Maybe you just want to structured knowledge they will impart on you. Maybe. And in that case I say go for it.
However if you want the fast track to a career in recording, I would suggest maxing out some credit cards on gear purchases and get to fucking work!