Today, I want to share how my experience with one client brought me countless opportunities and why if I had said no to mixing for less than my standard rate or for free on some songs I would probably still be scraping by trying to hunt more work.
In the Beginning
The story begins with my selfishness to pursue music as a career. I had a great career opportunity with my family’s air conditioning business right out of school. It would’ve easily paved the way for my wife and children for years and years to come. After a few years of being young and dumb, I left the company for good. I even left the state… A few times. This isn’t just any AC company, either. They’re based in Central FL and have been one of, if not THE top HVAC companies here for decades. I was always extremely proud of my family for their achievements, but deep down I was miserable and wanted what I wanted (again, selfish much?).
I’ve had a home studio setup since I was a teenager. First, it was a Tascam 4 track recorder (Ministudio Porta 02) then the larger 414 Mk II, before finally moving “in the box” with a demo version of Cakewalk that gave me 8 mono tracks. Overdub heaven, baby! Lol. Eventually, my youth pastor introduced me to Pro Tools and I had access to a Digi 001. I was HOOKED! I spent every waking hour writing and recording music. I even started my own “business” and K&K Studios was born.
I read the books. All of them. Business books, engineering books, pro tools books. You name it and I read it. I considered Full Sail (living in Orlando and all), but one of the admissions employees oddly suggested that I do the Pro Tools Certification instead and to invest any money I had thought about for school into gear and business training. I took that advice and one month later had my Pro Tools v6 expert certification. I was on my way! Or so I thought…
I went to shows, made deals with members of my church band, recorded my own bands, and made very little money. But that wasn’t the point (at least from the start). I wanted to be in music and I was driven to make that happen. What I didn’t expect was how long it would take to get the music I was recording to sound good (decent even). I beat my head against the wall wishing for an opportunity to get in the door at the right studio and work with the right engineer to put me on a better path. Not. Easy.
A Home in Indy
I eventually landed in Indianapolis, IN at Azmyth Recording Studios. I knew Pro Tools like the back of my hand, I had some decent vocal recording experience (or so I thought), and could make things sound decent using plugin presets and tweaking to taste (in fact, I still do this a lot. Lol). What I didn’t have was someone to show me the other 95% of the music making process.
Enter Ryan Adkins. Ryan owns Azmyth Recording Studios still to this day and has expanded the studio to feature the Azmyth School of Music Technology. He’s an incredibly talented producer, engineer, musician and if it weren’t for him I would probably still suck at making music. He’s just that good!
As for any intern/assistant relationship, there needs to be a serve the studio first mentality. I wanted so badly to learn how to record bands at Ryan’s level that I was willing to do whatever they needed. I cleaned, I helped with what I could offer on the business side of things, contributed my Pro Tools knowledge and basically slept at the studio (yes, really). I was in it to make it and nothing was going to stop me.
Around the time that I was beginning to work at Azmyth, Ryan landed a record for the very talented, Aimee Allen. What began as me hanging out being willing to make food runs, ended as me co-engineering, playing percussion, misc instruments (I have Papa John’s pizza box percussion credit on that album), and even some co-production and assistant mixing credits. Now, I was on my way (again… so I thought).
I won’t say that working on Aimee’s album didn’t benefit my young freelance business as I think it may have to a certain degree, but what I gained experience wise was invaluable. I knew that after the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making that record I could handle just about anything that any client could throw at me. (I still have nightmares from that season of life) Haha.
Craigslist ads, discounts, word of mouth… I tried everything to build up a client list to sustain my career in music. I did fairly well considering the location I was in and the lack of experience I had, but it wasn’t enough…
Moving back to Florida, I was beat. I never expected that it would take so long or be so hard to make money consistently in music.
Fast forward a bit and I land at Starke Lake Studios in Ocoee, FL. (Suburb of Orlando). Harry Gettings (the studio manager and the owner’s son) welcomes me with open arms and I begin engineering sessions for both their clients and my own. If you haven’t seen this place, check this out: Starke Lake Studios
This relationship was built on my past credits from Aimee Allen and a few other projects. I gave Harry a CD (yep, those were a thing back then) and he seemed to genuinely love my work. I couldn’t be more thankful because working at Starke helped me to not only build up my clientele, it also gave me a ridiculously gorgeous studio to market myself with.
Rock, Pop, Gospel, Jazz, Acapella… You name it and I recorded it! Session booked last minute for 2 am start time? I was there!
Obsessed with Learning
Around this time I began to really get into watching YouTube videos and obsess over becoming the best I could be. I followed my now friend, Graham Cochrane from The Recording Revolution, Dave Pensado, Pro Tools Expert and others tirelessly. Anything and everything I could get my hands on to be better. Like many of you, I was hungry for more. I heard the sounds in my head, but what was coming from the speakers just wasn’t cutting it.
To this point, there wasn’t any one magical thing that had happened to push me over the top. It was a TON of small victories that ultimately gained me the knowledge, experience, and taste in music to take on clients and deliver results that they were willing to pay for, but I was still waiting for the big one. Well, it came in the form of a Facebook ad campaign that could’ve easily been considered spam. (Sorry, but I don’t regret it. Lol)
I read somewhere that you had to go where the bands and artist were. That was great advice, but I was married with kids and going out to shows just wasn’t going to cut it at home if I wanted to stay married. So I hit the internet. I went to several of the top websites for bands and artists to publish and promote their work and I hired an online assistant to make a list of the bands who were in x, y, z genres with horrible to decent sounding audio samples on their pages. We messaged them offering a first-time client discount along with a sample reel of my latest recordings and mixes.
Most of the messages were ignored, but I also gained a TON of new clients from this technique as well. One of whom was Pablo Villatoro. I was a fan of his work with his former group, Group 1 Crew so to receive a message back from him was pretty legit. A definite step in the right direction!
Pablo booked a vocal recording session and insisted that we record at my townhouse. He’d been around long enough to know that while gear is amazing, he knew the talent behind the gear was more important. I was humbled and stressed. You see, I almost turned down the gig because I felt like he really needed to go to a “proper studio”. I kept telling myself that his talent deserved someone and someplace better, but he was super chill and insisted that we could make it happen both on a budget and in my home.
I ordered a Universal Audio Apollo through one of the payment plan websites and borrowed a mic from my church. We cut an entire album in my place that even included the lovely Blanca from (Group 1 Crew and Word Records) on vocals (she killed it). I worked my tail off on that record to make sure I recorded everything to the best of my abilities. I mentioned a few times throughout the process that I was a “mixing engineer” as well, but I’d never mixed something quite on the level that this had the potential of being. Low and behold, we got to the end of the recording process and Pablo said, “How soon could you have this mixed?” (I’m paraphrasing). The inner kid and aspiring music maker in me exploded with joy and I took it on head first. I’d become great friends with Pablo’s producer, Victor Encarnacion and with he and Pablo’s help we rocked those mixes. A total team win that I couldn’t be more thankful for.
What’s the point?
Now to the point of this post. Pablo being the amazing and genuine friend that he is started telling everyone about me. I landed gig after gig because of his recommendation. The biggest one to date being Latin Hip Hop artist, Redimi2. I’ve mixed Redimi2’s last two albums which have collectively seen over 100 million views/plays on YouTube. If I would’ve turned Pablo down because of budget or location, I would have never met Redimi2 or the many other talented artists that followed. Nuts, right? Even more impressive is that Redimi2 doesn’t speak much English. In fact, we use Google Translate to communicate about mix revisions. How’s that for the trust he had in Pablo’s recommendation? #thankful
So what’s the moral of the story? How can you take something from this and apply it to your own music making ambitions?
Don’t stop. Keep fighting. You never know which artist or band could be the one to push you over the top and grow your business. It won’t happen overnight, and it may not happen from just one project. But it can happen. I’m living proof. And I want the same for you.
I’d love to hear about your journey! Please feel free to share with the community in the comments below.
Want to get your hands on some free multitracks by Pablo? Click here to download “Vintage” and mix it for yourself!
Interested in seeing how I mixed Redimi2’s single, “Espíritu Santo”? Click here to learn about Inside the Mix with Redimi2!