How We Got Here

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I’ve been playing music for as long as I can remember. My mother graduated from the University of Iowa as a music major, and my father has been involved with playing music for the various churches we went to since I was a kid. When I was young, I was forced to sit down and practice piano for the equivalent amount of time I wanted to watch television; half an hour of piano meant half an hour of TV. Back then it was a chore, but I thank my lucky stars my mother was so adamant about teaching me. I’m less well-versed in piano now than I’d like to admit because my interests in other instruments pulled me in myriad directions. I took drum lessons for a while when I was younger, but realized lugging drums around was awful and that I didn’t want to be put in the back and told to play quieter all the time.

Somewhere between drums and my next instrumental endeavor, I began singing in an internationally-recognized boys choir (Kantorei) and there my love/hate for music hit a fever pitch. I went to numerous events with the choir, even traveling to New Zealand for a couple weeks in 2003. I say love/hate because the director of the choir was a hard-charging perfectionist dick. He could tell you the note a fan was whirring at, then tear it apart for being 15 cents flat. He took the same approach with the members of his choir. He was ruthless in his tactics, pointing out individual members who weren’t pulling their weight and making absolutely sure that everything was as perfect as it could possibly be when you’re directing a group of boys all eighteen and under. Upon reflection, I’m incredibly grateful that I had those experiences and was pushed as hard as I was. Being taught that your best can always be better and that there is always room for improvement might be lofty lessons for such small humans, but for those of us who listened and took it to heart, it changed our lives indelibly and certainly inspired us to keep growing and learning.

During my stint in boys choir I picked up a guitar for the first time and I haven’t put it down since. At this point, I’ve been inveterately playing guitar for well over a decade; it’s still my instrument of preference when it comes to banging out ideas or writing songs. Instead of focusing on being the most technically proficient guitarist on the planet, I decided to focus more on songwriting and other skills invaluable inside of a band (playing with others, working with others, etc) so don’t ever expect to walk into the studio and see me picking out 32nd note arpeggiated runs at 260 bpm.

I started playing in “real” bands in 2006. Some were good, most were very bad, but all had different lessons to impart. I’ve toured the better part of the continental U.S. and slept in some awful places full of some awful smells. I’ve found that many of those in my line of work that come from an older generation don’t really know what active bands deal with nowadays. Back then, when budgets for throwaway bands easily reached six figures, you didn’t have to crash in a Walmart parking lot every night for a month, debating whether or not to let the van run because you don’t know if you’ll have the gas money to get to the next show.

Over five years later, I have bands signed to Artery Recordings, Epitaph, and InVogue, with many others touring consistently with spectacular DIY results.

Being broke in a band forced me to learn how to make demos and “recordings” for my projects. Starting out, I recorded with a couple of crap MXL mics and a two channel interface into Audacity (the least functional DAW ever). After working with a talented producer by the name of Joel Wanasek, I realized what could be done with computer audio and I took the plunge. After working on my own projects for a while I started “recording” other bands in my area for little to no money. I’m sure some of those old tracks are still floating around and God help you if you ever hear them. I got ballsy at some point in 2011 and said “by the end of this year, I’m going to be recording full-time if it kills me.” I got that chance and began recording and producing for a local label and cut my teeth on a multitude of different artists, ranging from rock, post-rock, metalcore, death metal, indie, and lots in between.

Over five years later, I have bands signed to Artery Recordings, Epitaph, and InVogue, with many others touring consistently with spectacular DIY results. I’ve had bands hit the top ten in their genre on the radio, had bands on the Billboard charts, and witnessed other, immeasurable success from the artists I work with. To simply say I’m proud of their accomplishments would be an understatement.

Now, after honing my engineering craft, I’ve been able to truly immerse myself in the production and writing side of things, helping to polish albums that I hope will be respected in their genres long after their first-week sales spike. Instead of focusing solely on the minutiae of making a record, I’ve been able craft feelings and not just chord progressions; we get to send messages, not just ramble about something that made you feel sad one time when you pounded out lyrics in the notepad app on your phone. This has by far been the most challenging, and consequently, rewarding part of my career.

When you’ve been making and performing music as long as I have, it’s easy to get lost in the small shit. Whether it’s moving a microphone another half an inch, or pushing a vocalist just a little harder to hit that run she’s been struggling with, sometimes creating isn’t in the forefront of your mind when sitting behind the desk.

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Conversely, the beauty is in all these small parts. It’s in all these human beings coming together and proverbially beating their heads against a wall until art happens. It’s stepping back to see the broader picture after a 16 hour marathon session and realizing what you’ve been able to accomplish. It’s fiddling with six amps, sixteen pedals, and smiling when you’ve dialed in your tone “just right.” It’s in nailing that impossible fill you’ve been practicing for weeks, and bragging about it to everyone who will listen.

I’m of the mindset that to create is to play God (little or big g, whichever you prefer). That is to say – at its core, to be god is to create. In lieu of starting a full-blown discussion about the origins of the universe and civilization as we know it, I’ll put it this way: I believe wholeheartedly that the pinnacle of your humanity is creation. That making a thing, whether tangible or not, is the ultimate form of self actualization.

This is why I love what I do. This is why I run my studio, why I love working with new clients and old friends alike. I love helping others create, consummate, and show off their creations to the world. Whatever the content, it’s my life’s mission to take what you can hear in your head and turn it into something you can actually listen to.

Come hang out, and let’s make cool stuff together.

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