I know quite a few of you graduating folk — and as you finish music or engineering school, you probably have a few ideas about what's going to happen in your career. Most likely, however, you don't really know.
I can dig it. As I pondered your predicament, I was reminded of all the things I thought about the business when I was 18, heading for my first studio gig. I'll tell you, I was wrong about so much stuff. But I was right about some things, too. The problem is, you go through those first few years thinking everything you think is right. So it's tough to tell when you're the one who's out to lunch, or when it's really your boss or your coworker who's a tool and just doesn't get it.
So I wondered, “If I knew then what I know now, what would I tell myself?” Here's my list to myself at age 18 of the things I wish I could tell myself then, now:
Overall, things are going to work out fine for you. Really — you're going to have a great career. However, if you could keep the following things in mind this time around, it should make our life a lot easier.
- Don't take stuff personally in the music business. It's hard not to, but don't do it. You will have outcomes to situations that are not what you were expecting. Don't sweat it; things all happen for a reason. If you handle all those situations with grace, it will come back good for you. I promise.
- Work as hard as you want to, but don't let it get to you when others don't want to work so hard. Take what you do seriously, but don't let others derail your focus. Find different help, or do it yourself — but don't let the lack of enthusiasm of others diminish yours.
- You can get anything you need to get done in a business meeting if you remove emotion from your argument.
- Do not be a jerk and try to be fun to be around. A reputation for being an ass gets around so much faster than a reputation for being a great guy. People like to tell stories about jerks. Stories about nice guys are boring. But nice guys work more.
- Never forget how hard it is to be on the other side of the glass, looking at someone behind a console making judgments about your work. It can be either the best experience in the world or the worst. Do all in your power to make it the former. This really matters.
- If you have a great experience with a vocalist in the studio, ask to have your picture taken with them. This goes for players, too. I wish I had a picture of myself with Jeff Porcaro right now. Work that out for me, okay?
- Become proficient at piano and guitar. Now.
- Learn Linux.
- Never, ever, ever, date the singer.
- Save money (this could be No. 1 — it's a toss-up).
Have fun — this is going to be a wonderful ride. Just don't worry too much!
Well, there you have it. I'm sure some of you will think that reading this was a waste of ten minutes. It certainly would have been for me; I didn't have it then. But on the off chance that there was something here you needed to read, then cheers. And, of course, congratulations and best wishes.
Nathaniel Kunkel (studiowithoutwalls.com) is a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning producer, engineer, and mixer who has worked with Sting, James Taylor, B.B. King, Insane Clown Posse, Lyle Lovett, I-Nine, and comedian Robin Williams.