My last post was about music and audio in education and right at the end I slipped in the word ‘Mentor’.
It was almost an afterthought, almost an aside, but that one word that flew from my fingertips was probably the most important factor in that previous post. So much so, that it has played on my mind somewhat to the extent where I feel it needs its own short blog post.
Mentoring was, and despite it being a dying practise along with apprenticeships, still is probably the most important and sure way of getting a firm foothold and understanding in the audio recording, producing, mixing and engineering world. It is easily the best way to learn as you’ll be allowed to make mistakes and being allowed to make mistakes is very important. Not mistakes that will ruin an artists record but mistakes that will be overseen and corrected under the guidance of your mentor before the project goes out. A good mentor will not let you loose on paying work too early, ruining the work and your own reputation before your career has begun, but similarly they won’t let you leave it too late. They’ll know when you’re ready even if you don’t and they’ll push you out into the cold harsh world of responsibility when they know you’re ready for it and not a second sooner.
It can be daunting to mix a project that will be permanent and forever once it is released. Both your and the artists reputation are on the line with every track you mix and your mentor will instil in you that this is peoples work and peoples lives. You have to know what you’re doing and making mistakes, as long as it’s mistakes that don’t fuck over the end product, is normal provided you learn from and own up to your mistakes. If you constantly make the same mistakes, you’ll be gone.
You want a social life? Don’t get into music. Be in the studio or at home learning your craft or studying your craft. Hierarchy is something that seems to be missing in the traditional sense, and in this case (if you can find it) old school mentoring is still the best way to learn. Your mentor will be harsh but forgiving. A lot of mentors see in you something of themselves when they were starting out and this is why they’ll take you under their wing, teach you and allow you to make the mistakes that all people make as they are learning. As, indeed, they did themselves.
In the world of rapidly diminishing ‘big studios’ where all the opportunities used to lay, we could ask ourselves: Does this still fit? Well, it did, so it still does.Why wouldn’t it? You may find someone in a studio environment to mentor you or you may find individuals that you build a certain trust with. They can also be mentors. The world changes. In a more open environment people will probably be less harsh with you as you can just walk away if things happen you don’t like, but there does need to be a certain harshness, and a great deal of discipline. This isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. In the end it is discipline in certain areas that will allow your mind to open in many many other areas. Perhaps this is the most important loss we face with the loss of mentoring. The far greater opportunity to be lazy, or, perhaps worse, to be industrious but get into bad sonic habits and to repeat our mistakes over an over again. A treadmill to mediocre work.
Learning mixing will not make you a mixer. The systems you move into and your work will make you a mixer. A good mentor will help you get there quicker, passing on techniques that you will employ and apply in different ways. You’ll go on to take these techniques to the next level, adding your own spin and using them in different situations. A mentor is the best influence you’ll ever have and they do still exist. They will also learn from you. The old rules apply. Be willing to learn. Don’t be a prick about criticism. Learn your craft. Work hard.
Mentors. Find one and never look back.