TONES OF TRUTH: Recording Connection mentor
David Hughes on taking opportunities, the importance of networking and authenticity
As a music industry veteran, who has worked with the likes of Mars Volta and emerging artist Rich Eagle, Recording Connection mentor David Hughes understands the importance of industry relationships. That’s why he promotes a once-a-month networking event at his studio, Shine on Studio in Oakland, California, giving his students and clients the chance to mix and mingle with other Bay Area audio engineers and music producers. Over the years, David has also built a reputation for excellence that draws in artists from all corners of the globe. In a recent conversation with RRFC, David reflected on the importance of authenticity, being a lifelong student and taking opportunities when they come, among other things. Some of the most helpful bits of advice have been mined from that conversation below. Enjoy!
* * * * *THOUGHTS ON BEING AUTHENTIC IN AND OUT OF THE STUDIO, HIS OWN PROFESSIONAL APPROACH: “I’ve been around a lot of great people in my life, a lot of relatives who were very straightforward and authentic, and I think that has shaped my attitude. I’m very honest with my clients at the studio. If I don’t like something or I think they’re spending time on something that isn’t beneficial to what their vision or goal is for their career or music, I urge them to move on. I’m not in the business to sit back and collect a paycheck from them. I want them to be happy. My ultimate goal is to have my clients walk out the door of the studio with a smile on their face. I want clients to tell other people about me, and I want to tell the world about the music we are producing at the studio. So that goes two ways. I need to make sure that my production is top notch, that my gear is in good shape, and it’s providing a high quality sound for everyone. I don’t see any reason to put on a persona that isn’t me, because eventually everyone falls back into who they really are. So if it’s an act that you’re putting on, how long can you keep up the act? Can you be sincere with what you’re doing?… You’ve got to expect some people will not like you or what you’re doing. You’re not going to get 100% positive response. Nobody does. So shooting for that will wear you out really fast. What you need to focus on is going where you get good response. If you go to a certain area and do a show, and your music is respected and well received, then that’s great. If you go somewhere else and it’s not, then now you know where to be.” ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A PROFESSIONAL: “You’re not a professional until somebody pays you to do what you do. Up until that point you’re an amateur. Once people start paying you for your skill and your trade, that’s what makes you a professional, then you can label yourself as a professional in that area. I didn’t start out labeling myself as a composer, producer, and engineer. Literally I just labeled myself as a business owner [which] I was; I owned a recording studio. My background in all three of those areas really didn’t come from my college education. It came from my experience working with musicians and working with other producers, composers, and engineers over the years…So, taking opportunities when they were available to me, I think, was probably the most crucial point. Putting in long, long hours, especially hours that I didn’t want to put in, when I wanted to make plans with my girlfriend, friends, or family was the most difficult self-discipline that I’ve had to endure. You really have to sacrifice some of your free time to be respected in the industry. You’ve got to be the guy they can count on when they need you to get things done.” HIS APPROACH TO HELPING STUDENTS PLAY TO THEIR STRENGTHS: “The students I mentor at the studio are all extremely talented and gifted in many different ways. I’m seeing them mature and develop to a point where I help them focus on their strengths. I’m trying to push them in those directions, ‘That’s what you should be doing; that’s your strength.’ Some students are good at composing. Some are good at mixing. Others are actually just good at networking. So, not everybody is cut out to sit behind the board and push buttons. A few of the students are really good at socializing and making a personal connection to people. They know how to go out and get people energized and excited about music and concerts. So I try to encourage them to focus on being out at shows and network as they go to events. The students that are good at composing and making a lot of music, put it up on the internet and see if they get a response and can license it. It’s never going to be cut and dry what you should do. It’s good to try a few different things to see where your strengths rise up.” ABOUT THE MONTHLY NETWORKING EVENT HE PROMOTES, AND WHY HE DOES IT: “We try to promote an audio engineer meeting once a month. That’s a big thing, to have something available for the students that are trying to come up in the industry. You can’t really succeed in this industry on your own. You do need to rely a little bit on other engineers to help you develop in the industry. In some situations they might be your competitors, but I don’t really think of them that way because everybody has their strengths and weaknesses in audio production. I have made it possible for some of the students to come and join us at these meetings and network with other engineers or music professionals in the area. This is a big door that has opened for them and I think that they are definitely taking advantage of the opportunity.” ON KEEPING IN TOUCH WITH HIS STUDENTS, AND SOME OF THEIR SUCCESSES: “I opened my doors to the Recording Connection students and have had quite a few students over the years. Bobby Breezier now has his own record label in Portland called Native Soul Recordings. Another one of my students, Andrew Tintle, just opened his own guitar school up in Sacramento. Now he’s teaching people how to play the guitar, and at the same time he knows how to record them. This way, he can record samples for them to play along with or he makes MIDI drum loops to give somebody to play along with while they try to learn guitar pieces. I’ve made deep meaningful bonds with all of my students, which is great. I mean, I was even invited to Andrew’s wedding, which is a honor all unto itself. It’s good to see that what I’m doing and what I’m teaching the students has a positive impact on their lives – their social lives, their personal lives, and their professional lives.” ON THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING A LIFELONG STUDENT IN THIS BUSINESS: “It’s never-ending. I tell all the students, I’m in the studio every day, I’ve been in the studio every day for the last 17 years. So, I’m always experimenting, always learning. I still read books about audio production, I’m still figuring out what it is I can do to be the best I can be. When the client walks through the door, I want to be confident in my work and say, ‘Yeah, we can do that, we can make that happen.’” FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE: “Take advantage of every opportunity that is provided to you. I can’t stress that enough. Making the most of every opportunity was the one thing that I think paid off for me…When the door opens, go through it. No matter how nervous or scared you are, you’ve got to try it. If you don’t do it, you’ll never know if you’re good at it. If you don’t take the opportunity, you’ll never know. So everything that comes through my door, every offer I get through the mail, even if I’m not going to these events or I’m not interested in them, I pass it on to the students and say, ‘If you think this is an opportunity for you, take it—go! Don’t expect somebody to hold your hand all the way through. You’ve got to take initiative, you’ve got to be independent, and you’ve got to be strong enough to stand on your own two feet.’”
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