There are two things that up-and-coming producers and engineers could learn from Recording Connection
grad Chris Locke of Austin, TX. First: Success isn’t handed to you—you have to go and get it, any way you can. And second: If you find a niche, you’ll never lack for work.
These are important points to make, because someone meeting Chris for the first time without any context might get the impression that he has just gotten lucky. A prominent player in the Austin hip-hop scene, Chris has earned a reputation for his unique spin on hip-hop vocal production that has resulted in a nearly never-ending stream of clients.
“I work with pretty much 85% of the hip-hop community in Austin now,”
he says. “There are three engineers at the studio where I work…I work like 60 to 70 hours a week. Pretty much every day is like a ten-hour day for me, and I strictly work with hip-hop and rap and R&B. I stay completely booked with that and I don’t have to ever worry about trying to find business anymore, because it just comes to me.”
This is where the first point becomes so important: Chris didn’t just stumble upon a niche market in the Austin scene, or his niche sound within that market. It came through years of working, learning, paying his dues and even working for free.
An aspiring producer and rapper from a young age, Chris found his way into the Austin music scene through a combination of hard work, making connections and thinking creatively. He says most of his connections came, not by engineering itself, but by a back-door method.
“I got involved with photography and video after I started engineering, and I started going to shows,”
says Chris. “And every single show, I would stay there the whole time and take everybody’s picture. And when they would come and talk to me, I would pretty much tell them, ‘Hey, this is what I actually do,’ and I would show them my studio and get them more involved with that. So the camera became like a business card to me.”
As for the hard work…Chris worked at Pizza Hut as a delivery driver, earning enough money to pay for his education. He then enrolled in Recording Connection after the courses at Austin Community College had failed to hold his attention.
Chris apprenticed at 5th Street Studios
in Austin, where he was paired with mentor Nick Joswick
. Chris says it was a steep learning curve at first: “It was really hard. I mean, I didn’t know anything about the place, you know? [Nick] was trying to teach me about compression and I couldn’t even hear it.”
But the opportunity to learn hands-on sparked Chris’s work ethic, and he eventually caught on. “I learned so much more working with Nick then I did at ACC (Austin City College),”
he says. “The mentor helped me a lot because I was able to ask personal questions, but you still have to put all your own effort into it too.”
As his apprenticeship moved forward, Chris decided to jump in with both feet, saving enough money from his Pizza Hut earnings to quit his job and work at the studio for free. The studio responded in kind, throwing him into the thick of it. “The owner of the studio was like, ‘Start working here. Start handling all these people.’ And he gave me some rappers. And man, like the first two months of working at the studio, I had to work with three big names. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing yet.”
Who were the three big names? Rapper Lil’ Keke
(from California hip-hop group The Pack
); and a then-unknown duo called Icona Pop
, who rose to international fame not long after.
“That was when I first started,”
he says. “Now I work with Riff Raff and Gunplay, and a whole bunch of rap names in the last year have started coming to me. That’s a lot better for my image, because as soon I get a picture with one of those guys, everybody in town hits me up and I stay booked for a month!”
Now he’s earning his living in the industry he loves and he’s doing it all out of 5th Street Studios
, the very same place where he apprenticed! But now’s the time to expand, after more than three years of recording artists, Chris has plans of opening a studio of his own in the near future. “I would like to be an artist myself at some point,”
he adds. “Right now, I feel like this is just a stepping stone.”
But for now, he’s enjoying the fruits of his Recording Connection training and the strong work ethic that have brought him into the niche market he’s found in Austin.
We’re sure Chris Locke will use all those connections he’s built over the past few years to get that solo career right on track!