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Learn from Legends scholarship winner Travis Ball apprentices with Grammy-winner Ryan HewittBy most standards, Travis Ball was already an up-and-comer in the Nashville music industry scene when he discovered the Recording Connection. Originally hailing from Michigan to attend Belmont University in Nashville, after a couple of years he’d begun working on his career as an engineer working with a few clients and producers, and even managed to score a front-of-house engineer gig with the band Mae for their 10th Anniversary Tour of the landmark Everglow album. But Travis was still struggling, especially when it came to industry connections and relationships. He knew he needed some sort of apprenticeship to help him elevate his game. “I was having a hard time,” he admits. “It’s challenging, really is challenging to get involved with some of these people and get on their radar.”
Things began to change for Travis when he attended the Pensado’s Place Vintage King Expo in Nashville last summer, and ran across the Recording Connection booth there. He was encouraged to register for a brand-new new opportunity, the Learn from Legends scholarship program, which would pay the tuition for a student to apprentice one-on-one with an established industry pro. To his surprise, a couple of months later, Travis got a call from a Recording Connection admissions counselor asking him to submit a Letter of Intent regarding the scholarship and his career goals, which he agreed to do. Not long after, he had another phone call with our own COO, Brian Kraft, followed by an in-person interview with Grammy-winning engineer Ryan Hewitt (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Brandi Carlile). “He was giving me a feel out, you know,” says Travis, “asking me a few things and judging me on what I could do and how it would be in the studio with his clients.” In the end, Ryan agreed to take him on and Travis was awarded the Learn from Legends Scholarship to study with him. Travis recalls the moment at which it dawned on him the opportunity that had come to him: “Back in middle school I was into blink-182,” he says. “Their self-titled record was engineered by Ryan, I think he actually did two of their mixes on the record as well…When I found out when I was doing research online [that] he engineered and did a mix or so, I was like ‘You gotta be freaking kidding me?’ I listened to this record on repeat for all of my middle school and early high school time. And it was really, really funny. He mixed for Brandi Carlile, a lot of her stuff, and the same with Needtobreathe and those bands I really enjoyed. Really cool, and made me really excited to work with him.” Along with what he’s learning in sessions with Ryan, Travis says he’s gaining a lot just by watching him work in the studio, even in how he interacts with clients. “When Ryan was making suggestions to the artists about, ‘Hey let’s try this,’ he actually asked ‘Hey how does this make you feel?’” says Travis. “It’s never like…here’s my idea and we are just going to do it…It’s always being aware of how the situation of the room is reacting to certain things and reading the room. “Just yesterday we were starting to record a band,” Travis continues, “so we actually spent a rehearsal day here in Nashville, going through pre-production. The band played out the songs and looking at song form and arrangements, looking at key and tempo, making sure that the songs were the best ones before we actually hit the studio and begin recording. Actually, we were recording the entire rehearsal piece, so he is always in record, Ryan says he is ‘always in record.’ That’s kind of what’s been going on. Learn and watch and go through all these different things and areas. Pick up [on] how you interact with people and work through situations, suggest things. There are all these different subtleties of doing this well. It’s been great to be a part of that.” While Travis is still in the early stages of his apprenticeship, he says he can already see a difference in how he approaches his own clients and their mixes. “I am able to incorporate things that I have learned in the past couple days,” says Travis. “For example, [Ryan] does some process on drums, where I decided to try a version of that. Not as in copying him, but ‘Ok, I can do this. I wonder if this idea would work for this song in this way?’ Picking up these little things that you can have in your back pocket that you can pull out when you are working on your own projects.” Now having a bit more in the way of professional studio experience, Travis offers advice for other Recording Connection apprentices: “Always pay attention to what is going on,” he says, “even the most subtle things, whether it’s about actually making music or not. It’s all important. These people, they are their business, Ryan is his own business. What he does between his clients and his client’s music is important, and he has been very meticulous how he does everything he does. Everything he does is for a reason. The biggest thing is to take notes. Write down what is going on, what impacts you, and questions. Most times I don’t ask Ryan what I am thinking right away, he is in a mix and I don’t to disturb him in a way that can get him to lose his focus. Write down questions, take notes, and keep your eyes open, because it’s all important and all relevant.” Even for someone with Ryan’s prior experience in audio, he says there’s no real comparison between what he learned in class and what he’s learning on-the-job. “A studio classroom can have several students,” he says, “…but it’s mostly taught by a professor who knows audio…It’s not necessarily professional. I think it’s okay, but there is so much value in the Learn from Legends program—what it’s doing, bringing it to that next level and learning from someone that does this every day.” Watch Pensado’s Place interview with Travis and mentor Ryan Hewitt in our Media section below!
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