I recently found this snap (on the left) of me playing my Yamaha SG guitar into my Tascam 244 Portastudio. The picture is taken in my attic bedroom at my parents’ home, circa 1983. In those days, my recording setup was not much more than a couple of guitars, my Tascam cassette 4-track, a pair of Realistic speakers, a Sony Hi-Fi amp and some effects.
30 years on, I have more than I could ever have imagined to record with and my journey has been an amazing one, having worked with some of the most talented people in the world and travelled to some amazing studios too. When I posted this youthful picture on my personal Facebook page, one person asked “Did you know at this age you would be helping 1000s of musicians around the world to get better in their production?” The simple answer is no, but what I wrote was, ”Not at all, I think it’s remembering what it felt like starting out that inspired me to run the blog. Never forget where you came from.”
So if it were possible for me to give the 16 year-old Russ advice, here is what I would say:
- The Gear Doesn’t Make You More or Less Talented
I begged my Dad to lend me around £1000 (in 1983) to buy the 244. I can honestly say some of my best and most rewarding times were with that 244, even now that I own an HDX-equipped studio. So, my first advice to Russ 16 would be this: your gift is not restricted or improved by the gear you own. Don’t lose sleep if you don’t have the best and certainly don’t go into debt or steal trying to own the stuff.
- You Will Buy Gear You Forget About
You know that piece of gear you dream of owning, well - the chase is often better than the owning. You will come to forget you owned stuff you are lusting after now. Even worse, you will waste money buying and re-selling gear in search of the Holy Grail … turns out, it doesn’t exist.
- Be The Best You Can Be
If you are smart, you are going to spend time learning — reading manuals and watching videos (we didn’t have video in 1983) showing you how to use the gear or cool tips and tricks. Not a single second will be wasted when you’re learning how to use stuff. If you are REALLY smart, then you will be the best you can be — most of my recording career happened because I read the manual and someone else didn’t. Inspiration and education go hand in hand.
- Invest In People
If you want to invest in anything, then make friends, be a good friend, and be reliable. Little did I know when I was starting out that many of the people who came into my life imparted to me things I still rely on today — I still count many of them friends. This is a tough business and there are going to be times when you are going to need the advice, support and talent of friends. Don’t use people for what they can do for you, but show generosity — it’s contagious.
- Hard Work Is Rewarded
I see a lot of people talk about how lucky some people are, whehter they’re talking about top artists, engineers or producers. Well, it’s not luck. I’ve yet to meet a successful artist, engineer or producer who hasn’t sacrificed a great deal to get what they are. Luck is an excuse often used by those who don’t want to put in the hours, as if there are stars guiding the successful on their journey and they themselves just got the wrong set of stars. If you take responsibility for your journey and work hard, you have more chance of being ‘lucky’, you have less chance if you keep blaming luck for your lack of progress.
There’s probably a lot more advice I would give 16 year-old Russ, some of it unprintable, but if you are starting out and young and have a dream, then here’s my advice to you, 30 years on I could have never imagined going from the boy on the left to the man on the right, work hard and NEVER give up!