If you are one of those people who think that those who have made it (whatever we mean by that?) as a producer, recording artist, studio owner, or product developer are there simply by luck, then it's your lucky day, I'm about to put your straight.
There are many reasons why people succeed or fail, and while you may hear stories of some chance meeting or know of those related to someone who can open doors, they are the exception and not the rule.
Perhaps I hang around with the wrong people, but of all the people I know who have made a success of their recording career or who have created a great product or service, I've never met more hard working and dedicated people.
I'm writing this article sat in a beautiful mix room surrounded by some of the best studio gear in the world, and it's 30 seconds walk from my main house. Do I think I'm lucky? Hell yes! But did luck get me this studio, did the stars align in a certain order just at the right time or did that rabbit's tail I have on my keychain eventually come good for me? Not at all. It took a lot of time and planning to build it, a lot of money to pay for it and a lot of years hard work to raise the money.
Some may use the word 'blessed' for being thankful for their life; this may be because of their faith, and I respect them for that point of view. But speak to a reasonable person of faith, and you will find they still acknowledge that hard work is an essential part of the equation.
What I'm talking about is the misuse of the term 'lucky' found all too often used online to dismiss the achievement of others as simply being in the right place at the right time. Denying the achievement of others as simply being lucky is crass and is based on ignorance of the work they did to get there.
Perhaps you have allowed yourself to think luck is all it takes? Or maybe you have done all you can to succeed but can't seem to get the breaks? Am I writing this to belittle that effort? Not at all, I want to say that in those moments of frustration, dismiss the luck theory and read on.
20 Years Of Luck
"It takes 20 years to become an overnight success" is a line attributed to the American comedian Eddie Cantor, but as they say, many a true word is spoken in jest.
I want to tell you a couple of stories, the first about my Dad and the second one about me.
My Dad has taught me so much over the years; he is now in his eighties and retired. He is a plain speaking man filled with business insights founded on common sense. He did not learn this stuff at Harvard or LSE but at the sharp edge of creating and growing his own successful business. When I was I kid, wherever we went, everyone knew my Dad, be that the barber, the butcher or the man who sold us the Sunday papers. Whenever we met someone, it wouldn't take long before they were asking my Dad for advice on something. To be honest as a kid it could be boring, here they were talking about solving a business issue, and all I wanted to do was go and pick up the bike I tricked my Dad into buying me (I'll save that story for another day).
On the other hand, I did always feel a sense of pride as a kid, and even more so as a man, of my Dad having a successful business and an excellent reputation. But it hadn't always been that way.
Things started to turn good for Dad when he was about 40, before that he had tried his hand at many things including landscape gardening, window cleaning and running a cafe. None of this stuff had been failures, but when he entered the world of insurance, he took to it like a duck to water and worked hard to capitalise on this natural talent.
But rewind even further, and you find early years that some would think meant his life would never come to anything. I don't have permission to tell you the details, but trust me when I say he wasn't born to wealth and happiness. As soon as he could, he tried to find a way to make some money and pushed a wheelbarrow of old bits of wood around the streets to sell as firewood. The rest, as they say, is history and Dad worked hard at whatever job he found himself doing to make sure our family was secure.
He never said it explicitly, but what Dad taught us was never blame others for your situation - he had proved this by moving on from his difficult early years and through his tenacity and hard work built something he and all of family and friends are in immensely proud of. He showed us that you could come from nothing and make something of your life.
When No One Replies To Your Emails
The second story is about me and this blog.
The Pro Tools Expert blog is nearly a decade old; I pinch myself when I think about that, it seems like only yesterday that I started the AIR Users Blog. Were you one of those early visitors who saw my embarrassing video tutorials? See the one below from the early days... I think we've improved. Also note the time on the clock on my Mac...
Now the Pro Tools Expert blog and the other Expert websites enjoy huge visitors numbers and have established themselves firmly in the landscape of the recording industry; We enjoy wonderful relationships with brands, artists, producers, engineers and fellow websites. It takes a dedicated team to create the content, take care of the stuff in the backroom to keep the show on the road. They are some of the best in the business, and I am proud to call them colleagues and friends.
But it wasn't always that way.
The blog was born in 2008 after I read in the DUC (Avid's forum for Pro Tools users) that some people needed help using the AIR Virtual Instruments that were starting to appear in Pro Tools. There were a lot of people saying that someone needed to do it, but as is often the case they weren't volunteering. At the same time, my wife was doing some post-graduate study in addition to her full-time job and told me that I needed to do something with my evenings and weekends for a year and stay out of her way.
So I offered to try and help those who were asking for it in the DUC. On paper I was perhaps the worst candidate, I didn't know how to build a website, how to make screencap videos. I knew no one from Digidesign and AIR virtual instruments, or anyone else working in the products side of the industry - my contact book was empty. I had no formal training as a journalist I had just about scraped a couple of exams when leaving school and didn't go on to any further education, I wasn't a publisher so didn't know any of the rules about running a publishing company. To be honest, this didn't matter as I wasn't starting a business to make money, I already had a job, I was just trying to help a few people.
I had no money to start this blog and to be frank I thought if half a dozen people were helped by the videos than I would have succeeded.
So to summarise I was a nobody with no money and few ideas of how to solve the problem. That sounds like the worst candidate for the job!
All I had was time and a problem to solve.
What I did have was 20 years experience in synth programming and production, even better I'd been around some very talented people who showed me some very cool tips and tricks in the studio. I knew Pro Tools well, having been using it for nearly a decade at that point.
I decided to start a blog for two reasons; first, it seemed to be a way I could build a website without having any coding skills. Secondly, I already had reservations about the forum model as I wanted to be able to share knowledge without all the white noise that often pervades forums.
So I started sharing stuff on a regular basis. I had no idea who would read it, if anyone, I just hoped someone would find it helpful.
Every night I came home from work went into my studio and started blogging, from about 7 pm until midnight. At weekends I would do around 10 hours work on the blog, I guess some weeks I would put about 40 hours a week into the blog, in my spare time!
I hoped people would be reading it so I tried emailing some of the popular magazines and websites as well as brands associated with Pro Tools hoping they would spread the word to some people who might find what I was doing useful. Not a single reply in the early days, I didn't blame them, after all, I was nobody in the world of Pro Tools and publishing. So I just put my head down and carried on.
Over the coming weeks and months, I noticed the visitor numbers starting to grow. My wife and I now laugh as we recall the night I made her sit up in bed with me to see the first time the site got 1000 hits in a day - someone was reading the blog.
As time went on unsolicited emails started to arrive, from fans, those needing help and then brands in the industry interested in what the blog was doing. However, I recall the day an email arrived from Digidesign asking to meet with me. It was from David Gould, now at Dolby, but then working at Digidesign UK. He wanted to meet with me to see how they could help support the blog and cooperate with me in providing information. Digidesign had noticed what I was doing, and I thought I had arrived. We met and discussed what I was trying to do with the blog, being honest, I didn't know, there had been no master plan for world domination only a desire to help a few people use the AIR plug-ins,
For the first few years, the blog was just me; I did it in my spare time and with my money. There was no real revenue stream, just a donation option; again the idea had never been to make a business of it.
However when you build something like this you remember some key events, like David Gould taking notice of what I was doing. I know who was the first person to donate, Beth; she is now a lifelong friend and like a sister to me. I know the brand who was the first to buy a banner, that was Time and Space. I know those who offered to help for free, people like Alan Zeleznikar, Anthony Mena and Eric Johnson - to whom I will always be grateful.
Fast forward to today, and the Expert sites are a tour-de-force in the audio technology publishing world. They are now run by teams around the world, who I passed them on to run. I was being approached by brands in the industry to help them, and so I now give my full-time commitment to my other company, although Mike lets me have a rant on here now and again. But I know the sites are in good hands and still run on the values I first created them with.
I tell this story for one reason. To encourage each of you and to say that anything worth doing takes a lot of hard work, often with little help and encouragement. You will get knocked back, you will think about giving up and doing something else, but it is worth persevering. I had no idea where my little old blog would end up, had you told me at the time I would have laughed in your face.
Is There Any Luck Involved?
"Fortune favours the prepared mind." said the chemist Dr Louis Pasteur. I would go one stage further than that and say that the luckiest people I have met also seem to be the most hardworking.
I think Sir Winston Churchill best summarises this;
“To each, there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”
So if you still believe in luck then it may be a good idea to work hard to prepare for the moment it taps you on the shoulder, how unlucky you would be to have not done so!