I love many things about my work, but the thing I appreciate most is that I'm fortunate to know some of the most successful people in music and film production. They are composers, songwriters, musicians, engineers, producers, mixers and mastering engineers. Many of them are award winners having won Grammys and Emmys as well as a host of other awards.
When people from outside the industry ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them a question I'm often asked is what are these people like? A question many within the industry want to know the answer to is what is the secret of their success, what kind of luck do you need to be successful in the recording industry? Having been around many of these people for years, I want to tell you the kind of luck you need to be successful in the recording industry.
Firstly, it's a common phrase used by many in the creative world that 'you can't polish a turd' some quick-witted people reply 'yes, but you can roll one in glitter.' The imagery is somewhat tasteless, but it does vividly demonstrate the point that it's hard if not impossible to take something terrible and make it great.
It's a universal truth that is the same for those in marketing and PR, software and hardware development; great ideas are the core of any success and despite how hard some people will try it's not hard to spot lipstick on a pig.
One could suggest that a great idea is simply a matter of luck, an inspiration that pops into one's head as they sleep; they are not. Great ideas are often 99 songs that came to nothing or were average and then on the 100th attempt the idea is a gem, and you know you have a hit.
Only yesterday I had an email exchange with someone I trust a great deal. I asked for their opinion on one of my' moments of genius.' This idea would require the efforts of some of the top names in film and music composition. I thought I had a winner - what could possibly be the downside to it? Twenty minutes later I got a reply, which while not unkind, truthfully took my idea apart on several levels. In mining terms, I thought I had a diamond, but it looks like it might be coal. It may be something that I need to keep working at, or I may need to admit defeat and move on. One thing is sure there are moments of genius, but on the whole, the people I know writing the hits work incredibly hard to find diamonds, this means a lot of digging and an equally long time polishing.
The critics panned the Greatest Showman and it was looking like it was heading for disaster with an early box office of $13.4m compared to a budget of over $84m, The Greatest Showman was going to make film history for all the wrong reasons. However, one thing the critics weren't banking on was the songs, which have been in large part the reason for powering the movie as an unstoppable juggernaut and in chart terms giving it the success that matches artists like the Beatles and Ed Sheeran.
You might be thinking that the team were just lucky to come up with the songs for the movie. I've been privileged to work with one of the people behind some of those songs Greg Wells when we worked on a project together at Abbey Road several years ago. Well's ability to spot a great idea and make it even better is down to a combination of insight, musicality and sheer hard work and the reason he's worked with some of the biggest names in the industry such as Katy Perry, Adele and of course as a contributor on The Greatest Showman.
Perhaps you are asking how someone gets good at spotting great ideas, the simple answer is they have to get through a lot of bad ones, sleepless night, fruitless writing days, and scrapbooks full of incomplete ideas. Great ideas are often 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, like finding diamonds you get tired and dirty digging through coal.
Secondly and without a doubt, the thing these people all have in common is talent.
Talent transcends taste, because for some the skill that it takes to make a great Big Band recording may not excite you at all, whereas the ability to cut a great death metal album is right up your street. Two very different genres require approaches that couldn't be farther apart, but a great deal of talent (or skill) is required to deliver world-class results. There will be some fundamental similarities displayed by let's say Steve Genewick at Capitol working on a Big Band track and Sky Van Hoff laying down drums and guitars for the latest Rammstein album, but in many ways, their work will differ significantly, however, what links them both is the enormous talent they both have for making great recordings.
That talent is honed over many years, and they didn't just get lucky by turning up at the right place at the right time, on the contrary, they often learnt their skill by working at the wrong place for a long time. Ask any of these people their story and they will tell you similar tales of school bands, then being broke for years as they worked as the tape op or ran a basement studio for local bands and then decades later they are an engineer at Abbey Road or working with Daryl Hall.
Which leads me to the quality I see in all those who have made successful careers in the recording industry... hard work. We often see an artist or producer and think they've suddenly come out of nowhere, but that's as silly as thinking a marathon runner just jumped out of bed that morning and then won the London Marathon. The skill and talent many of those we admire has been developed over many years getting their head down, shutting up and listening, working long days, nights and weekends and often for little or no pay.
You may recall at the start of this article the question many ask me outside of this industry about those who are famous, what they are often asking is 'are they dicks?' or 'do they deserve it?.' It's a trait that's particularly exhibited in my fellow Brits, and that is we can't stand to see people succeed and there 'must be a real story behind their success.' in other words can I dish the dirt? Of course, there are some self-serving, entitled, utterly undeserving people in the music industry, but that's the same in every walk of like be it banking, construction, teaching or even churches, but my reply to the question is always the same, the ones I know are decent people, they deserve all the success they have.
The kind of luck that links all those I'm privileged to know working in this industry is hard work, tenacity and endurance coupled with great ideas, bucketloads of talent and best of all they are really great people to be around.
To be honest, if you lack ideas, talent, hard work, endurance and are the kind of person no one wants to be around then it’s not luck you’ll need to be a success but a bloody miracle!
I leave the final word to the author James Clear who put it so well "'Until you've worked as hard as those you admire then don't explain away their success as luck."
That kind of luck doesn't come easily.