How to Choose a Mentor

Finding a mentor is an important choice. Here’s advice from Dan based on decades in the studio and the business.
September 10, 2023
Psc In Heaven

Back in the day when I was just discovering the magic of creating music, one thing was clear - the recording studio experience was something I couldn’t live without. The shimmer of a guitar that's just been re-strung, perfectly placed drum fills, or that exhilarating rush when you push the faders on the console: It’s what I live for. But here's a truth I've come to realize along the way: it's never just about the tools or the room. It's about that one person, watching, teaching, guiding: The mentor. These are the real rockstars, the unsung heroes in the shadows. Finding the right mentor can be pivotal to your professional growth. Here are five points to think about when seeking your guiding light.

1 - Understanding Your Needs:

As you begin your quest to find the right mentor it's easy to get tunnel vision, zeroing in on learning specific technique or gear. But mentorship's real value extends well beyond pushing buttons and faders. Look at the full range of skills and wisdom a mentor can show you. Beyond their technical expertise, the deeper lessons about the music industry's landscape, the nuances of working with others, and even personal evolution can be just as impactful, if not MORE impactful. Put your whole heart into the process, stay open to new ideas and experiences, and allow mentorship to shed light on both the intricacies of modern gear and the rhythm of the industry at large.

2 - Industry Experience & Relevance:

One often overlooked element, when seeking a mentor, is the advantage of finding someone whose path touches many corners of the industry. Why is this crucial? Because it grants you a multi-layered perspective of the entire music business.  I was fortunate to learn from someone who was a successful A&R transitioning into a producer role. As much as I wanted to learn about sound and gear, it turned into a more important lesson on navigating the balance between artistic creativity and the pressures of the industry. Look beyond the technical skills and find someone whose journey has traveled a broader landscape.

3 - Accessibility & Commitment:

Let's face it, the audio recording world is fast-paced and most industry vets who’d make great mentors are swamped. Most of these people don't have the time to fully commit to every detail of your needs. Real mentorship isn’t just about shadowing someone and hoping they spill their secrets during a chat in the control room. It's about being a sponge, soaking up wisdom from every possible scenario. I remember the times I ran pointless errands or was the unofficial coffee getter. Trust me, I learned a lot doing that seemingly trivial stuff. Being the guy who remembers how someone likes their coffee might just pave your way from errand runner to someone they trust with more significant audio responsibilities.

4 - Hands-On Opportunities:

One of the most invaluable benefits you can seek out is the chance to get hands-on. One of the first hands-on tasks I had at my internship was hitting record on the 2-track analog mixdown deck and then adding leader tape between the mixes. It might sound basic, but those tasks were pivotal. The engineer wasn't testing my technical knowhow but rather my reaction to responsibility and my general trustworthiness. You shouldn't expect to immediately plop down at the SSL in the control room. Those small tasks are the foundation of it all. Whether you're doing simple digital edits, taking care of basic hospitality requests, or learning session flow, these tasks might seem trivial but they're key to the big picture. Over time, your responsibilities will grow.

5 - Networking & Relationships:

“It’s all about who you know” isn’t just a saying. Networking might be just as essential as mastering the console. Building and investing in these relationships can be game-changers. I had the privilege of interning at the renowned Water Music facility in Hoboken, NJ. Every new producer and project that walked through the door was like a fresh mentorship opportunity, giving me the incredible chance to learn alongside industry giants.

But, decades later, the studio landscape has shifted. Those huge facilities which were a networking mecca have become a rarity. Now, more than ever, you need to actively reach out, make connections, attend industry gatherings, and engage in online communities. Remember, every relationship could be the gateway to your next learning experience or even a big break in your career.

Mastering audio recording isn't just about knobs and buttons; it's a journey filled with highs, lows, twists, and turns. Having the right mentor makes all the difference. Beyond teaching the technical side of things, a mentor can give you life lessons, insights into the industry, and introduce you to invaluable contacts. When looking for mentorship, be open and eager, but also keep your expectations realistic.

It's not just about the equipment - it's the experiences, stories, and connections that will truly shape your career.

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