Recording Connection mentor John Stephens at Studio 713 on teaching Mix Theory
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There’s perhaps no better way to teach anyone than to use their interests as a starting point. Such is the approach, Recording Connection mentor John Stephens of Studio 713 (Houston, Texas), takes to getting incoming apprentices really inspired to learn.
On starting with the Student’s Mixes
“We have this conversation with each student at the very introduction to the program. I make sure I am understanding of the student’s specific goals. Let’s say they want to focus on electronic music production, and really taking their mixes to the next level. The thing that’s going to take those mixes to the next level, in a lot of cases, is just understanding basic mix theory. Those rules apply to all genres across the board. There’s just a certain sensibility that really adapts to different genres. I think if a student and we are working on electronic music production, we will start out working on those mixes, like their mixes specifically. We will go through the mixes together and churn out a result until they’re like, “Man this mix sounds amazing. It’s what I’ve always had in my head.’ Then we review and say like ‘What did we do here?’”
“Once that lightbulb goes off,” Stephens continues, “and they understand the way that all these frequencies relate, how to get the most out of the kick drum, how to get the most out sub bass, how to get the most out of your high-end…they’re like, ‘Okay, I could do this actually with this other track I’m working on for a friend that does hip-hop.’… Once that thing clicks in their head and it all makes sense [that] those things don’t just apply to their specific interests. They apply to everything.”
John Stephens takes this approach for a reason. He believes that starting with that aspiring audio engineer or producer’s own music motivates them to really dig-in and learn the skills they need to then be able to work on a wide array of different kinds of music.
On The Power of Universal Mix Theory
Providing apprentices with a firm grasp of universal mix theory enables them to work across genres, something Stephens believes is important for any new producer who wants to make it in the music industry. “To be a producer of music, I think you have to have a really wide range of appreciation for different kinds of music, so that if a project walks through the door and it’s country, you know what you’re doing and you understand the language well enough to where, if you’re describing this record that he’s into, you know what parts of that record that you can bring into his sound”
For Stephens, as a mentor to tomorrow’s pros he’s focused not only on building chops, but helping apprentices build the awareness and communication skills they need to conduct themselves in the industry. Graduates should have “the sensibility to be able to talk to a client and to communicate effectively enough to know what they’re looking for, and to be able to contribute something and really add something to the project.”
On Direct, Personalized, Hands-On Training
Such a hands-on and personalized approach to training is very important to Stephens who, himself, was disappointed by the quality of education he received when he was studying audio as a student in a traditional classroom environment. “ I was always the most advanced kid in my class,” and “As you can imagine, the teacher is not going to keep my pace and then leave behind the slowest kids in the class. The attention was paid to the students who weren’t mastering the information yet…It was frustrating for me, because I plateaued really early on, and still had a year left to go. I had to ask very direct questions to get something out of that day’s class, and I’m spending x amount of dollars to be there.
“The one-on-one approach just allows us to focus on very specific goals for the students. They have an end result, and we want to get them there. There’s no distraction in terms of someone being a lot less prepared than them, or someone being a lot further along. Kind of their pace. We spend a good amount of time with these students to where, at the end, they’re getting closer to that result.”
On the Ultimate Goal
“We are trying to provide them with an opportunity and a skillset that’s going to enable them to follow their dreams. As silly as that might sound, that’s really what we’re trying to do.”