Travis Ball Learns from Legend Ryan Hewitt
Making people pay attention to what you’re doing can be really difficult sometimes. It can feel like all of your creativity is just funneling into a void, like everything you’re doing is just a waste of time and there’s nothing you can do to get your heroes to give two damns about what you’re doing. That’s how Travis Ball felt from time to time. “I was having a hard time,” Travis said when asked about it. “It’s challenging, really is challenging to get involved with some of these people and get on their radar.”
Travis attended the Pensado Vintage King Gear Expo in Nashville last September and came across the Recording Connection booth. He was encouraged to apply for a chance to win a fully paid scholarship for Recording Connection’s new Learn from Legends program which gives accepted individuals private access to learn, one-on-one from recording-industry leaders at the top of their game. Weeks later, Travis received a call and was asked to write a letter explaining his career goals. From there he was contacted by our own Chief Operations Officer, Brian Kraft for a conversation after which, Brian instructed Travis to go and meet with Ryan Hewitt, the Grammy Award winning engineer, mixer, and music producer known for his work with Red Hot Chili Peppers, blink-182, Dixie Chicks, and Brandi Carlisle among others. Turns out, Travis was already familiar with many of the tracks Ryan had a hand in.
Back in middle school I was into blink-182. Their self-titled record was engineered by Ryan, I think he actually did two of their mixes on the record as well…When I found out when I was doing research online [that] he engineered and did a mix or so, I was like ‘You gotta be freaking kidding me?’ I listened to this record on repeat for all of my middle school and early high school time. And it was really, really funny. He mixed for Brandi Carlile, a lot of her stuff, and the same with Needtobreathe and those bands I really enjoyed. Really cool, and that got me really excited to work with him.”
Although Travis is still in the early phase of his apprenticeship with Ryan, he’s already utilizing much of what he’s learned in how he approaches his own mixes for clients. “I’m able to incorporate things that I have learned in the past couple days… [Ryan] does this process on drums. I decided to try a version of that. Not as in copying him, but ‘Ok, I can do this. I wonder if this idea would work for this song in this way?’ I’m picking up these little things that you can have in your back pocket that you can pull out when you are working on your own projects.” One of those most recent projects took Travis on the road to Israel with the band Mae where they were showcased in Forbes 30 Under 30 EMEA Summit which calls for co-existence and reconciliation during these troubled times.
Travis’s work with Ryan enables him to have a front row seat and witness how a seasoned pro works with musicians in a proactive and sensitive manner. This experience is informing the way the twenty-something apprentice works with artists. Travis writes eloquently on his blog. Speaking of a day-long, recorded pre-production session with Ryan he says:
What happens next is where things get a little interesting and really hits back to client relations and understanding/reading your client. When Ryan was ready to bring his notes to the attention of the band he would do so in the least non-confrontational way. I asked him in detail about the best way to go about doing this later that day on a break. He told me that the dynamics of bands and their songs can be very delicate and you have to be very aware how you present your ideas as the producer. He told me that he likes to use terms such as “feel,” “think,” “opinion,” and “try this” which can be interpreted by the band that the producers ideas are not superior or final in any way, but instead as things to experiment with to uncover the best version of each song. It was always an open discussion that was never in anyway demanding or absolute. All ideas from either Ryan or one of the band members were explored equally in an unbiased manner. Also I found out that a different member of the band wrote each song, so Ryan would direct his questions/notes about the song to the most prominent songwriter first to get their feedback.
Meanwhile, the flexible schedule afforded by the Recording Connection program is enabling Travis to take his newfound insights and apply them directly to his own work including a recent recording session with Tim Fain (for a super-secret project) and on-tour to Israel, mixing FOH for Mae. As an already experienced, working professional who was looking to further his skills and connections, Travis Ball is a believer in the Legends program. He says, “There is so much value in the Learn from Legends program—what it’s doing, bringing it to that next level and learning from someone that does this every day.”
Travis’s dedication to growth and keen commitment to his craft are two factors that led to him being awarded the first-ever Learn from Legends Scholarship. We’re glad to see he’s making the most of it, infusing today’s music with the insight he’s gaining week-by-week.