It was the start of 2011 and I was confused about where my life was going. In 2007 I had quit a boring office job at an insurance company (never work at an insurance company it will suck the soul out of you) right before the financial crisis of 2008 bankrupted the company turning my co-worker’s pensions into a big fat goose egg. Considering some of my co-workers who also became my friends were in their forties, had a mortgage and kids, I couldn’t imagine what they were going through but felt really bad for them. I, on the other hand, was only 23 and had essentially narrowly escaped death. I still lived with my parents so I had time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. But since my parents were immigrants they didn’t understand why someone would quit a cushy office job.
Left Work Playing Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” at Ignorant Levels
Since my parents were constantly questioning my decision making abilities, I just couldn’t sit around and chill all day. I had to to do something. So I got heavily into making websites as WordPress had just come out and made it dead simple to start your own site. My first site was a hip hop album reviews site which became semi-popular in its hey day since blog culture especially in hip hop was just taking off. It was pretty awesome until everyone started doing hip hop blogs and it basically turned into a bunch of youtube embeds without much commentary, which ultimately paved the way for sites like Worldstar to takeover.
To pay the bills I got pretty heavy into affiliate marketing, which in 2016, feels like saying, “I used to be a crack dealer”. I still kind of cringe when I reflect back on this part of my life. If you don’t know what affiliate marketing is, it’s basically you get paid to promote other people’s products and services online. So for example, it could be as complex as video game developers paying me a certain amount for installs of their mobile app or as simple as linking to a site that sells shoes and getting a percentage if the user makes a sale. To a young Andre this was a pretty cool way to earn a living and since I eventually went on to make more than I was at the insurance company I was happy for the most part but realized something was missing. You see I began to regret promoting other company’s products because most of these companies weren’t very good. There were all these shady health and beauty companies, which I’m glad I refused to work with even though I could have made a lot of money, because they were selling nonsense such as weight loss pills and anti-wrinkle creams as well as billing customers obscene amounts and basically just doing bad business (bonus tip: stay away from any beauty product that offers you a free 30 day trial).
I wanted to have control over the products I was pushing and not just market them and be done. I was tired of playing the short game, I wanted to build a long term relationship with my customers. I needed a product or a service I could sell where I controlled the entire user experience so I could make it amazing from beginning to end. The problem was I didn’t know what product or service to sell.
Enter My Fake Uncle
I was at a party talking to a family friend, whose basically like an uncle (you know how in certain cultures you call pretty much anyone whose of the same background as you but your parent’s age your uncle or aunty, yeah that’s my culture). We were discussing all these philosophic things about music since we’re both artists (from very different genres and ages) but found a lot of common ground in our approach and in our struggles. He asked me, “Andre can you mix and master?”. And I said, “Yes”. I’m not really sure why I said, “Yes”. It wasn’t like I had all this experience mixing and mastering other people’s music. I did in fact have an insane amount of experience mixing my own stuff since I started doing it when I was fifteen years old (Shout out to Cool Edit Pro) and was approaching thirty at the time.
I had also recently completed a mixtape and had chosen to work with a local audio engineer and after I saw what he did with my own songs, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow that’s all the stuff I’ve been doing already. It sort of demystified the whole mixing process at least to me (in retrospect mixing isn’t this easy to learn and it was more my ego that thought I could do it than any actual skill).
The issue was that this person didn’t know how to master music, he acted as if it was some voodoo science, which was kind of scary because this is a person that went to school for audio engineering! So being the do-it-yourselfer I am, I taught myself how to master because I needed to get my own songs mastered. And oh man this was a painful experience.
Learning how to master audio is one of the most frustrating learning experiences (up there with high school calculus) that I’ve ever been through. It’s a complete mind fuck because you have this idea of how something is supposed to sound in your head versus how it actually sounds in real life and those two worlds are at odds with each other which is only excerbated by the fact you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. And I’m saying this as someone that had been mixing his songs for at least fifteen years prior! I wont bore you with how I essentially figured out how to master because it really involved a lot of blood, sweat and tears, mostly tears, but I remember their came a point where I finally got it and this zen like calm came over me: I could finally match what I heard in my head with what was going on in real time.
Anyway back to my fake uncle. So he asks me to mix and master his songs and says he’ll even pay me for it. Now the thought of being an audio engineer and making money of this had never in my life crossed my mind. In fact, I’m pretty sure my fake uncle asked me a bunch of times over a year if I could mix and master his stuff but I just brushed him off everytime. I didn’t think audio engineers made money, since all my friends who went to school for it were not working in studios, they were working in fast food joints. And then my entire perspective on business changed when I read the Steve Jobs biography on my iPhone 4s (which was incedwntly the first smart phone I ever owned).
Steve Jobs Changed My Life
I wont go into it how that book changed my life because a lot of the principles Steve Jobs ran Apple by are all pretty much cliches in 2016 and may not even apply to Apple anymore (plus I don’t want to have a bunch of android fanboys storming the gates of my comment section). But basically Jobs showed me that a business doesn’t have to always sacrifice the customer experience for the company’s bottomline. You could actually do both by charging more but offering a better experience. Again, I’m not going to go into all the little gems I picked up from this book, and am probably doing a poor job of paraphrasing Jobs, but hopefully you get the idea that this book was a transformative experience for myself. In short, it completely reconciled my need as an artist to delight the audience with my need as a human to support myself.
The main thing was I became hungry, very hungry. I wanted to provide an amazing customer experience for something. The only problem, like I said, was I didn’t have a product or service to offer. I wanted to take all these amazing insights I had learned from Jobs and apply them to my own business.
One day my fake uncle hit me up again at a party and forced me to mix and master his song. He had heard my own songs and was determined to have me work on his stuff. I finally relented thinking this would be a funny thing to do since he made soca music (and for me at least growing up in Toronto, soca is kind of like the music you love to hate or laugh at).
He sent me the files, and that same night he sent them, I mixed his song. I fixed all the flaws I heard and just tried to make the song more pleasurable and lively, something I’d want to hear. I sent it to him thinking he’s say it was trash but low and behold he really loved it and immediately heard all the flaws he was making in his own music. I was shocked. I could feel the light switch changing in his head. It was such a good feeling to see an artist who was double my age, finally hear his song as he thought it should sound. Can you imagine making music for almost 50 years and it finally sounds the way you’ve always imagined? I felt like I was giving sight to the bling. It was an incredible feeling.
The Best Is Yet To Come
I was hooked. I had found my second act or rather it had found me. It makes complete sense now in retrospect that I’d become an audio engineer considering I had been technically doing it since I was a teenager. But I’d never imagined we’d become the top 5 online mixing and mastering services in just 4 years. I truly feel blessed to be doing what I love and making a difference (however small) in the world. One things for sure I’m a keep riding until the wheels fall off.