CAT Audio Department Head Chris ‘Hollywood’ Holmes was busy in the studio this term – with Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger. Read about the experience, and what led up to it.
“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
When I started working in the music industry back in 2002, one of my first bosses said this quote to me. His point was quite simple: no one in the music industry has a steady ascent to success. It’s a bumpy road full of ups and downs, but the people who do succeed on a longer scale are always “lucky”. What he wanted me to understand, though, is that luck is NOT random, it’s not something you CAN’T control.
Near the end of September, I was getting my son ready for bed when I got a random text message from an unknown number. The message basically started as “Hey Hollywood, Chad Kroeger here….”. I read the message over several times. It was an offer to come work with him at his house for 7 days with another artist who shall remain nameless.
My initial reaction was this must be a joke. Why would the lead singer of Nickelback be texting me of all people in the world about an engineering job? The text did mention a mutual friend named Jeff had recommended me, so I quickly called him and asked who was pranking me. Jeff told me that he had in fact recommended me for the job, and that I better text (not call) Chad back quickly before he changes his mind.
I texted Chad, we exchanged a few short conversations, and the next day he confirmed the dates. A few short weeks later I was at his house in the lower mainland, working in his private studio with just him, and the artist. It was a completely surreal experience, that has been a career highlight up to this point. As the week came to an end, Chad said that he enjoyed working with me and he would like to have me come out again in the future sometime.
This whole thing was spurred into reality by a simple recommendation from Jeff, but how did my name come up on that day, for that job?
If you ask any of the people who have hired me over the years, they will rarely start by saying anything about how amazing of an engineer I am, and often it would be something like ‘haha – I love that dude’.”Chris Homes
Jeff is a producer turned friend that I had worked with extensively for 5 years on and off, but we had both gone our separate ways as of late. I had decided to hire him to sing backup vocals on a country song I was producing in August. I had not talked to him in some time, and it felt like a good way to reconnect. I sent him the track, he dug what I did, and was happy to get to work together again, even if it was remotely.
Fast forward to a few weeks later when Chad asked Jeff for a recommendation. I was top of mind for Jeff and for him it seemed like a perfect fit.
While all of this seems random or lucky, it really is a combination of being prepared when an opportunity is presented to you. I have spent the better part of 20 years fine tuning four different parts of my professional life to help materialize these kinds of chances.
The first is my technical skill set. Practicing your craft and being good at whatever it is you are hired to do will make you stand out. I am known as being an exceptionally fast pro tools user, a skill that Jeff knew Chad would need.
The second is saying yes and being positive. My Colleague knew there was no scenario where I would turn down such an opportunity, and he knew I would do whatever I could to make the job happen. Jeff also knew from experience that I really do not say no to anything and will even approach really challenging situations with a “let’s see if we can make it work” attitude.
The third concept ties directly into the previous two: reputation. My reputation with Jeff was strong, and it was built after years of trust and experience working with me or hearing about others working with me. The music industry is much smaller than you think it is, and your reputation is very important.
The fourth and final concept is the most challenging and the most subjective: being a “good hang”. I can make good sounding albums, but I do not consider myself the best engineer I know. My real skill is being fun to be around and being able to stay calm and relaxed in stressful situations (at least on the surface). I can be thrown into the deep end on a project and be able to smile and make jokes and seem relaxed, even when things are intense. I think if you ask any of the people who have hired me over the years, they will rarely start by saying anything about how amazing of an engineer I am, and often it would be something like “haha I love that dude”. They appreciate my ability to keep things light and fun, while still being fast enough to make the technology disappear out of the process. I think you could make an argument that this is almost more important than the technical skills I possess.
What I have tried to illustrate with this piece is that nothing is ever blind luck. The job with Chad was random, and unexpected, but it did not come out of thin air. I put the work in decades earlier to pave the way for opportunities like this and will continue to do so. Everyone you meet in the industry is potentially a client in the future, so treat everyone well and try your hardest and you’ll find things always come around in the end.
Words: Chris Holmes