Who is Matthew Weiss?

Transcript:

Hey, folks. Matthew Weiss here. Weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com, mixingwitheq.com, and whole bunch of other dot coms.

This video blog … I hope that you learn something from it, but I’m not sure what you’re going to learn.

Basically, I just wanted to tell sort of my personal story to give you guys a context of who I am and where I’m coming from, and I think that if you are in particular a producer or a mixing engineer, and you’re trying to get into this business and make a living doing it, then there’s probably something that you can glean from all of that.

So, I started in the world of music. It’s hard for me to draw lines, because I’ve always been interested in it for a long time. I come from a very musical family. My dad was a bass player, my step-mother was a singer, my mother was a sculptor. I mean, I guess that’s artistic, it’s not necessarily musical. My sister would basically play every instrument in the world, and even built some of her own, which is pretty cool.

Middle school, I started doing sound for the plays. I remember the very first middle school play I worked on, I shocked myself really, really badly on the sound board. It felt like a small alligator had bit my fingers, and I cried like a little sissy, and it was awesome. It was just – from that moment, I just knew that I really enjoyed working with sound. [laughs]

Once I got into high school, I started making a lot of hip-hop beats, and I was just making them off of this little Roland Groove Machine 303, which is actually a cool little box. I wish I still had it. But in order to make my own beats, I would have to mix them, and it wasn’t really long following that when I started recording rappers and mixing the beats down.

Two things sort of happened at the same time from there. One was that I got into college, and in order to be in college, I needed a job, and the best job on campus was the sound department, and that paid as much as $12 an hour, which back in 2002 was really good money for a college job especially.

So I went there, and within the first year, the head of the sound department actually quit, and I took over as the head. So while I was there, I did all of the concert recordings, a lot of jazz band recordings, and did the sound tech for all of the artists that were stopping through, and it was really cool.

During the summers, I had linked up with a rap group back in Philadelphia, and I started doing production for those guys, and was mixing and recording a lot during that time. So by the time I was out of college, I was already pretty immersed in the world of sound, and I sort of knew already at that point that I wanted to take that on as my professional life, which I think is more advantageous than most people’s stories, because most people don’t figure out what they’re really doing until I think after undergrad.

But maybe I’m wrong about that, I don’t know. I never went to grad school. My grad school, I guess, was going off to New York to work with another Pro Audio Files writer now, actually, named Mark Marshall, who was the first person who really gave me a serious internship/assistantship position, and I say slash assistantship, because it was technically non-paid, but there were definitely some gigs where he was paying me, which was really cool.

Then I started basically following around a woman named Denise Barbarito who I met at an AES convention. She was awesome and took me into a bunch of studio sessions and helped me sort of get a formalized understanding of what the heck I was doing, because I was still just sort of playing it by ear, and trying to figure it all out.

Then I ended up going back to Philadelphia, and I had decided that I wanted to built up my own client reel, so I was going to do that by any means possible, and that meant even if I really loved a band, that meant even paying for studio time myself in order to engineer their work, which I don’t know about the wisdom of that, but it ended up working out, because I took a really, really great jazz band to a studio that was run by a guy named Bobby Eli, who was one of the guitar players and writers and producers for the whole Philly sound movement back in the 70’s.

He was a member of MFSB. If you remember those guys, if not, their music is so good. Anyway, he has his own little personal studio, and I took a session in there, and we did maybe three days of tracking, and I just asked him if I could just do the tracking myself, and I just said, “I understand that this is probably unconventional, but this is what I want to do for a living, so why don’t you just sit back, hang out, relax, and I’ll do all of the work, even though these guys and myself are paying for it.”

I did, and he really liked how it sounded, actually, and he said, “Why don’t you come back on Sunday. I’ve got a session coming in, and I would really like to have you on board for that, because I could use the help.”

I came back in, and the session was a drum session for George Clinton. George wasn’t there for that one, but his management was, and the drummer was one of Bobby’s friends, a guy named Jeff, that had been hired out, and we became really good friends as well, me and Jeff, because he did a lot of sessions there.

Then Damen Harris*** from The Temptation stopped by, and at that point, I was just floored. I didn’t even know what to do with my own life, because I was like, “how is this even happening?” Then I realized, “Well, wait a minute, this is actually sort of part of the normal gig once you get into it.”

So at that point, all bets were off. I quit a job that I had. I think I was waiting tables at that point? I was either waiting tables or working at a pizza shop, one or the other, because I did both interchangeably throughout my life.

But I quit that job, and I just started working over at Bob’s, and I made barely enough money to get by. I was doing – I had a little home thing that I had setup, so I was just taking as many gigs as I could, and not even worrying about the money – which ultimately did come to bite me in the ass in a few cases, because I think there’s probably a good two or three grand that I missed out on over that year, just because people didn’t pay me and stuff like that, which sucked.

But I got to get credits on *** (6:47) music, and Ronny Specter***, and people that I would not have really had access to, and at the same time, one of the rappers I had started working with back when I was in high school had started becoming popular, and he was getting a lot of collaborations with a lot of famous rappers that he was having me mix.

So I was getting credentials. Serious credentials, and my work was getting better because I was working in a more professional environment with higher standards, and ultimately, that became the shaping period of my career, and it was maybe late 2009/really early 2010 that ultimately, I decided that I wanted to have my own business, and make my own career path.

And I did that. Bob and I parted ways, and I opened up my own little studio company, which was Weiss Sound, and during that very early period, I linked up with a gentleman named Dan Comerchero, who would frequent a website called GearSlutz, which is all about audio engineering, and gear, and that kind of stuff, and I would write on that website pretty frequently, and people – I had a semi-popularity I guess, because I was just on there basically because I was obsessed with the stuff that I was doing, and people would ask questions, and a lot of times I would answer those questions, not because I was even necessarily trying to help them, although I was, it was also because I wanted to formulate those answers for myself and have these ideas – just ask these questions, do some research, practice some things, try things out. I was just very obsessed with it and immersed in it, and he had been reading a lot of my writing, and he said, “you know, I’m starting this blog called The Pro Audio Files, and I’d really like you to be a writer for it.”

And I said, “Okay, I’ll give it a go. I mean, I don’t know where it’s going to lead, or what it’s going to all be about.”

Then he said, “Well, I’ll pay you.”

And I was like, [snap] “Sign me up!”

So, that’s how Dan and I got started with The Pro Audio Files, and he made a really cool app called Quiztones, which has been doing very well. It’s cool software. It trains your ear to identify specific frequency changes, and I think it’s really ingenuitive, and you can put it on your phone, which for me is still amazing. For everybody else, it’s like old news. [laughs]

But we linked up, we started doing this stuff, and my career started growing. Once I got out on my own, I took a lot of the things that I had learned from Bobby and learned from Denise and learned from Mark, and I incorporated them into my own sensibilities, and I started a successful business that started moving.

I didn’t make a lot of money. It wasn’t even until maybe about as recently as 2013 where I actually started making a respectable income. Now, I make a good income, but I think that also, my trajectory from when I launched my own thing to now has been very fast.

Along the way, I started increasing my rates. I started out, my rate was whatever, then it became a little bit more official, and I was like, “Okay, I can’t really do a mix for less than $150, because I’m going to spend the whole day on the mix, and I can’t work a whole day without making a decent day’s wage.”

So I sort of in my mind went, “Alright, I’m still learning, but I gotta get it right, so I’m going to spend ten hours doing the mix. I’m going to spend the whole day, I’d like to make $15 an hour.”

So I sort of set my basic rate at $150 when I started off, but then my rates started going up, because I realized that there was a much higher competition ceiling. A lot of the big name engineers are getting paid $3,000 to $5,000 a mix. A lot of the really solid middle class of engineers are getting paid $1,000 a record.

I felt like I was starting to compete with these guys, so I started raising my rates up, and my demand was still going up, so there was no problem with it as I was raising my rates. As I was doing that, I realized I was starting to leave a lot of work on the table, and so, I was talking with Dan, and we had sort of thrown the idea around before of doing an e-book kind of thing, and I can’t remember if it was Dan or if it was me.

We kind of came to the conclusion that maybe we should start doing tutorials for people who maybe can’t afford a really good engineer, but have the talent and have the drive, and want their music to be heard in the right way. Let’s make something for them so they can still get their foot in the door, and do what they need to do while they’re starting out.

The ideas progressed, and we still have a lot of ideas where we’re trying to come up with tutorials for people who maybe want to be aspiring engineers, or whatever people are doing, basically.

So, having that tutorial outlet as well was a means for me to sort of pick up on the work that I was leaving behind, so I wasn’t entirely pricing out my entire market by doing this. I was actually still inviting some people in, and now I’ve raised my rate again, and it’s to the point where I’ve priced out even a larger portion of people who would normally be hiring me, but I’ve taken on a junior engineer who’s absolutely excellent. His name is Lucas, and he’s in Germany.

I literally for years – I knew I was going to need somebody who could take on my clients, represent my brand, and charge less than me. I knew that was coming, even back in 2010. So I’ve been – if you talk to Lucas, we’ve been talking about it since I think 2012, or maybe even 2013. Something like that.

There are plenty of people in America, there are plenty of people all over the world, but Lucas was the guy who was like, “Okay, this guy can do what I’m doing very well, and charge less.”

So that’s my means of incorporating that, and that’s where I’m at now. So I think that’s the next step in my building process, but there’s a lot of things to consider, so I guess that brings us up to the present, and where I’m at now, I’m currently in Boston as my girlfriend is in grad school, but once she’s out, I’m moving to LA, because I’ve got a lot of really great connections out there that I’ve built up through the years, and I know that if I want to take my career to the next step and start competing on the very upper, upper echelon, which is where I see myself, then I know that some of that needs to be forged in the crucible of Los Angelos, because that’s where the big dogs are for the most part, and that’s where a lot of the music industry is.

So I’m just being called out there, and I got to go! So that’s where we’re at. Anyway, I’m going to sum this up real quick, but I think basically, the moral of all of this, is that to become successful, and success is not something that you simply achieve, it’s something that you perpetuate, I see myself as successful in the fact that I’m making a good living doing what I love to do, and at the end of the day, you can’t beat that with a bat.
But I also see success is something that I need to continue pursuing. I need to continue elevating and perpetuating in order to get where I want to go and enjoy the arc of my career, but the idea’s to – in order to do this, in order to perpetuate it and achieve that success that you want, you sort of have to be open to everything.

You know, I’ve done work on spec that has not worked out. I’ve done work on spec that has. I’ve got a lot of connections that I’ve really managed to foster, and build up in a really positive way, and a few burned bridges. That happens too, but the bottom line is that when things present themselves, my first thought is, “How can I make this work? How can I say yes?”

If I can’t come up with a way, then I do have to say no, and sometimes I have to say no, but if I can find a way to say yes, I’m going to go for it. Especially when you’re starting out, because your time is not being pulled by other people who are hiring you, take everything. Even if it seems inane, even if it’s something where after you’re done, you kind of go, “Eh, I regret that. That was a waste of time.”

Yeah, it is, but if five of them are a waste of time, but one of them isn’t, and you never really know which one is which, that sixth one that wasn’t a waste of time, that’s the one that’s going to make the difference.

So do that, and when it comes time to set your rates, you know, I used the McDonald rule, which is, “could I get paid more working at McDonald’s?” Well if the answer to that is yes, then at no point in my actual career was I ever interested in taking the gig, because I could just go down the street and get a job at the local McDonald’s and not have to worry about it.

But if the answer to that was, “Well, this is better than McDonald’s, then here I go! I’m going for it.” Obviously at this point now, it’s substantially – it’s more like, you know, is it better than the manager of McDonald’s? Probably not, actually, a lot of times, but you know.

It’s a higher bar, basically, but, you know, in order to get to that point, I think it’s really important that you become accepting of whatever life is tossing at you. If you get an idea, if a weird thought goes through your head, like, “Hmm, maybe this is worth doing,” give it a go and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and you move on, but if it does, that can be a huge influence on your entire life.

Alright, I know that was long, and that was ranty, but anyway, now you know where I’m coming from, and I hope that it’s something that you can apply to your own trajectory.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.
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