Five questions for creatives
Mark is a multi-award-winning musician and audio engineer. He has played concerts across the globe and his albums have received critical acclaim in over 300 reviews in more than 20 countries.
As a mixing and mastering engineer, he has received many accolades from audiophile magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. Mark is the mixing and mastering engineer of choice for the NYC-based MoonJune Records (Downbeat readers poll third favourite jazz label in the US) and the audiophile label Greydisc Records.
Mark has also worked with the museum sector, recording and editing audio guides and other multimedia audio for Arts Council London, The Fitzwilliam Museum, The Cambridge Museum of Zoology and Kettle’s Yard.
How did you get into the creative industry, and was there a defining point in your career that led you on that path?
I originally started mixing my own music and music for friends, which helped me learn the craft. I continued working on these skills in my spare time alongside other paid work for over a decade until I felt my mixing results sounded as good as my favourite recordings. At the same time, my own musical career was starting to take off. The first big thing that happened in terms of paid work was that my record label really liked the mixing I had done on my own albums. So they started asking me to mix and master other CDs on the label and I quickly became their go-to mixing and mastering engineer. Through this work, I ended up mixing and mastering albums which had a lot of well-known jazz musicians playing on them. I kept track of reviews of albums I worked on so whenever the mixing was praised in a review, I added that to my CV. Over time several of the albums I worked on received prominent awards, which again helped my profile.
I am also a musician playing and recording jazz, ambient electronic and progressive rock. Though there is very little money to be made from selling or playing music these days, I split my time between better-paid work like mixing or mastering and my work as a musician. Though my work as a musician doesn’t pay as well in itself, I find that the contacts I have made have played a big part in getting mixing and mastering work. I also find that being able to apply my musical aesthetic to mixing and mastering definitely makes me better at the job.
During the time I was building up the music work, I had also managed to get a steady stream of voice-over work for museums and arts organisations. This work all came from a completely different source. I worked as part of a small multi-media company with a group of freelancers creating touchscreen interactives for museums and arts organisations. My main role in this was recording and editing voice recordings, interviews etc… Contacts I made in the museum and arts sector led to further audio work including audio guides for the Fitzwilliam, Kettle’s Yard and others as well as an eight-year contract for Arts Council London.
My advice to anyone starting in creative industries as a freelancer is to get involved with some work as soon as you can even if it’s not exactly what you had in mind to start with. The more contacts you have in the industry, the more people will find out about you. If you can provide a service clients need, you’ll end up getting work through those contacts.
Is there anything you would change in your current career and if so why?
No, not really, I love what I do. In recent years as music streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube came in, musicians and record labels have stopped being paid in any real way for the music they release. This has had a devastating effect on every level of the music industry causing more job losses, studio closures and record label closures than at any point since the beginning of recorded music. Cuts to arts funding have hit the museum and arts sector hard as well, causing many smaller museums and arts centres to close and those that remain open to struggle for funding. All this, of course, has hit my industry hard. I have gone from having many years of more work than I could take on to now competing in a market a fraction of the size it once was.
Where do you see yourself, and your career in five years’ time?
I hope to do the same thing I love what I do!
Are there any rules or habits that help you do your job more efficiently?
I can think of three things.
Being creative can be scary. Starting your own business and being self-motivated can be scary. In my experience, fear is one of the main things that stop creative people from achieving their goals. There is the fear of how to get started, the blank canvas, the blank page or the blank music paper. There is also the fear of what sort of reaction you’ll get when you put your work out there for the first time to try and get a paid job. There is the fear that your business will fail, that it will never get off the ground. There is a fear of not having a guaranteed income every month. Not pushing through the fear is the most common reason I’ve seen for creatives fail or never get started. You have to push through that fear whenever it comes along. It’s hard at first but it gets easier the more you do it. Eventually when you’ve got good enough at pushing through the fear, working creatively starts to feel like the most fun thing imaginable. But if you can’t push through that barrier you may never get to the fun part.
Being a perfectionist is a double-edged sword and I’ve seen it both helpful and stop creatives from working at their best. You have to be a perfectionist in order to be really good at what you do. The downside is that nothing can ever really be perfect, so perfectionists can fall into the trap of never being able to finish anything. The trick I’ve found is to aim slightly above what you think you are able to achieve and work crazily hard to get there. Then be ready to recognise when you’ve reached the best you are capable of with the knowledge that you were never going to quite reach what you aimed for.
I find that I work more efficiently in a creative way if I keep myself mentally fresh. So if I’m working on a particular task and I start to feel a little bogged down or start to feel like I’m getting a little tired so I’m starting to work less efficiently, I stop and move onto a different type of task. I’ll do the other task until I start to feel tired or less productive and then I’ll either go back to the first one or move to the third type of task. When I go back to the first one, I feel refreshed and work more productively again. I work like this all day, moving around a circle of three, four or five different tasks (sometimes more). I find I work far faster and more efficiently this way than if I stick to one task until it’s finished. This may not work for you, but it might be worth trying to see if it does.
What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in the creative industry?
Make sure you are very good at what you do. Learning on the job is all very well, but you are competing against other people who an already great at what they do. So you need to make sure you have an edge if you are going to get the work and have return customers. Having said that, networking is even more important in terms of getting work. Clients tend to hire the people they know or via recommendations from people they know.
Take risks. Do something every day that makes you feel a little uncomfortable in terms of moving your career forward. If you don’t like networking, make yourself go out and do it. If giving a talk at a conference might help you, but you find that a bit intimidating, that’s the kind of thing you should make yourself do. Don’t stick with comfortable options, like emailing people or posting on social media or your website. If it’s comfortable and easy, it’s probably not moving you forward. Approach people who might be able to help you even if you find it intimidating. You’ll get some rejections and not everything you try will work out, but you have to be prepared to take some knocks and keep going in the early stages.
Don’t give up. I saw the hugely successful children’s author Malory Blackman (OBE, Children’s Laureate) give a talk where she explained that as an unknown author, she sent her first book out to 81 publishers and got rejections from all of them, it was on her 82nd attempt that she finally got some interest. Another thing that has always stuck with me is that I read a famous entrepreneur (I can’t remember who) say that “success is found by digging in the garden of failure.” I’ve read similar sentiments from numerous successful people. If something you try fails or doesn’t work out, see it as a unique opportunity to learn something vital that will help you progress in what you do. Don’t take it personally, it rarely has anything to do with you as a person, if you know the quality of what you do it well, then there’s something else that isn’t matching up. These statements may sound trite, but I’ve found them to be actually really important.
Finally, start working on something and get it out into the public sphere, even if it’s not exactly what you ideally want, or even if it doesn’t pay at first. Never wait until you have the perfect plan or the perfect product before you start putting what you do out into the world. Get out there and do something with your craft regularly so your potential customers or people who might be able to help you can see it. You’ll learn so much from that in ways you’ll never learn sitting in a room thinking about it.
To find out more about Mark visit www.heronislandstudio.co.uk