Lengthy headline for a simple concept. The concept: Recognize opportunity. Seize opportunity. Be persistent as hell and you’ll get what you want.
This is a true story.
I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show when I was about nine or ten years old. I knew at that moment that I wanted to make records when I grew up. When I was nineteen, I happened to be in a music store and overheard one of the employees say, “I’m taking this Arp String Ensemble to Criteria for Stills.” I knew that Criteria was one of the largest recording studios in the world at the time and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that “Stills” was Stephen Stills. I asked the delivery guy if I could take a ride with him so I could see what a real studio looked like. He said it would be okay, but I’d have to wait for him in the studio lobby because Criteria was a high security kind of place. No problem.
I sat in the lobby and pretended to read a copy of Billboard so I would look inconspicuous. I overheard someone say, “We need someone to clean this place up — sweep the floors, clean the toilets and whatever else is dirty.” I was the perfect person. I could sweep floors and clean toilets. I jumped to my feet, dropped the Billboard, and proclaimed, “Me! I’ll do it!” With that, the gentleman turned to me and said, “Are you with Stills?” “No.” Are You with Clapton?” “No sir.” “Are you with the Bee Gees?” “Nope.” “Then what the hell are you doing in my studio?!” I was quickly, and not so politely ushered to the door and told to, “Stay out!”
I waited for the gentleman to disappear from sight and carefully opened the door far enough to ask the receptionist if the less than friendly man was the owner. She said, “Yes, that’s Mack Emmerman.” I now had all the information I needed to begin my career in the record business.
I went home and called the studio. I called five times a day every day that week. Twenty five calls in all. On the fifth day and twenty-fifth call, Mr. Emmerman came on the phone. He said (in a rather loud and unfriendly voice), “You’re driving my receptionist nuts! If I interview you for this job and you don’t get it, do you swear you’ll never call here again as long as you live?” I promised to grant him his wish. An hour later he granted me an interview. I got the job.
Now, I realize that a “job” usually means some form of remuneration is in order, but not this job. It was an “internship,” and there were a hundred other people that would take it in an instant if I didn’t want it. That was just fine with me. I didn’t care if I couldn’t afford to eat as long as I could work in a studio. Nobody ever swept floors with as much zeal as I did. I admit that I was a little less enthusiastic about cleaning the toilets. I eventually graduated to cable wrapper, then to tape box labeler, then to dub room king. I learned how to make great cassette copies, and I loved every minute of it.
One fine day I was called to the front office. I thought my glory days were about to end. Instead, the studio manager asked me if I was ready to be an assistant engineer on a session. Of course I replied, “Yes, I’ve been waiting for this my entire life!”
The group was an unknown band that none of the other assistant engineers wanted to work with because they weren’t “famous.” The group was called FIREFALL. Was I ready? Hell yes. I’d waited my whole life for that moment. For the next month I was an integral part of what would quickly become a gold record. Not bad for my first time around — not that I wrote the songs or anything, but I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life. I was living my dream, and I was finally getting paid for doing it.
A few months later I was asked to work on some sessions with Eric Clapton. A few months after that I got to work with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I was working hard, keeping my mouth shut and my eyes and ears wide open. I began to get good enough that I got to push some buttons every now and then.
I eventually became an full-fledged engineer and worked with many of the great bands and artists of the day. I especially enjoyed working with Neil Young, and am fortunate to have credits on several of his records. In just a few short years, I had gone from music industry dreamer to engineer/producer.
All this came about not because I was the smartest guy you’ll ever meet, and not because I’m the best looking, but because I saw an opportunity at the music store and I acted on it. I saw another opportunity a scant thirty minutes later and acted on that as well. But even more importantly, I didn’t take “No” for an answer. I was persistent and didn’t quit calling until I got what I wanted.
You can apply this approach to your life and get what you want as well. How many times have you passed up an opportunity without even recognizing that it was an opportunity? How hard have you really tried to succeed in your musical career? It’s a lot safer and easier not to try, but you will never be rewarded if you don’t try.
The reason most people don’t try to succeed is because they fear that they will fail. That’s natural. The fear of rejection looms larger for some people than death itself. It’s part of human nature to protect yourself from things that may hurt you, and failure can definitely hurt. But how much does it really hurt you? How much did it hurt me to not get through to Mack Emmerman on my first twenty four tries? Not that much. After all, if you think about it, I wasn’t me that was being rejected. It was the situation he was rejecting. He didn’t know the first thing about me, Michael Laskow. How could he possibly be rejecting me?
The same holds true for you when you send your tape to somebody and they reject it. They’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting that tape or that song, but not you personally. You may have written the song, or you may be singing the song, but that only represents your work, not your self. You can always write another song. You can always sing another song. Look at that one defeat as just that — one defeat. By my way of thinking, you still have twenty-four more chances.
Recognize opportunity. Seize opportunity. Be persistent as hell, and you won’t have to go to your grave knowing that you didn’t honestly try your best to live your dream. That would be very painful. Don’t fear failure, use it as the adrenaline to make you work harder.
During Michael Laskow‘s 20-year tenure as an engineer/producer, he worked with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Eric Clapton, Cheap Trick and countless others. He continues to write articles for magazines like Recording and Electronic Musician. He’s also the founder of TAXI, an independent A&R company that links record labels with unsigned artists and songwriters.