A day in the life of a Music Production professional

Jay Elliot is a musician, recording engineer and as of most recently, one of RMCAD’s newest Music Production professors! The New England native found his way to the Rocky Mountain region where he learned the ins and outs of the sound recording industry. With the launch of our Music Production program, Elliot brings a wealth of knowledge and life experience that our students will appreciate. We sat down with the seasoned artist to learn about what he does, his advice to students and what makes the art of music so special.

What exactly do you do?
I record, edit, and mix music, and I play drums, both live and in the studio, and I teach and mentor for a living. Additionally, I’ll work on post-production for video if a client wants me to clean up the audio – I’ll edit and mix podcasts – I’ll work the festival/venue scene in various capacities, and I’m also known to run and tend bar for certain events, which is really to say that I work for myself and it literally pays to keep an iron in many fires at once.

Walk us through what a day in the life of Jay Elliott looks like…
Well, let’s take today as an example. I woke up at 7 a.m. (which is sleeping in for me) and made myself a cafe americano, which I savored while scanning the NYT online.  Then I bounced some roughs for a client and shared them in Dropbox, and then jumped back into the course development project for RMCAD. This afternoon I will finish mixing the last song on a 12-song album for Octave Records in Boulder, and then we will listen to the album in the listening room, where hopefully the execs will sign off and we can move on to the next project in the queue. Oh, and if I can get in a mountain bike ride or and spend some time with my partner Chanel and cat Mowgli, I’m really hitting all the bases.

What is one of your proudest projects to have worked on?
This is a really hard question, sort of like, “pick your favorite niece or nephew.” Anyway, I’ll play along… There’s a front range psychedelic rock band called Augustus that I had known and been a big fan of since their early, more acousti-folk approach. We started working together in 2017 as they were re-inventing themselves, and I jumped in on drums, and engineered and co-produced their 2018 release called “Idle.” I’m pretty proud of that one and I was able to work on the band’s newest one, which was done for Octave Records. Keep a look-out for that one, it’s a burner!

I have to mention the band Foxfeather! I’m so proud to work with Carly and Laura – I call them the “Founding Feathers.” We are playing the Boulder Theater on June 26th, and their new release, Nature of Things, produced by Eben Grace and recorded and mixed by me, comes out on Octave any day now. Here’s a track that I produced in 2019 – I love this song!

What are you currently working on?
A lot, actually, which is a welcome change from “The Great Time Out” for much of the music industry – and modern existence, for that matter – that was 2020.

I’m finishing the mixes on the Danny Shafer record for Octave, hopefully today. I’m about to mix a Mac Miller cover project that I tracked for Andy Thorn of Leftover Salmon, and I’m about to finish final overdubs with David Henderson and the Spoonful on a full-length record. Foxfeather’s new album is in mastering and about to be released, and the new Augustus album is just about there as well, with possibly one song to remix ASAP. I’m also putting finishing touches on an EP for a young songwriter named Harrison Pena, and tracking is nearly complete for a great indy-rock project called Much too Much. Oh, and then there is the Octave Records docket – Clandestine Amigo and Katie Mintle, Thomas Lafond of the band Banshee Tree are next up, with more bands and artists on the way. Basically, I’m booked solid through mid-September, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

What opportunities have you earned as a result of working in the sound recording industry?
There are many, many experiences I could mention here, but I think what I want to say is that potential opportunities are sometimes impossible to predict and can come at unexpected junctures and in strange forms. When I think about the chain of events that have led to new gigs for me – the amalgamation of luck, happy accidents and hard work that led to me joining with the Octave Records team, for instance –  well, it gets pretty complicated fairly quickly. The through-line, though, for me has been my consistent and purposeful approach to this work since day 1, which, essentially is this; always do your best work and try to exceed expectations, always try to help, don’t bad-mouth and feed negative energy, and find a way to say “yes” to the gig. This last point – to say “yes”, is emphatically NOT “fake it till you make it”, something that drives me insane for a whole host of reasons, and which my students can look forward to hearing about ad nauseam.  Basically, this advice boils down to – work in such a way that those you work for and with will say nice things about you. From there, who knows what’s possible?

Oh, and be easy on yourself. We all try hard and still fail every once in a while. Failure can be a learning experience. Just don’t make a habit of it!

In your own words, how is music unique from any other form of art?
My M.A. is in Media Studies. I’ve given a lot of thought to this question, and I take a sort of McLuhanist perspective on this. I must say that music and sound art are different from other forms – in the ways that we produce it, and in the ways that we receive and/or consume it. We in the West certainly live in a culture that is dominated by the visual, with sight functioning as our primary “window to the world.” The predominance of the visual, in my opinion, perhaps is the underpinning of our current (perhaps overdeveloped) sense of individuality, of an interiority and a singular world in our heads juxtaposed to and set apart from the outside world at large and every “other” in it. Music and sound studies for me speaks (or perhaps, sings?) more to the communal sensibility, from collaborative production and writing processes, to shared spaces of reception, vibration, movement and immersion. 

What excites you about teaching at RMCAD?
I really love teaching and very much look forward to getting back in the classroom, albeit virtually for the time being. But, as I’ve talked about with Sean Peuquet and I’m VERY excited to find this program situated within the humanities – the degree is a BFA.

I’m a proud product of a liberal arts education, and I have been very dismayed and disheartened to see it under attack from many directions as of late. Wide perspectives which take into account diverse historical and socio-political perspectives are where it’s at in my book. My academic experience at UMass Amherst working toward my B.A. was invaluable toward my larger project, that of becoming an engaged, thinking, caring, hopefully somewhat articulate citizen of the world.

What advice do you have to first year Music Production students?
First, here is some practical advice about thinking about academic deadlines.  Deadlines are not just arbitrary due dates. Think of them as training for the real world.  The music business, for example, runs on rigid deadlines. “Project A will be ready to be mastered on such and such day.” There is no extension!

Also, recognizing that procrastination is a universal human vice, search for ways to deal with it. I, too, am prone to procrastination, but I also work for myself and don’t get paid until the job is done. My solution currently is to start work shortly after my first cup of coffee, before the day’s distractions even begin to present themselves. What will your solution be?

Beyond that, be on the lookout for that thing that you love doing, that comes natural, and that, when you are fully engaged, time just melts away and becomes meaningless?  Finding that thing is half the battle. There’s no rush in finding it, but it’s never too early to start looking.  

What can students expect when they take your How the Music Industry Works class you are teaching?
An eight-week diatribe against the evils of social media and our curated lives! Kidding! (mostly). This is a survey course and I’m really excited to dig in. We will start with the history of the business, through the many disruptions and opportunities that new technologies have ushered in. We will look at the many career paths that this business has to offer, with special attention given to the joys and pitfalls of independent contract work. We will read, watch and listen to some great materials and get into it about some contentious issues, including copyright and social media. And finally we will look ahead in our crystal balls and try to predict where the biz is headed – all in 8 weeks. Yikes!

Tell us why having a Music Production degree is so important to have when entering the workforce.
When I was a young college student, aspiring artists often used college as a sort of fail-safe. They were often counseled to get a degree as a “backup” plan in case their dreams didn’t pan out. It’s beyond my ability to comment on the efficacy of that advice.  This seems to me to be a very nuanced topic, and I know successful artists from all manner of varied academic backgrounds. But I will say that, for those called toward music, these music production programs in general, and this fully accredited RMCAD program in particular, seem to hit many of the targets sought after by many students. A bachelor’s degree continues to afford many opportunities to graduates that are simply not available to those without, and it also is a chance hone your reading, writing, and thinking while training in industry standard skill sets.

To learn more about the online BFA program at RMCAD, or talk to someone about enrolling in music production, click here.