By Rich Steve Beck
As I sit here in a Starbucks in South Manchester, I ponder the best way to explain imposter syndrome. After about ten seconds of searching the web, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz captures the essence of the feeling remarkably well:
"Very few people, whether you've been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They're not going to tell you that, but it's true."
When you face imposter syndrome with any client, peer, record label, or management, know this: even Einstein experienced imposter syndrome. It's a fact.
We recently conducted a poll in our community about what people would like to see on our blog, and mental health emerged as one of the top-voted topics to talk about
So here's a story about encountering audio heroes, grappling with imposter syndrome (which still delivers a daily dose), showing crippling self-doubt the exit, and simply reaching out to others to see what happens.
Just Do It
Some days are chaotic (trying to avoid swearing here!), while others are absolutely astounding.
But that's life, right? So why not connect with others who may share your passion?
Well, because there's a persistent voice in your head that questions, "Really? Why on earth would they want to message you back, let alone agree to an interview?". "Good luck getting ghosted pal!".
Even when posting a question on our Facebook community, which I've done for nearly three years for over 3,000 people, imposter syndrome fills my head with nonsense to hold me back.
After 40 interviews with legendary engineers and producers, my right leg still trembles under the table due to anxiety. Imposter syndrome still strikes.
However, something else takes over: the urge to "just do it." Nike's slogan wasn't wrong.
The Birth of Produce, Mix, Fix, and Conquer
Back in 2020, pre-lockdown, I had recently gone through a divorce, which meant I could only see my son 50% of the week. I had signed up to be a dad 24/7, but this was not to be.
My new girlfriend (now my wife) encouraged me to find an activity that would help take my mind off things. I was part of several audio Facebook communities but found myself asking more questions than anyone else. Inspired by one of my oldest friends, Iain, a punk-rocker and patent attorney who had created a skate punk community on Facebook, I decided to give it a shot.
By then, I had been mastering music for a few years for small indie bands, had been in and out of studios since 2000, and had studied music technology and popular music in college. I needed to brush up on my audio knowledge to fully immerse myself in music technology again.
So why not invite audio engineering legends to a new Facebook group so everyone could learn from them?
A few months later, I mustered the courage to start conducting interviews with some of the legends who strolled (sorry, clicked) into our community.
Imposter Syndrome vs. Meeting the Legends
Why would someone with imposter syndrome and anxiety ever want to interview some of the best engineers and producers ever? And do it live in front of other people?
I used to interview 5-6 members of the public daily, face to face, for a prominent worldwide bank, which greatly boosted my confidence and people skills. You learn to speak with people from all walks of life, from those struggling to make ends meet to the assistant manager of Manchester City Football Club, worth millions.
What you learn from a job like that is how to adapt to conversations. Ask plenty of open questions, and you don't actually have to talk much yourself.
Everyone has a story to tell, and most people enjoy spending time with someone who is interested in their world.
Just Being Yourself Isn't a Cliché
If you ever interview someone, let me offer some friendly advice: just because you're nervous, don't down a few whiskeys pre-interview. It doesn't work, or at least it didn't for me.
I reached out to Steve Baughman, who's worked with hip-hop royalty. If I could redo that interview, I would happily do so. I was full of nerves and had consumed too much alcohol. Steve, however, was incredibly gracious, shared fascinating stories, and offered valuable mixing tips. I watched the live YouTube interview the next day, stone-cold sober and nursing a throbbing headache, cringing at my delivery.
At that moment, my business was also being heavily trolled. My mental health was in tatters, and I felt like giving up entirely.
After all, I'm just a mastering engineer who simply turns up the volume, right? Right??
I never retaliated against my trolls, and I never will. "Turn the other cheek and move forward" was the advice I received at the time. It contributed to the growth of this community and its future direction. It's all too easy to find yourself facedown on the floor, unable to get up or leave your own home or studio.
My Australian friend Tony "Jack the Bear" Mantz served as one of my mentors for a few weeks, offering not only mastering guidance but also moral support. He had interviewed people himself and had experienced divorce and various mental health challenges. I won't repeat what was written on the coffee cup he displayed to the camera during our first meeting, but it instantly broke the ice and had us both in fits of laughter.
Although I felt my interviewing skills were subpar when I interviewed Steve Baughman, he kindly passed on his friend's contact information to see if I'd be interested in interviewing his colleague Tim Palmer.
Tim was the first interview I conducted where I genuinely felt "in the zone." Yes, I mispronounced David Bowie's band (apologies, Tim), but a couple of days later, I received a very unexpected DM.
The Late Great Sandy Roberton
A DM arrived in my inbox from the late, great producer/engineer manager Sandy Roberton from Worlds End Management, informing me that he had thoroughly enjoyed watching me interview his client Tim Palmer. He asked if I would be interested in interviewing Stephen Lipson, who had recently worked with Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas on the new James Bond theme.
I only ever had email contact with Sandy before he passed away, but that simple message (and a few more between us) and the green light to continue were pivotal moments that changed my life. They encouraged me to keep networking, reaching out, and helping legends tell their stories and educate others.
Around the same time, I interviewed Bob Katz, who, for the first time, properly showcased his studio to the world.
In a Nutshell
Yes, I know I'm name-dropping, but that's the story. That's how it happened.
My friend in Nashville, awesome engineer Ryan Sutton, caught me rambling on a call once and directly addressed my imposter syndrome.
He ultimately helped me realise who I had become.
I'm a networker. I bring people together. Why? Because my gut tells me to. I love watching those arround me connect.
We've seen old friends start talking after 15 years on our community, new management deals being struck and endless education being shared...too many awesome stories to mention here.
Imposter syndrome still tries to bite me, my leg still shakes, I still experience panic attacks, I can second-guess an audio master, and my mind races if someone doesn't respond to a direct message or email.
However, you know what? That's okay. It's called being human, and humans fascinate me.
Don't engage in hero worship; make friends instead with huge amounts of respect. It's the best!
To check out who Sandy Roberton was check out this brilliant short documentary from our friends over at Produce Like A Pro with Warren Huart with many of Sandys clients from World End Management such as Stephen Lipson, Tim Palmer and many many more sharing their tributes: