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‘Who cares where anyone is ‘at’ career-wise?’: Katie Tavini on the dangers of comparison

Tavini discusses the pitfalls of comparing and contrasting the work of audio professionals

Photo by Dom Sigalas

Mastering engineer and PSNEurope columnist Katie Tavini discusses the pitfalls of comparing and contrasting the work of audio professionals, as well as the negative impact such approaches can have on up and coming talent…

It’s a funny thing, being a female in a male dominated industry, and world. On the one hand, you want to be visible, to be the role model that you never had growing up, but then at the same time you just want to blend in and get on with your job. But I’m trying. I’m trying so hard to be a good role model and to try and help create a little more equality in the music world. Which means being visible, and speaking out, and sharing my story.

And so as you can imagine, I get sent some pretty weird shit online (and good shit; cat photos are always welcomed and encouraged)! And people say some pretty mad stuff about me too. Which never really bothers me too much, except for one banging observation I got recently: some guy told me that I’m no Doug Sax.

My main reaction was, wow, that’s a pretty dumb thing to say. But then it sort of dawned on me. In the music world, comparisons are always made. Between people, artists, bands, whatever. And in life also, comparisons are a thing. I swear most of my college life outside of lessons was spent listening to people compare the Foo Fighters to Nirvana. So some guy reckons I’m no Doug Sax. He would be entirely correct. In my mastering career two years actually mastering properly, as in ‘this is proper now’. Doug Sax had an immense career spanning from approximately 1962 until his passing in 2015. He was undoubtedly an absolute legend. His extensive credits list will definitely include some of your most treasured albums, and his contribution to the music world is absolutely next level. This guy was entirely correct when he said I’m no Doug Sax.

I could think about that and feel sad and shitty about where I’m at in my career, but who’s got time for that? This guy, with his unsolicited comment, made me realise how common comparisons are, and how bloody unhealthy they are. We should not be comparing ourselves or others, we should be happy with being completely unique and focusing on our own journeys. Differences should be celebrated – it’s something that makes the music world we work in so special, and let’s not forget that. If all bands sounded the same it’d be so boring. And the same for engineers and producers and the people behind the music. Who cares where anyone is ‘at’ career-wise? Let’s just celebrate the wonderful talent that we’re lucky enough to call our colleagues.

There’s so much pressure on young people to do really great stuff, which can be really, really toxic. Let’s start encouraging newer engineers to just enjoy the ride instead of making comparisons, ‘best of’ lists or top tens. Let’s encourage them to take things at their own pace, because there’s no rush.

So, the next time you leave a comment for a band/artist/ engineer/producer/anyone creative, remember that these are real people doing their thing – don’t make them feel bad about their work. Lift them up for being bold enough to put themselves and their work out there. And as the wonderful Tony Platt pointed out, ‘even Doug Sax was no Doug Sax when he started out’.