On Tour with Javier Colon

Julia Bingham
June 7, 2012
Ian McHugh '97
McHugh (left) onstage with Javier Colon.
Photo by John Shyloski
Photo by John Shyloski

In the middle of a tour with The Voice winner Javier Colon, guitarist Ian McHugh '97 spoke with Berklee's Career Development Center to share advice about networking, thinking about the big picture, and staying true to the music.

Visit the Career Development Center for more information about all that it offers, including an alumni network, a gig board, career advising, and résumé tuneups.

What are your words of advice for your 20-year-old self about what it really looks like after graduation?

I think the best advice I ever received, and the best advice I can give with the few years experience I've had to this point, is to focus on doing great works, whether that be a song, a band project, a film score, an album concept, a production style, a hip-hop beat, or a creative idea. Push your energy into doing things creatively that you love and that inspire you to want to work on it over and over until it's great in every way you can imagine. As a pro musician, or student aspiring to become one, I remember it was easy to get caught up in the buzz of trying to immediately "make it" as a musician doing whatever gigs are out there to pay the bills. That whole concept can be a tricky balance and it may not always be the best idea to look for any gig just because it pays. Try not to get caught up with the overwhelming feeling that you have to only work as a musician, because that can sometimes cloud what's really important. In short, do work that makes you happy, and do music that inspires you, and if the two happen to meet up in harmony, then bam . . . there you go!

What are some of your favorite highlights in your career so far?

The tour with Javier has been amazing! It was one thing to watch your good friend win a show like The Voice: In the season finale I'm sitting there on the edge of my seat, screaming at the TV, almost as if I'm watching my friend hit the walk-off homerun in game 7 of the World Series or something. It was so exciting. And then to go on tour with him post-Voice . . . it's just awesome. And the band is so great: Berklee alums Matt Cusson on keys and backing vocals and Chris Loftlin on bass.

As far as other projects, I was the founder and band leader of a funk-rock act called Bomb Squad (which also featured some other Berklee grads: Brad Mason, Mark Tragesser, Peter Stoltzman, Andy Sanesi, Dan Greness, and Mike Raskin). We won an American Music Award in 2003 for best unsigned act, The Coca-Cola New Music Award. That was surreal, because we played directly after Metallica at the American Music Awards alongside other acts like Britney Spears, Outkast, Alan Jackson, and Clay Aiken (among others). Bomb Squad also performed live at the Montreal Jazz Festival. There were like 30,000 people in the audience, and it was probably one of the best performances I've ever been a part of. The band really stepped up together as a unit that night. I'll never forget it. It was just one of those moments when everything musically clicked and it was the culmination of six years of hard work we all put in together as a band—and that performance truly felt like it was a big payoff. Bomb Squad also performed on the Mayercraft Carrier (John Mayer's own music cruise to the Bahamas featuring performances from Mayer, Colbie Caillat, Bob Reynolds, David Ryan Harris, Oli Rockberger, and others). That was a real fun gig and an amazing opportunity!

Writing songs with Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers (Vanguard recording artist) was really a great highlight from a songwriting prospective. Some of the songs we wrote ended up on his 2009 release, The Bear.

More recently, I've been writing songs and doing some production work for this pop singer, April Kry, who is really amazing. We connect on the writing level and the music feels really good and natural.

What were the decisions you made that led you there—and any mistakes you've learned from along the way?

As far as good decisions that led me to opportunities, I think just trying to stay in good touch with great friends and surrounding myself with musicians and people that inspire me and that support me back. As far as mistakes, I think everyone can get caught up in trying to think too much day to day, and not enough big picture. Try to make decisions that are going to support your larger musical plan. I think if you question along the way how things are going to help or hurt your big-picture musical goals, you'll probably make a more focused decision.

Are there any particular ways you've consciously made an effort to meet new people, keep in touch with people, or initiate collaborations?

I just try to network with friends of friends. Sometimes if I want to write a song with an artist, I'll write or produce something with them in mind and then just send it to them. I try to keep moving forward and creating opportunities for myself rather than waiting for opportunities to come out of the clear blue. I also try to pay it forward, so to speak, and offer opportunities or talk up another artist or musician when I can. If I can get someone else a good gig, there's an honor in that.

What are the best resources for finding auditions, like-minded musicians, and music projects to be involved in?

I think if you just immerse yourself in the "scene" that you want to be part of, whether that's the singer-songwriter scene and you're going to other writers' gigs or writer-type events, or if you want to be a jazz player you go to the jam session clubs and try to sit in. Meet people. Be friendly. Be helpful. Ask questions. Make yourself available. Learn about the traditions and what's at the heart of the music you want to do, and consciously try to be everything that it is.