Five Startup Lessons From Kevin Augunas
On March 24, Kevin Augunas delivered the story of his career to an up-and-coming audience of students as part of BerkleeICE’s Creative Entrepreneurs Lecture Series. Here are a few key takeaways for musicians and entrepreneurs from the Grammy Award-winning Berklee alumnus.
Put Yourself in the Right Place.
"Just do it. You've just got to do it."
The most rewarding moments of Augunas’s career have been the result of a few all-in bets. Two decades ago, the California native bought a one-way ticket to Boston, slept on couches, and gigged through the summer for a chance to make it to Berklee in the fall. Years later, he dove headfirst into the acquisition of the former Sound City Studios, setting the stage for the success of his company, Fairfax Recordings.
Planning can be detrimental if it delays action; decisiveness has consistently put Augunas in a position to succeed. If you have an idea, throw yourself into the fray. Be proactive, and create a liklihood of forward progress.
Don't Fear Failure.
"I've failed so many times. I would sit in my apartment with no idea how I was going to pay rent that month."
Failing is not bad. According to Augunas, making a horrible sounding record and playing it for the wrong person is good. It’s humbling. Augunas shopped demos of the Cold War Kids around to ears that weren't ready. He pressed on despite the initial rejection, and the band's music eventually earned the recognition it deserved.
Fear kills creativity, and a fear of failure is the quickest way to limit yourself. Don't let "what-ifs" take control of your career.
"When I was 18, I wanted to be Marcus Miller."
Re-evaluate your goals at every milestone. Augunas arrived at Berklee determined to study bass performance, but reviewed his objectives and declared a dual major in music production and engineering and music synthesis (now electronic production and design) instead. After graduation, he established himself on the East Coast as a professional bassist, but he soon realized how much the creative process meant to him. He chose to leave his stable salary in New York and return to California to start the company that would become Fairfax Recordings.
Dream big, but don’t hesitate to change course; every milestone is an opportunity to climb higher.
There Is No Such Thing As Done.
"The moment I feel like I can't do better, that's the end."
“Perfect” is not a word in Augunas's vocabulary. He earned a Grammy for his work with Gotye, but focused on the future instead of basking in the praise. To Augunas, staying hungry has been the key to career growth.
Give yourself credit for your accomplishments, but never stop searching for opportunities to improve. Surround yourself with more talented players, better writers, or faster runners. Being the least talented person in the room is the fastest way to learn.
Stick To Your Guns.
"You have to stand somewhere. Even if it means you can't please everyone. That will get you somewhere."
Augunas worked exclusively with analog equipment despite the massive buzz of digital technology. He became a “black sheep” among engineers. Emo music was the cash-crop of alternative rock at the time, but Augunas surrounded himself with the music and bands he believed in.
It can be difficult to pick sides, but people react more to "hot" or "cold" than to "somewhere in between."
Kevin Augunas followed Willard Ahdritz and Gloria and Emilio Estefan as part of BerkleeICE's Creative Entrepreneurs Lecture Series.