We sat down the other day to have a chat with Hugh Hitchcock of Funkatology Records and Groovephonics Music Production in Miami. As a record label owner, audio producer and actively gigging musician, Hugh has been around the musical block more than a couple times and was nice enough to share some of his stories with us.
Hugh Hitchcock & Funkatology History
Hailing originally from Ann Arbor in Michigan, Hugh comes from a family of musical souls. His father was a musicologist, while his mom was a respected virtuoso pianist. His formative years in music were in the vibrant Detroit funk and rock scenes. Hugh recalls laying down them funky riffs while brushing shoulders with the likes of Bob Seger and many more. As a bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, and producer he’s certainly no stranger to music gear, however his weapon of choice is, more often than not, the synth.
At the time, it seemed to be a practical choice as a lot of bands were looking for keys to add to their roster. However, Hugh also points to a time during his teenage years when he was unexpectedly unleashed in the Royal Conservatory of Music at the University of Toronto‘s electronic music lab, which sported all kinds of noise making goodies. It was all hardware too, so the various effects and processors we might be all familiar with today amounted to a full lab’s worth of gear at the time. As he recalls, it fed an interest in electronic music as well as creative experimentation. This experimentation is just as evident in his work now as it was then with his early recordings, as you can hear from “Funk Mambo Remix”, which is a Funkatology collab with legendary sax player Jesse Jones Jr., whom Hugh has a long history with dating back to the 90’s. Jesse Jones Jr. can swing either way, into traditional territory or he can funk it up, which is the direction he and Hugh take here with this gem of a track.
Follow The Funk
Hugh mentioned always being a creative rebel, citing the types of influences who themselves were always boundlessly musical in terms of chops but chose to push boundaries when they felt like it. This didn’t always lead to smooth sailing through the music industry over the years, with straight-laced people sometimes trying to cramp his style, but what Hugh’s unwillingness to compromise eventually lead to is a clearer creative purpose and a willingness to push for the results he wants to get. With Frank Zappa as one of his biggest influences, it’s no wonder Hugh was met with some resistance from more typical folk. Indeed, music can be funny like that. It seems to have so many rules at times that people stick to, and, while on your own personal musical journey, it’s easy to get caught up in a literal swamp of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” Aside from the creative impulse that brings people to pursue music, the road to sonic glory is not without some obstacles to navigate. There’s a desire to entertain the crowd, the importance of making the manager or show promoter happy, the need to please music professors and get good marks, and so many others. All of us who work in the music business know the feeling, I’m sure. We’re told time and time again that these are important to achieving musical success, or at the very least, they need to be navigated carefully to actually make it in the industry. The question then is what are you going to do about it?
For Hugh, there was and still is no question about it. Unrestrained creative expression should be the ultimate driving force. Indeed, as far as Hugh has seen and can tell us, the way to go is the creative way. Not to say that it’s easy. The unhindered creative spirit is likely to hit more obstacles and frictions than most, but the rewards are well worth it. This is because that’s how you get the sounds that really push a genre or a scene forward. Music progresses because there are people out there every day trying new things….and things that they care about. After all, why are you even in it if you’re not creating new stuff? That’s quite an attitude to consider, and maybe not what most would recommend, but it’s refreshing to hear it from an established and well travelled musical professional – a guy that has laid down his share of musical cuts and has been around for a while to see the industry grow and change. Are you really going to sit there and argue with Captain Jarvis?
What’s interesting is what he said about how the industry has changed over the years. Hugh told us about gigging in the booming funk scene in Detroit and all the epicness of being in a heavily musical city. Indeed, Detroit is a landmark of musical history, being a hotbed for a ton of talent and a ton of innovation. As he detailed his exploits it was easy to feel a little bittersweet about it. The golden days of Motown must’ve been so crazy, especially as a musician actually in the scene. The history of it all is nothing short of inspiring. However, it might leave one disenfranchised with the current decade. In fact, it seems to be a general sentiment among musicians and audiophiles that the glory days of music are long gone. Whatever time there might have been for music to grow and thrive have without a doubt passed and now there is nothing. Woe to all those living in the present and may their hopes and standards be set as low as possible, for there is nothing to look forward to.
Buck Up, Little Camper
Hugh shed some interesting light on the matter, however, by saying that is not at all the case. Sure, the scene has changed…..and people are definitely lamenting it, but that doesn’t mean it’s worse. In a lot of ways, he adds, it’s actually better. In the age of worldwide communications and mobile interconnectedness we’re seeing opportunities that would be unheard of before. Indeed, this very article and the contents found within are all thanks to the same proliferation of technology which leads to people ignoring each other and staring into their smart phones. So don’t let the “modern world” get you down, or make you into its slave! Everything from reaching an audience to connecting with other musicians is a lot easier, which can be quite the game changer. You can be heard now in ways that you couldn’t before, and you have a better shot at finding the right people to tune into your sound if you put yourself out there. Not to mention the fact that music production in itself has come an incredibly long way.
Raid The Lab
The music lab at the university Hugh was mentioning before can now fit on one person’s laptop. An entire high-end sound lab is now something you can take with you to a coffee shop. This means that musical production, as well as experimentation and learning, is something one could do in their bedroom on a Sunday afternoon. This is absolutely huge because this kind of thing would have never been possible back in the day, and even when it was doable, it wasn’t without a lot of logistics and expense. If that isn’t mind blowing, I don’t know what is! Meanwhile, Hugh is always making use of both ends of the spectrum, since he has a full studio at his disposal, he can go that route, or he can use his laptop, or both. No restrictions!
Funkatology – Conclusion…?
Without a doubt, though, it isn’t all necessarily easy. In fact, it’s still a ton of work to get yourself out there. One of many reasons why it can be so difficult is because the environment itself has changed. We’re in a transitionary period which does promise great bounty but isn’t without it’s growing pains. “Well, what is there to do?” you ask. Hugh brings to the table a very lucid answer…..be creative, and keep putting yourself out there. As a creator and entertainer you have to put your soul into it and show people what you got. You have to express what’s on your mind while also being relentless in getting yourself out there. Keep at it. It can be tough, but it’s the way to shine, and it’s what this new era of music needs from you.