Which New Orleans business leader moonlights as a DJ?
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Michael Hecht is invisible.
It’s not exactly a superpower, but as he slides into his chair near the door of Jeff Albert’s Loyola University New Orleans classroom, it at least allows Hecht to focus.
“The first day, I walked in with a tie in full regalia, and they don’t notice me,” Hecht laughs, acknowledging his fellow students who are sitting around us are, on average, at least a decade younger than his own age. “Another day, I was working from home, and I came in wearing an Alison Wonderland shirt and Nikes, and they don’t notice me.”
The president and CEO of the regional economic development nonprofit GNO Inc. isn’t used to not being seen — in the next hour, his phone will ring nearly a half-dozen times — but for a few moments every week this spring, he takes advantage of the discipline a school schedule enforces.
Hecht has gone back to class. It’s not an unfamiliar space for the Yale and Stanford graduate, but this kind of coursework certainly is: He’s learning music production.
And it’s not just a cursory nod to the recent announcement of GNO Inc.’s New Orleans Music Economy project, either. Hecht could audit the class, but he chose to fully enroll, putting up the cash for his tuition to force himself to learn more about the music he’s been into since he was 21. Back then, he hurt himself while playing rugby and ended up with a constant migraine for about 18 months.
Hecht “self-medicated” with industrial rave music.
“It was one of the only things I could do that could create a signal to noise ratio that the noise was so high, it would actually stop the signal of pain,” Hecht said. “So, I got into music.”
Growing up in New York through the 1980s and 1990s, the early greats of hip-hop and grunge were easy to find, but Hecht also found an appreciation for industrial, breakbeat and rave.
New Orleans has “been missing out on a lot of the business of music,” GNO Inc CEO Michael Hecht said.
“It changed me from being a person who liked music at the cultural level . . . to somebody who really appreciated it at a deeper, personal level,” Hecht said. “My only frustration is that, because I came to it late, I didn’t have the foundation of learning piano and understanding music at the structural level.”
Still, he tried. By college, Hecht bought himself some gear — but he was still lost.
“Just because you buy a sampler and a keyboard and some really nice monitors doesn’t mean you have any idea how to use them,” Hecht said.
So, he tried to learn. In Australia, where Hecht worked early in his career, he met with Norwegian composer and sound designer Ollie Olsen, who told him, as Hecht put it, “you haven’t mastered your instrument until you break it.”
“What I think he meant by that was, until you’re using your instrument in a way in which it wasn’t really intended, you don’t really know it,” he said. “To me, the electronic example of that is the 808. . . . The 808 is a bass simulator, but it got tweaked and modulated to create the acid sound. . . . I couldn’t use my equipment enough to use it as it was intended, let alone to break it. I was trying to be Picasso when I couldn’t even paint a decent portrait.”
Since then, Hecht has still performed — “I had a semi-regular gig as a freestyle rapper with a James Brown cover band” — and occasionally DJed even while a stint in the restaurant industry and his business career took him all over the world. His credits include DJ gigs at Diner en Blanc and aboard a Mardi Gras float for Lupe Fiasco. This week, he’ll DJ during a New Orleans Entrepreneur Week event.
The biggest goal, however, is to use what he’s learning in class to create a self-produced EP by the end of the year.
“I’m coming to it with a lot more humility than before,” Hecht said of the project. “I have to start at the bottom and learn my foundation. And it’s working. It’s pedantic, going through (my software) feature by feature, but I can see I’m beginning to internalize it.”
It helps, too, that Hecht’s moonlighting as DJ El Camino has perks in his day job. The New Orleans Music Economy project, which aims to bolster the business community’s support for the city’s music industry, has him on the phone with musicians, record labels and other industry folks.
“Being able to understand what they’re saying, what’s important to them, why the acoustics of a recording studio help, what those have to look like, how it matters and how much it would cost to get there, being able to speak, somewhat, in the register of a musician, it creates credibility for GNO Inc. with the artists we’re working with,” he said.
It helps, too, that it’s happening here.
In his Uptown home, Hecht has his production gear perched in front of a wall of CDs — his and his wife’s records melted in their move from San Francisco, so you won’t find many on those shelves — amidst pieces of eclectic art. The room itself feels like an illustration of Hecht’s varied interests: There’s an orange shag rug, modern chairs and, above two fireplaces, mylar wallpaper with designs of airplanes and diamonds. This space is where the Hecht family hosts an annual mulled wine party, complete with lasers, a fog machine and DJ El Camino at the helm.
“I’ve always . . . enjoyed having a couple sides of being able to happily exist in different registers of formality, and that’s one of the great things about New Orleans,” Hecht said. “It’s one of the cities in the country, certainly, where having a creative side is not only tolerated but it’s celebrated and maybe even expected.”
Chelsea Brasted is a columnist on the Latitude team at NOLA.com ′ The Times-Picayune. Latitude is a place to share opinions about the challenges facing Louisiana. Follow @LatitudeNOLA on Facebook and Twitter. Write to Chelsea at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call or text with story ideas, tips and complaints 225.460.1350.
Correction: Michael Hecht’s shag rug is orange, not white as previously reported.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com