During his 20 years in the music business, mixer, recording engineer, and Recording Arts grad Carlton Lynn has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Madonna, The Roots, Aretha Franklin, Ciara, Jennifer Hudson, Monica, Usher, Pink, and Leona Lewis. He won his first GRAMMY in 2000 for his work on TLC’s iconic Fanmail album, and another in 2012 for his work on the best gospel album of that year, Lecrae’s Gravity. In early 2015, Carlton will add another accolade to his already impressive list of achievements when he’s inducted into Full Sail’s 6th Annual Hall of Fame. If you ask him what he attributes his incredible success to, he won’t say luck, or hard work, though those things have played their part in his story. He’ll tell you that it boils down to one thing. He’s made a career out of making himself indispensable.
After graduating from Full Sail in 1994, Carlton packed up his car and headed to Atlanta. Within a few days, he’d landed a gig interning for legendary producer Dallas Austin (Michael Jackson, Boyz II Men, Madonna).
“They had this big tech shop in the back of the studio,” Carlton recalls. “I noticed that there were boxes and stacks of bad cables. So during down time, I would go in there and fix cables. One day the studio manager walked by and I could see him making a mental note that I was doing that.”
Other people noticed as well. “Carlton was the guy you wanted to have around in the studio,” says his friend and colleague, 2010 Hall of Fame Inductee Leslie Brathwaite. “He was always fixing things.”
While making himself available in between sessions and taking initiative helped prove that Carlton was serious about his work, it also served another purpose. It allowed him to quietly observe the inner workings of the studio and soak up whatever information he could.
That’s another way Carlton makes himself indispensible—by approaching every challenge as an opportunity to expand his knowledge base. Early on in his career, he’d sometimes feel as though he was in over his head. While some people might let that pressure overwhelm them, Carlton was able to push through. This willingness to always give things a shot went a long way toward helping him build a reputation in the engineering world as someone who is both capable and reliable. He recalls one early instance where a producer left him in charge in the middle of a session.
“He said, ‘I’m going to go grab dinner. I want you to fly these vocals around. Have it done by the time I get back.’ I’m in there and I have all these vocals recorded, and I had no idea how to move them around.” It should be noted that this was in a time before Google, so there was no turning to the internet for answers.
“There was a sampler in the studio; it was a model that I was unfamiliar with, but I knew enough about the theory of sampling. So I jumped on the sampler and figured it out,” he says. By the time the producer got back, Carlton had used the pressure of the situation to get the job done, increasing his skillset in the process. It’s an approach he still takes, even after twenty years in the industry.
“As long as I’m in this business, there’s going to be things I don’t know, especially now that technology is changing so rapidly. Someone might bring in a piece of gear or software I’ve never seen before. I’m always learning something new,” he says.
Carlton also believes in sharing what he’s learned with his peers. Since 2009, he’s been the resident mixer for independent label Reach Records. Based in Atlanta, the company was co-founded Lecrae. Carlton says that his own workflow has actually changed some of the ways the guys at Reach do business. For instance, whether he’s mixing or recording, he always handles the organizational aspects of a session first thing.
“Routing, setting up for vocals or instruments, I take care of that first so I don’t have to think about it,” he says. “That way, when I sit down and start working on creative stuff, it’s all right brain. I can really get in the zone that way. You being in the zone makes you look good, and allows everyone else to stay in the zone.”
The preparedness, curiosity, and dedication that Carlton brings to the table make him a valuable asset to his clients. It’s something that he thinks about all the time, even after two decades in the business and all of his success. At the end of the day, he still just wants to be known as a guy who’s reliable, someone you can count on.