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The Story Behind the Music: Q&A with HARMAN Ambassador DJ Ashba

On Make Music Day 2019, people across the globe will pick up an instrument to celebrate the joy of making music – including some for the very first time! It’s an indescribable feeling and one that you must experience for yourself. Known for his work with Guns N’ Roses, Beautiful Creatures, Mötley Crüe, Neil Diamond and more, we sat down with famed guitarist, musician, songwriter, record producer, and HARMAN ambassador DJ Ashba to hear more about the first time he picked up an instrument and what motivates him to make music.

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Q: Tell us a little about yourself! How did you begin your career in music?

A: I was born into a very musical world – my mom played classical piano at home and got me up on the bench at a very early age. By the time I was five, I performed my first recital at church, playing ‘Ode to Joy’ in front of my first crowd! I’ve always loved the rhythm world, which soon had me started playing drums. While I’ve made a name for myself as a guitarist, both of my first instruments were pivotal to my development as a musician.

My advice for any young, aspiring musician is to learn as many instruments as possible, not just one. The drums are a great one to learn because they give you a truly foundational understanding of how a song is crafted. But, I found the drums to be too loud and I kept breaking drumsticks, so I started to look for other instruments I could take up. That was when I first saw Eddie Van Halen play the guitar, and I thought to myself, “I have to try that!”

I’m originally from a small town in Illinois, and I saved up for my first guitar by de-tasseling corn for an entire corner. I ordered it out of the Sears catalogue and I remember plugging it in for the first time – it sounded nothing like what I’d heard from Van Halen! My friend gave me a few pointers on how to play and after I hit my first real cord, the hairs on my arms stood up and I never put it back down.

Q: How did you become a member of the HARMAN family?

A:  I always knew I wanted to play music for a living, but I never imagined I’d play in a band like Guns N’ Roses. When I was 12, I even told my friends that I was going to move to Hollywood and become a rock star one day! They all laughed at me then, but I practiced religiously and eventually got there.

Fast forward a few years, a mutual friend in the industry introduced me to representative from HARMAN, and as they say the rest is history. When I met with the HARMAN team, it just felt like family. I could tell that HARMAN truly focuses on the artist and the music, and I was blown away by the technology, care, and love that they put into the development of all the gear and speakers. Now, my whole rehearsal studio is filled with JBL – it rumbles my entire warehouse!

Q: What motivates you to make music every day?

A: Music is in my blood – it’s all I’ve ever done – so it’s easy for me to stay motivated and create new projects. I will say though, if you’re pursuing music just because you want to be rich and famous, you might be pretty disappointed. It takes years of hard work before you ever see a dime. You have to make sure you’re in it for all the right reasons, because you love your instrument and the music. My love for the guitar and creating music that people enjoy are what really keep me going. There’s no stage you can’t get to if you’re willing to put in the hard work. If you wake up every day with the intent to take one more step toward your dream – you’re going to make it there, no doubt.

Q: What recent innovations in music production or recording equipment have been most influential on your process?

A:  The Digitech Whammy pedal is a huge contributor to my sound and style. It’s one of the pedals that I always use simply because there is so much you can do with it! I’m always pushing boundaries with my sound, trying to improve myself and put out better music and better sound. I never want to get too comfortable, so I keep trying to move forward as a musician, and the equipment I use plays a huge part in that progression.

Q: On June 21, music-lovers around the world will celebrate Make Music Day. What advice do you have for a novice musician who might be playing an instrument for the very first time on MMD?

A: I encourage everyone who stops by a Street Studio to try at least one instrument! Making music is always a fun thing to experience, especially if you’ve never held a guitar or played a drum before. There’s no pressure when you pick up an instrument for the first time – nobody sounds perfect at the beginning!  But you might uncover a new passion for playing music you never knew you had. If you keep playing and keep practicing, you’ll get as good as you want over time.

On Make Music Day, HARMAN will once again host Make Music Day’s Street Studios in cities across the globe. Learn more about our MMD Street Studios and stay tuned to our channels for more information.