John Blais: From San Juan to the Latin Grammys

The Recording Arts grad was part of the team behind Calle 13’s award-winning latest album

John Blais: From San Juan to the Latin Grammys Recording Arts graduate John Blais John Blais and Ramon Martinez

2008 Recording Arts graduate John Blais picked up his first Latin Grammy statue this fall for his work as an engineer and mixer on Calle 13’s hit album Entren Los Que Quieran. It would be a remarkable achievement for any young artist, but the honor is even more inspiring when you learn that only a few years before John was actually training to become an airline pilot. Yes, a pilot.

All that changed one night when he was studying for a flight school exam, and a friend invited him out to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. John was a lifelong music fan, and although he debated it, he eventually dropped his books to head to the show. While there he found himself standing near the front of house mix station, where he recognized Dave Rat, owner of Rat Sound Systems, working behind the board.

“I knew Dave from seeing him in magazines, and he noticed me staring at all this gear, and asked if I wanted to check it out,” he says. “So he brought me into his area and let me hang out during the entire show. It’s crazy, I was studying for a flight exam that night, and then a few hours later I was next to Dave and the mix engineer for one of my favorite rock bands. Standing behind them was an instructor from Full Sail – he gave me a card to the school, and I think it was just destiny.”

John enrolled in the Recording Arts program shortly after, and found a strange seamlessness in the transition from airplanes to audio. He had a good ear for music, and felt a natural intuition for the technical side of music production. Following graduation he moved back to his native Puerto Rico with his new skills, and began looking for opportunities in San Juan’s active music scene. After a few months he built up a relationship with Playbach Studio, and its owner Ramon Martinez, who quickly noticed something special about his work ethic.

“John has a big confidence in himself, he wasn’t afraid of anything when he started, and that’s something you have to have in the studio,” Ramon says. “You really need to build the confidence of the client. If people are paying money to come to a studio and record, they don’t want to feel like there’s a rookie on the board. Because of that he’s getting really big on the island.”

After building Ramon’s trust as a studio assistant, John was given opportunities to help behind the recording console as assistant engineer, and finally, engineer and mixer. This would lead to him joining the sessions for Calle 13’s Entren Los Que Quieran. The band was a favorite of his while growing up, which would have been memorable enough, but the record would eventually go on to net a record-breaking 10 Latin Grammy nominations, and walk away with nine of the awards, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year.

“I listened to Calle throughout high school, so I felt fortunate and blessed just to have the chance to work with them,” he says. “For this album they ventured out to uncharted waters, tried some very different trends that no one else was trying, and hit it big. It was just a great experience, and the Grammys are awesome, but it only makes me want to work even harder next time. I think the most important thing in this business is to be humble and always be learning.”

Stories like John’s are a reminder that no one’s path is set in stone, and he says he often laughs when thinking about where he would be now if he hadn’t taken a chance on a career in music. He might have been a great pilot, he may have even flown you around the world, but his work as an audio engineer has taken him on a different, but equally exciting journey.

“It’s magical, and no other industry offers this,” he says. “Always inside me I had this passion for audio gear and music. I remember growing up, my dad had this really cool stereo and I’d be listening to Billy Joel, the Beatles, and the Eagles, and every time I heard a good track I could feel my hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Even now, making music, it’s still like that for me.”

Full Sail University
Recording Arts Graduate John Blais Receives His First Latin Grammy
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