Matt Mills

by Michael S. Eddy • in
  • 1000 Words With...
  • May 2018
• Created: May 14, 2018

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Lighting designer, director, and programmer, Matt Mills, a design partner at Touch Light & Media, has successfully forged a career that not only lets him wear different hats at times but also crosses over markets. His work ranges from concert touring to corporate events. Disturbed, Mötley Crüe, Linkin Park, and Three Doors Down are among the music acts Mills has provided lighting designs or direction. Over the years, his work in the corporate market has continued to increase, and today, Mills’ primary work load is handling corporate gigs. He recently became a design partner at Touch Light & Media. PLSN grabbed a few minutes with Mills to find out about how he came up through the industry and what he’s learned over the years.


PLSN: How did you get started in the business?

Matt Mills: I went into a new nightclub that just opened in Jacksonville, FL. They had this rig full of Intellabeams and Emulators. I thought, ‘Holy cow, look at that.’ Light had always interested me, just from going to ‘80s metal concerts, because those shows are always massive and over-the-top. The club was part of a corporate chain, so I figured that the guy behind the buttons was probably from another town and wanted to get back home, and I was correct — so I just kind of BS’ed my way in. I said, ‘Hey, I know how to do that.’ I could tell that he was just hitting buttons on the Intellabeam controller, and well, I could do that.

Looking at it, it made sense to me, and once I got behind the controls, it really did. I consider myself self-taught, even though over time I’ve taken plenty of seminars and had technical training. Lighting and programming have just always made sense to me. I actually went to school to become an auto mechanic, and I was one. I still turn wrenches on my car to this day.


What was the next step in your career, and when did you know it was your career?

I’ve been really serious about it from when I got a job at House of Blues Orlando in 1997. That was jumping in the deep end; I really had to be up on my game. It was a sink-or-swim moment. Fortunately, I’m still swimming.

While working at House of Blues, I was offered a position with Disney at their new park, Animal Kingdom. I helped them build a couple of theaters there, and I stuck around. I was still part-time at House of Blues, because I enjoyed working with live bands. About four years after that, I went freelance.

For a little while, I was the main console guy for Christie Lites when the grandMA1 console first came out. That was where I was when an account rep landed a job that asked if they could provide an LD along with the package for the band. The account rep asked if I could do the show, I said yes. So, they tried me out. The band was Three Doors Down. I guess I passed the tryout, because I was with those guys for six years and just kept going, going, going in my career.


And how did you move into corporate gigs?

Whenever I would be off from touring, I would be back in Orlando, which is a big corporate market. I got pulled into a lot of programming gigs with a lot of great designers and learned that side of the business.

There’s a meme showing rock ‘n’ roll roadies as a band of pirates, and corporate AV as Geek Squad from Best Buy. Fortunately, I’ve been able to play on both sides; I like that the corporate market lets me get off the tour bus and enjoy time with my family, but I do still design tours and get them up and running and send them down the road.


Talk a little about your work with Touch Light & Media.

There are three partners — Andrew Douglas, Matt Grinko and myself. The idea behind the company is, we all have fortunately been very successful, and we have repeat business, and then we are able to take on new business because we have partners. We feel that all three of us are equal in our skill sets and the clients like each of us. We feel comfortable being able to say to our clients, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t be there, but my partner can be. You’re going to get all the same benefits as if I were there.’ Plus, we all bring our established relationships with vendors to the table as well. We’re able help keep budgets where they need to be, and realize the design our clients want, so everybody is happy.


Do you still rent gear?

I do still rent gear. I’ve let go of all my media servers, and I just sold off my two consoles, but then I turned around and invested in Follow-Me Remote Follow-Spot systems. I have eight systems now that I rent. Last year, everybody was just kind of looking at it from afar, and this year everybody wants it. I’m actually having to turn rentals away at the moment due to the demand.


Who were some of your mentors?

I’ve worked with so many great people, like Rob Koenig from Metallica. He and I both came up together at House of Blues, so we were always… not competing, but always pushing one another. Then there are just people that I really enjoy programming with, like Troy Eckerman; it’s always great to reconnect with him. Fortunately, I’ve had a long string of people that have become friends in my life, that are also very talented people. We try to help each other along the way.


What piece of advice did you get early on in your career that’s still applicable, that you would pass on?

It’s not necessarily advice, but more just a way of handling things. If I was programming or I was working with somebody that I didn’t particularly care for, I wouldn’t necessarily let them know. I would do the gig the best I could; be professional; and then whenever they’d call me again I’d just simply say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m booked that week.’ I never want to tell them that I’ll never work with them again, because what if I have to work with them one day? Plus, people change, and there’s a good possibility the next experience would be better. You never know who you will encounter again or where.

A lot of advice was the important basic things — Always be five to ten minutes early; Always be professional. I learned how to be professional just by watching other people. You notice the group of people that are getting a lot of work, you notice the way they act and how they are with the clients and the crews. You also notice that the guys who are grumpy, complaining, and bashing the gig that they’re on are the ones crying they don’t have work. I’ve always tried to watch and learn from everyone I’ve worked. That is why I actually like programming for other people, because even though when I know the band, I will have seen it one way in my head and then they’ll have me program it another way. It’s a different perspective on things, and that’s a great opportunity to learn. That is what I would say as advice — you have to be willing to always watch and learn.

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