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WEEKLY NEWSLETTER December 5, 2016 by L. Swift and Jeff McQ


Giving back to the tribe: Recording Connection grad Angelina Alvarado shares her passion with the community

img_3440 For Recording Connection graduate Angelina Alvarado, what began as a simple desire to learn more about music has evolved into much more.   “I live on a reservation,” she explains. I’m from San Pasqual Indian reservation, and I think it will be a good opportunity, you know, to give back to the community…One of my goals is once we get the studio going…to have people in the community and like younger generation if they want to sing, you know, or if they have ideas, to come, and we can try and put things together.”   Angelina says her love for music is what first prompted her to look for audio training. “I was like a big fan of reggae music,” she explains. “I’d go to the concerts at least a couple times a month. I loved the energy, and I always wanted to learn because I see, you know, I’d get there early and see them setting up…and I always wanted to kind of learn like behind the scenes of the music. So I started looking into like recording music and classes for that.”   When Angelina discovered the Recording Connection could train her in a studio, she saw the chance she was looking for. “It was just an awesome opportunity, you know, to learn and be hands-on, and finally understand what goes on behind the scenes.”   Angelina was placed as an apprentice with industry veteran Josquin des Pres at Track Star Studios in nearby San Diego. Right away, she felt immersed in the process.   “It was all hands-on, you know,” she says, “and it was cool because people would come in [to record]…and if I had a question or something, you know, they would explain it to me…They’re awesome and I definitely learned a lot from them.”   She admits to being a bit anxious the first time she had to begin applying what she’d learned. “When I had to record someone else that came in, I was kind of nervous,” she says, “because it was like my first time…I’d be the one pushing the buttons and, you know, creating a new track and adding stuff, and I was kind of nervous, but they’re like, ‘Oh wow,’ you know, like I caught on good…They’d guide me if I didn’t understand something.”   A drummer herself, Angelina says one of the high points of her training was when she was able to bring her husband (a guitarist and singer) into the studio so they could record some of his songs. “Me and my husband, we’re on like our worship team for our church,” she says. “He was starting to write new material, kind of like worship, but like reggae…It was a cool experience, you know, I got to record him…Josquin and Thomas—he was one of the engineers there—they helped us…We threw like, you know, just like a drum mix on there. And then we just threw some keyboards. And then Josquin played the bass…It was just a good opportunity for us to grow together in that and go forward with that music.”   Applying what she learned from her apprenticeship, Angelina and her husband are currently working on assembling some gear and recording more music at home. As an employee of the accounting department for her tribe, she also says she’s looking into the possibility of obtaining grant money to build out a studio, which she hopes will be a connection point with the community. She particularly has a heart for the at-risk youth.   fullsizerender-1 “It can be hard, you know, as a teenager, especially up here,” she says. “Everything’s so easy to get a hold on, you know, like you can get caught up in like alcohol and drugs and stuff…The youth, you know, sometimes, they just need someone to talk to, you know. And they don’t know how to express themselves. So maybe, you know, they sing or, you know, rap or something, and that’s how they express themselves, you know. Maybe I can help them with that, or sometimes you just need someone to talk to and be there and just encourage them, so hopefully coming from being there, you know, I can kind of relate to them and help them.”   She sees the studio helping in other ways, as well. “I have some family that does sing our cultural songs, you know, and the bird songs,” she says. “That’d be another great opportunity because there’s some young ones that are like my age that the older generation has taught them songs, you know, so that’d be another opportunity to record them…that way we can have something, a record of them.”   For Angelina, her newfound recording skills are more than just an opportunity for a career; they represent a chance for her to use her own love for music as a deeper connection point with others. “Music always—it makes you feel good, you know?” she says. “If you’re going through something, you know, a song can speak and it could be like exactly what you’re going through.”   
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NUGGETS OF TRUTH: Recording Connection mentor Frenchie Smith on working with bands, asking the right questions and the “construction site” approach

   A long-time veteran of the industry, Recording Connection mentor Frenchie Smith is a Grammy-nominated producer/engineer and musician who has worked with such names as The Dandy Warhols, The Toadies, Jet, Meat Puppets and many others. At The Bubble Recording Studio in Austin, Texas, Frenchie also delights in passing the wisdom of his experience on to his Recording Connection students. In a recent conversation with RRFC, Frenchie pulled back the curtain a bit on his unique approach to producing bands in the studio, offered some key advice for up-and-comers, and even took a few minutes to brag on some of his apprentices. Some of the best nuggets from that conversation have been mined for you below.  
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Scorpion Child and Chris “Frenchie” Smith, center.

Scorpion Child and
Chris “Frenchie” Smith, center.

ON THE MINDSET OF WORKING WITH ARTISTS IN THE STUDIO:   “I think the most important thing that a recordist can do is be proactive and read the energy of the individual musicians and the collective of the band. When we’re open to their feedback, they’re open to our feedback. You know, also discussing what their role is before going into the session. So if the band says, ‘We love our live repertoire right now, all we want to do is record it note for note,’ and they reveal that they will not have any musical feedback and they just want someone to engineer and document their ideas to date, then the role has been clearly defined. So if the artist is looking for a producer—this is what happens for me—I’m encouraged to bring ideas to the table and look for opportunity to bring more cohesion to their ideas. So I think the gateway to that is to be compassionate and calm and be focused, and just play the role of someone that they trust.”   ON THE ROLE OF THE PRODUCER/ENGINEER AS A FOREMAN FOR A PROJECT, BALANCING ART AND TIME MANAGEMENT:   [The recording process] is a bit of a construction site. So, you know, the intangible artsy side of it certainly helps the creative process. Really, seeing ourselves as that foreman/forewoman of the construction site, with the loudest yellow hard hat, to some degree helps us stay somewhat grounded. And that knowing what parts of a recording that, you know, we need to address time wise, and doing that, it allows us to be a bit more artful and take some chances midway through that and the backend… It’s a company, and our ability to manage time, it helps us keep our promises with artists. And sometimes the artists live in other countries, they live in other cities. Even if it’s a bigger band or an unknown band, you know, people can be collaborating from all over the world. And all of a sudden, you have every band member in the same room, and some of them are incurring hotel fees, or plane tickets to get to where we are. Then we really want to maximize that experience of when the entire band is together.”   HIS CREATIVE APPROACH TO HELPING ROCK BANDS ACCLIMATE TO THE STUDIO:   “The sooner I get the band playing, as in day one, in the first two to three hours, my goal is to always have the band perform a rock show of their songs that they’re wanting to record…We kind of create a set list that’s also maybe a song list for us, as potential contenders, and they do one pass of the song and they go straight into the next one…As they’re doing that, I’m finalizing some of the sonics and how I want to capture the band. I’m not getting the bulk of my sounds by having a 12-hour drum sound check; I’m getting the drums sounds while the drummer is playing…That desensitizes the importance of the studio. It dilutes the nerves of a musician, because by the time they’ve spent an hour and a half doing a show session, all of them have been sweating. It’s no longer just some new building to them…it’s their building. They’ve just played a rock show. They’re the most significant thing that is happening in there. So they’re very centered on who they are…And once they’ve seriously just had to change clothes that they just sweated playing an entire show, like their socks are completely drenched, at that point, they’re in an environment they know…they know how to be there. And that’s a great place for rock music.”   ON WORKING WITH THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN THE STUDIO, NOT JUST THE TECHNICAL:   “[Daniel, one of my students] was watching the one hundred scientific engineering duties I was doing, and he was asking me about those. And he was so focused on that that he missed the finer detail which was a bit of dialogue I had with the band tracking. There was a rhythmic emphasis that some of the band were performing, and some of them, it was going over their heads. And I brought it to their attention, and they were all able to talk about it and commit to what that performance needed… In talking with Daniel, I pointed out how that one conversation saved me lots of editing time. [I told him] ‘Well, I just saved myself 300 edits by talking to these humans in a graceful manner and just alerting them…bringing it to their attention that there are some oddities going on in the performance.’”   WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH SOME OF HIS RECORDING CONNECTION STUDENTS:   “[Cousins] Elisa Robledo and Brandon Robledo are quite unique because they are—their family is putting together a recording studio that’s ultimately going to be a retreat residential facility outside of Austin in an old German town called Fredericksburg. So the chops that Elisa and Brandon are going to leave the Recording Connection program with, actually is going straight into their…recording facility. They just have such an amazing trajectory in front of them…Just having two young minds that are hopelessly nuts about audio being at the helm of a recording studio is just—that’s going to be a really great destination.   “And then Skye Stewart, I’d say she’s midway through her projects and completion. She is also a musician…We’ve customized her schedule to where she can still work a night job and come in to sessions. And she’s really a prime example of how the program really works when the student has got the ability to go make some noise in their own bedroom or living room of their house. I’ll send her files of the song that I’ve just mixed and go, ‘Okay, here’s my version of the mix. What would you do if you were able to mix this song for an entire week? What would you do with the song?’…She’s at that stage now where she’s trying to show me how it’s done and giving me a little bit of a rock challenge. So I’m excited about that.   Daniel [Sahad] is in the early stages of his participation with me, and he is really excellent…He has a very expansive musical knowledge and there’s just an incredible hustle on him. He graduated from the University of Texas in Austin, so he has a background in…He has a Bachelor’s in not only marketing but, you know, but also just whatever it takes to be into PR…He might be just like the new generation of music industry people that can play, they can write, they can perform, they can produce, they potentially could manage, they could do in-house PR for a release. His points of reference are very large. And, you know, he’s only 23…at 23 I was really trying to figure out who I was and I was a bit of a maniac. At 23, he just has such a solid confidence and presence, and those are the kinds of qualities you want to see in people when you’re trusting them with your musical dreams.”   HOW STUDENTS CAN GAIN MORE BENEFIT FROM THEIR STUDIO TRAINING BY PRACTICING AT HOME:   “As soon as they hear some kind of technique coming into fruition based in music in a production in the proper recording studio, and they go home and try something exactly like it, then they’re truly learning…I think that was the hardest thing for me early in my audio career, was if I couldn’t spend X amount of days a month in a 24-track tape machine recording environment, any momentum I had from one project that would’ve been…Maybe it would’ve been a luxury to be in there for seven days, 10 days, two weeks or a month. And if I wasn’t back in that environment again for three months or six months or a year, my naturally-occurring very organic learning was modified. So, they can act by having their own system at home, even if it’s just in their bedroom, where they can hear music and play with it. That’s the true learning experience.   ON HOW MODERN TECHNOLOGY GIVES STUDENTS MORE OPPORTUNITIES TO BUILD THEIR CAREERS:   “You know, the recording studio ultimately is in our minds. And so the technology is so vast that a little studio is anywhere that you can just plug in and get power and not have the cops called on you for making noise. If you can fill in the gaps there, then you’re making a recording… So if you love recording and you’re interested in others, then go find your tribe. And if you want to get time in a professional recording studio, then you can go do that. If you have the ability to track 8 or 16 inputs, and you can roll around with your rig, or you have a tracking room in your house, or you have a rehearsal room, that other like-minded people are helping you with the responsibility of the monthly rent… I think as a pupil, it could be quite intimidating to come out of the Recording Connection and immediately just go to a band and go, ‘I can help you make a recording and I still would like to have some hands-on experience, but were still going to need to pay $20,000 in studio time.’ That’s [now] completely optional. And being able to have the power to remove that part of the dialogue when a new recordist is talking to a band is ultimately empowering opportunity.”   ADVICE FOR STUDENTS ON BEING PASSIONATE AND PERSONABLE:   “For my pupils with the Recording Connection, for them to see me aggressive and willing and excited and just never tiring on some demanding deadlines, and just saying yes to opportunity, you know, it makes me feel like [that’s] a good message for the next generation, …One of the things that I’m always telling the pupils, you know, is that wherever you are, you are a billboard for—how you visually look, how you talk to people, the way you carry yourself is your business card…We have to visualize that our demeanor is our business card, and websites fall a little flat when we can’t attract opportunity in real time.”   
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A Day in the Life of Our Students

Still from The Earth Below, a Moth to Flame Production, 2016

Still from The Earth Below, a Moth to Flame Production, 2016

From day one, Film Connection student Jon Grandstaff (Austin, TX) got to assist on-set of The Earth Below, a sci-fi short directed by his mentor Christine Chen of Moth to Flame Productions. “In three days I saw and took part in full pre-production, set design and primary shooting of a short film, with her in the director role and having a large part in the minute to minute production in every way…I was able to assist in storyboarding scenes, lighting, photography (the Director of Photography, Taylor Camarot, was very willing to explain the process I already had surprisingly close access to), the filming of scenes from the creative director POV…I was able to see my mentor handle first hand regarding delegation, managing multiple locations with their own shooting restrictions and orchestrating a 15-25 person group, all actually trained and experienced in the roles of a fully fleshed out and well-oiled “Movie Making Machine”… the entire experience far surpassed anything I expected to witness in the first half of this course, let alone the first thing… something that you really don’t encounter in traditional film schools.” Trailer drops December 14th!    dylanmullins Recording Connection student Dylan Mullins (Charleston, SC) is making the most of every single day. “Learning Ableton at the studio today. Thanks to Recording Connection for giving me this opportunity to be an apprentice under a great sound engineer named Elliott Elsey and for us to be learning Ableton Suite 9 Live and achieving my goals day by day…I am learning a lot so far and much more to come.”  
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