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WEEKLY NEWSLETTER February 29, 2016 by L. Swift and Jeff McQ


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Passion and Persistence: Film Connection grad
Jonathan Zambrano is paying his dues

Jonathan Zambrano

Jonathan Zambrano

Film Connection student Jonathan Zambrano (Los Angeles, CA) is working on a big project. Something important.   But it’s not what you might think.   Jonathan isn’t working on getting his first big movie made. He’s not pitching a script. He’s not trying to “make it big.” At least, not right now.   Instead, Jonathan is working on his portfolio.   “I’m just focusing on finishing all the work for school and building my portfolio of all the work that I’ve already done, and just getting all that together so that I’m able to show to people,” he says. “That’s my project right now.”   In order to build his portfolio, Jonathan has even taken on a couple of unpaid opportunities obtained through connections he made as a student (and with the help of his mentor) so he can build his experience. “One is with at Karga Seven Pictures, they’re at LA Center Studios,” Jonathan says. “And then my other one…the whole company is called Musa Productions. The main branch that I’ve worked with them is the All Warrior Network, which is military entertainment. They’re in for documentaries and short films…Something like a media comedy thing about what is going on in the military.”   Jonathan credits his pragmatic approach to breaking into the film industry to his Film Connection mentor, LA-based producer Daniel Sollinger, who ingrained into him the need to be both persistent and competitive from the very beginning.   “He made it real to me [that] if you don’t strive and you don’t keep competing, you’re not going to succeed, basically,” he says. “This is a very persistent business. You got to keep moving and motivating yourself no matter how many people there are that you think that could be better than you. You’ve always got to improve yourself and striving to do the best you can.”   Interestingly enough, film wasn’t Jonathan’s first career choice. “Originally, my interest was in being a mechanic,” he says, “but then in high school I’d taken more of those classes, and it didn’t seem a like a good career fit for me. Then I eventually took photography, and that’s what got me interested in being behind the camera.”   Jonathan first discovered the Film Connection by researching online, and he says he was initially drawn to the program because of the on-the-job training (as opposed to a campus) and the affordability. But when he first met his mentor, he was hooked for another reason entirely.   “I have looked at some other trade schools, but they didn’t seem legit,” he says. “They were just very laid back. They weren’t so much talking seriously about the whole industry…The mentor that interviewed me, he actually had the desire to teach rather than just be there and getting paid… I just saw that he actually had a passion for film and wanting to teach me and wanting to teach as many people as he could…It’s definitely more than beneficial for me to have someone that I can count on rather than just having a professor I wouldn’t be able to talk to in the classroom, with like 200 students.”   As he worked through his apprenticeship with Daniel, Jonathan says he appreciated being able to work through the course curriculum online. “I’ve always been more of a self-taught person, so having that curriculum and being able to study on my own compared to being in the classroom has benefited me,” he says.   Daniel also made sure Jonathan had plenty of on-the-job experience, as well—including giving Jonathan the role of cinematographer for an important and timely documentary he was working on. “It’s about how there’s so few Latin American people in the business…like minorities in the film business,” says Jonathan. “He’s just kind of getting their background and just to show, like is it possible to be in the film industry, you know, compared to other races.”   Having recently completed his apprenticeship, Jonathan has been able to hone in on the type of work he most enjoys in film (editing and writing, he says). He’s also learned a few things about networking, both in physical meetings and with social media, and he’s been surprised about how quickly and easily one thing can lead to another as his mentor started trying to connect him to other work opportunities. “It opened up more connections that I never thought I was going to get,” he says.   Jonathan recalls in particular how easy it was to land one of his current opportunities with the guy who interviewed him. “Even the simplicity of it, it just seemed really casual…It wasn’t so much of like he had to question me about everything in order to see I was interested. He knew that I’m going to be interested. He saw the potential in me, so he gave me that opportunity.”   And so, even though Jonathan has dreams of working on bigger films and perhaps even having his own production company, for now he’s working on his portfolio and his connections. He admits that sometimes he feels fatigued from the work, but he keeps it in perspective.   “I remind myself of the other jobs that I have had that [have] just been so stressful and annoying,” he says. “If I’m going to be tired, I might as well be tired for something that I enjoy, you know?”   Even so, it’s clear that Jonathan has his eye on the bigger prize, and has the passion, persistence and a willingness to pay his dues in order to get there. He’s in it for the long haul. “Slowly but surely I see my career starting to fall into place,” he says. “I know I’m not anywhere near where my ultimate goal is, but I am definitely on my way there. One thing is for sure, I’m not going to let anyone or anything stop me.”   
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Recording Connection mentor Frenchie Smith on his journey to success, and opening doors for others

Scorpion Child and Chris “Frenchie” Smith, center.

Scorpion Child and Chris “Frenchie” Smith, center.

The story of Grammy-nominated producer/engineer and Recording Connection mentor Chris “Frenchie” Smith is in many ways the ultimate lesson in what can go right in the music industry—from the unique way he got into producing records to the doors he now opens for his best apprentices. Operating out of The Bubble Recording Studio in Austin, TX, Frenchie has been ingrained in the busy Austin music scene for many years, from playing in a popular alt-rock band to recording for other top Austin acts like Ringo Deathstarr and Ume, and eventually working with national acts like Los Lonely Boys, The Dandy Warhols and Meat Puppets. He also recently co-produced Gregg Rolies’s vocals (along with Gregg’s son Sean Rolie) for the highly-anticipated Santana reunion album-Santana IV, slated for an April release.   Needless to say, there’s a lot students can learn from Frenchie’s story—starting with the way he got into studio life, which he says was initially as a band member with 90s alt-rock act Sixteen Deluxe.   “Being the band-appointed representative to talk to our engineers or producers when we would be making recordings, it was up to me to learn how to speak their jargons,” he says. “Anytime the producer was working on our album, I was there. And, it didn’t mean that I was telling him how to EQ things, but I was certainly hearing him pass in between different types of microphones, what a keyboard’s part sounded like with and without compression, with tube compression versus solid state compression. Being able to hear compression added as a tonal character maker versus just using it as a utility piece, being able to get my hands on the board and be able to write automation fades on the tape machine, on the console where we were mixing it all, that was incredibly eye opening.”   That’s where it started for him. “At the end of this long recording process,” he says, “I came back to Austin, and I just started telling my friends that I liked their bands. I started telling them I was a record producer. And most people laughed…We didn’t have social media, so I just started hitting the streets, telling everybody I was a record producer and I needed a recording studio. And a very sweet guy came and called me up and said, ‘Hey, my boss told me I could use his recording studio while he is on a business trip to England.’ And that was my in. So, I found this studio space for $0. The in-house engineer, he needed more hands-on job training, and I needed a place to work, and the band needed a studio. Absolutely, the stars aligned, and there it was…I was magically in the game.”   For Frenchie, it began as an opportunity to offset the costs of the band and give them opportunities to record cheaply. “What I, in theory, was doing was continuing to record bands, help offset the monthly nut for my band to have this amazing space to record in,” he says. “And when I got ahead financially on recording, keep buying more gear and learn more tricks, then I would fuse that into our records. So, we set this gear up, and the band gave me carte blanche to go spend about nine months just to make as many recordings with other artists in our community as I could, and get my confidence up and get my relationship with the tape machine, keeping it calibrated, and just a feel for it, and learn the acoustics of the environment.”  
The Bubble Studio

The Bubble Studio

But it soon became apparent that Frenchie’s priorities were changing regarding the band. “I feel bad for them,” he says. “They had to completely extract me from multiple records [he laughs]. I went in deep, and that whole agreement was just lost on me…I just couldn’t stop, it was amazing…I was going through my community and working with my best friends. It was awesome. And once I had made about one record with every one of my best pals, then that’s when the playing field got a little more even, and it was time for me to just start working with musicians and bands that we didn’t know each other’s life stories. Our commonality was music.”   Frenchie’s obsession with the studio eventually led to working with business partner Alex Lyon at The Bubble, now one of Austin’s go-to studios for local and national acts alike. Frenchie is in-demand as a producer for his ability to craft rich, warm sounds with analog tape while still taking advantage of the digital tools now available in the studio. “I do not miss, on a daily basis, putting up 2500 feet of tape and going through multiple drum takes, and whipping out a razor blade to compile a drum tape,” he admits. “Just the ease in being able to composite joint performances in the digital world is fantastic, and then obviously, being able to edit something really aggressively. And within about two minutes, it’s amazing you can rearrange songs and give the band a day to think about it, it’s great. So, there’s pros and cons of both of them, but I definitely try to use tape as much as I can. I have an analog brain.”  
Band Courtesy Tier, Chris “Frenchie” Smith with dog Agnes and Lindsey Kappa

Band Courtesy Tier, Chris “Frenchie” Smith
with dog Agnes and Lindsey Kappa

These days, as a Recording Connection mentor, Frenchie is now imparting his life lessons to apprentices. He’s particularly impressed these days with one student in particular, Lindsey Kappa.   “Lindsey worked on this record, it’s an album by a band called Scorpion Child, and they are on Nuclear Blast,” he says. “It’s a German and American record label. It’s their second record, and that’s going to be just an amazing time piece, in a Ronnie James Dio rock and roll rainbow vibe. So it’s something that people don’t hear a lot of these days. It sounds amazing.   “One of the projects she assisted was me producing Hunt Sales,” Frenchie continues. Hunt was the drummer on Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life. He was in David Bowie’s Tin Machine. And she’s just hanging out with them and talking to them about drum grooves, moving mics, helping out, just getting along with them…And Jimmy ‘Two Fingers’ was on bass. He had just left Buckcherry. Now he’s playing with the Cults. So she’s hanging out with these antique rock dudes, and just kicking ass, and they thoroughly enjoyed her.”   Because of Lindsey’s performance as an apprentice, Frenchie is now looking towards her future. “She’s really important,” he says. “She has a real voice on her…she may find her own journey on that duality of being a performer, and then a recording engineer and producer in the studio for other artists. So, I see some commonalities in her that I see in me…Some of my really dear friends have a commercial studio in Austin, and it’s run by a female. And I want to take Lindsey over there and just introduce here to them…They’re a conglomerate, but it’s all under the Willie Nelson umbrella. I want to take Lindsey over there and just [say], ‘If you guys are doing anything to do with the Austin City Limits Television, she could help with that. If you’ve got anything going on with the music venue at the W, the ACL Live, she could do that…she could handle anything you throw at her.’ But she’s got something to offer, and I want her to enter ground level as something on a massive commercial level.”   On a personal level, even with years of experience under his belt, Frenchie still keeps things in perspective regarding his own career. “Personally, I don’t ever want to get to a place where I’m so entitled that someone sings the vocals once or twice, and I go, ‘Yeah. It’s cool enough,’ and I just Auto-Tune the hell out of it, and it’s done. Infusing amazing editing tools or tracking tools is something that the modern recordist must continuously ask ourselves and police ourselves.”   As a musician himself, Frenchie also has keen insights on how to work as a producer with musicians in the studio—something he tries to impart to his students. “[Artists] don’t really care about how cool the microphones are, what the console is,” he says. “They love having a great headphone mix. They love being encouraged. They like that there’s toilet paper in the bathroom. They like a free donut every once and a while. They like one-on-one interaction and being encouraged to kick the living sh*t out of their performance, and be better than they are today. Be six months better than they are today, now.”   
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A Day in the Life of Our Students

  Recording Session While studying tracking in Chapter 7, Recording Connection apprentice Andrew Adesina (Dallas, TX) got to take part on a full, live tracking recording session with Stacy Burk and band. Andrew is truly appreciative for the firsthand experience he’s getting, thanks to mentor Matt Kennedy!  

Fly Stern

Recording Connection student Fly Stern (St. Louis, MO) has been playing piano for 22 years and is an accomplished artist, singer and composer. He’s toured the country, recorded in a number of studios and has two albums under his belt. Now as an apprentice at Phat Buddha Productions, Fly’s building out an already-impressive repertoire, growing his production skills and setting his sights on film scoring. He’s making it happen too with a music placement in a recent Chevy commercial. Fly says, “I’ve decided to make this a career which is why I’m with Recording Connection.”   
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