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Issue #200

Weekly Newsletter

by Liya Swift

Student Successes

How One Audio Engineer Quit His Day Job and Got Work with Chart-Topping Producers and Artists

Prior to starting Recording Connection, Morning Estrada (Los Angeles, CA) had entered college with plans of getting a degree in mechanical engineering. “All through high school I really excelled in my math classes. So I thought mechanical engineering would be for me… My father has a very mechanical background. He didn’t go into schooling at all, but works on planes. He’s very handy with his hands and very, very dedicated to his work. So that’s kind of where he pushed me to go. He was like, ‘You get your degree, you’ll get in higher places, a better job’… But as I started going to school, it just wasn’t me. I didn’t see myself doing it. I wasn’t, I guess, intrigued. It didn’t catch my attention. I was bored in the class. I stopped even going to classes at times.”   All the while, Morning’s love of music was a given. He’d been a diehard music lover all his life, yet the possibility of working in the industry had never occurred to him. “That was my thing. I just would buy CD’s and read [about] the studios where they record, and what area they were in. The engineers, I would read about [them] and the producers, the writers. I would love to open up a CD and just read all the credits…as I bought different CD’s…[I] started noticing certain names would pop up and stuff. Like, oh, that writer was part of this song too. That’s crazy, and they’re totally two different artists, two different parts of the world.”   Finally, after taking a few electives in college, Morning says he gained awareness of just how much music meant to him. “It just kind of started connecting,” he says. “Like it just naturally, organically happened.”   With a vision in his mind’s eye of the path he wanted to pursue—a career in audio engineering—Morning started researching various schools online but was discouraged by what he found. “I was actually to a point where I was like, ‘You know what, this is probably not going to be for me. It’s too expensive,” he says. “That’s when I found you guys.   What really struck me was the fact that you actually do a one-on-one mentorship instead of like the other schools. So it was different for me to hear the way your school was structured. It was like, whoa, I can actually learn one-on-one and it will actually be more affordable for me to be put into a studio right away…It was like a no-brainer at that point.”   What came next was an interview with his soon-to-be mentor, Donny Baker, at ES Audio (Los Angeles, CA). Donny’s a longtime Recording Connection mentor who’s known for going the distance for dedicated students. “He first interviewed me and asked me what I was passionate about and asked me how much [time] I wanted to dedicate to it, what I was doing also outside of the music. He’s like, “What’s your day-to-day type of thing?” And I explained I worked full-time at Bank of America. So he just said, ‘Okay, well do you feel like you can dedicate some time to this?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, of course, of course,’… He’s a really good guy.”   After starting Recording Connection and his externship with Donny, Morning’s day-to-day life became focused on two things: working his day job and growing his skills as an audio engineer through constant application of the craft. “Any chance that I had, any downtime outside of Bank of America, my work, I would try to record. It really just was all practice, practice, practice, practice until I couldn’t stop. And eventually, there was a point where I would go to work and would be like, ‘I can’t wait to leave to go work on more music.’”   By the time Morning graduated, Donny was calling him in to do sessions at ES Audio, especially when hip hop artists wanted to record. Not wanting to lose momentum, he also made it a point to keep going by working as many freelance gigs as he could in various studios throughout the city, even interning at an LA-based label’s recording studio. “They had a few signed a few writers, like one or two artists, and then a couple of producers. And basically, I was there every day. If Donny didn’t call me, I pretty much was over there for like four straight months.”   It was around this point in time that Morning decided it was time to quit his day job. The truth of the matter was that he had elevated his game as much as he could, given his limited availability. Since he was still living at home with his parents he was sure to have a roof over his head. It was a decision his ex-mentor Donny supported. Focusing solely on the work ahead was the next logical step in his journey, the culmination of the passion and work he’d invested thus far.   Morning remembers he was heading out for the night with a couple of friends when he got the call from Donny asking if he could work a session starting in two hours. Considering how hard Morning worked, a night of revelry was arguably well-deserved but the aspiring engineer didn’t hesitate at saying yes. What happened next would change his world.   “I walk into the studio and it’s Trinidad James…We had the session…I think we recorded, like, two, three songs that night. And at the end of it all, [Trinidad] said, ‘I really like working with you. There’s a nice vibe. I felt like you have everything under control here.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, thank you. I appreciate that.’ …After maybe a couple sessions he asked me, ‘Hey, would you mind being my engineer out here in L.A. whenever I come to L.A.? I’m looking to move here in the next month here as well. So you definitely would be more of my day-to-day engineer.’   And of course, ecstatic, I’m like, ‘Yeah, heck yeah. Of course, I’ll be there.’ He also asked me, ‘Hey, are you knowledgeable at maybe setting up a studio at home for me?’… So I took Trinidad to Guitar Center, we bought him a whole setup, and we would record at the house, like every day when he first got here… at this point we’ve probably got way over 100 [songs] now, and just countless hours of work.”   In just the past year Morning has worked with numerous players in hip hop, pop, and R&B. He recorded artist Jessie J for her highly-anticipated upcoming album, produced by Camper (Mary J. Blige, H.E.R.). Connecting with producer Hitboy (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Kanye West), Morning recorded and mixed multiple songs for Good for You by artist Aminé. Working with producer Frank Dukes (Jay-Z, Drake, Frank Ocean), Morning also recorded the chart-climbing album single “Never Be the Same,” on former Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello’s debut studio album, Camila. Other artists he’s worked with include Nelly, 50 Cent, Tech N9NE, Linzi Jai, Marsha Ambrosius, Noah Cyrus, Mr. Porter, and more.   Now with a thriving career as well as his own place and mixing room, Morning’s even getting flown-in to work on various projects, including one with producer Mr. Porter (Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent). While experiencing the satisfaction that comes from living his life’s purpose, he’s staying humble and gracious about his success. “The labels will call me like, ‘Hey, the producer says they only want to work with you, or the artists only want to work with you. Can you do a session?’… At this point, yeah, I have no complaints. It’s just all a blessing to wake up and do music.”   So what advice does Morning have for current Recording Connection students?   Morning stresses the importance of staying dedicated, getting in the studio as much as possible, and saying yes to work. “Come in as you can…If they can be there every day, if they can only be there on the weekends, if they can only be there at night because they have work during the day, I think the biggest thing is being there, because you never know…None of the opportunities were ever planned. They just kind of happened because I was there or I picked up my phone…You just need to be really dedicated to it. I think that’s the biggest thing.”  
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Mentor News | Special Feature

Networking Advice and Tips on Making Opportunities Happen from RRFC Mentors

Andy Shoemaker

Andy Shoemaker

Recording Connection mentor Andy Shoemaker at Rax Trax (Chicago, IL) stresses the importance of having people skills, not just technical skills:   “Before I start saying, ‘Hey man, can you do this session?,’ I need to see, technically, they know enough of what they’re doing to trust them enough not to screw up and also that I don’t fear that they’ll conduct themselves in a negative way with a client. There are people that I think of very highly, like, ‘Man, this guy is great. He knows what he’s talking about,’ but I just don’t know that I can hand him a session because his people skills are a bit lacking. If someone can’t read the artist and interact with them based on what the artist needs, then it isn’t a good fit between engineer and artist.”   Recording Connection mentor Matt Young, owner of The Press Recording Studio (Stockton, CA) says, “Half the battle is your personality and how you make the customer or client feel… You can have a great ear and cool studio but if you aren’t a pleasure to work with, I guarantee artists would rather record elsewhere. In fact, I’ve heard this multiple times from clients.”  
Scorpion Child and Chris “Frenchie” Smith, center.

Scorpion Child and
Chris “Frenchie” Smith, center.

  Recording Connection mentor Frenchie Smith at The Bubble Recording Studio (Austin, TX) says how you comport yourself, whether at a networking event, gig, or the grocery store matters. You never know who you’ll meet or where you’ll meet them: “Wherever you are, 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.”   Film Connection mentor Wes Cobb (Charlotte, NC) is a big believer in the art form of promoting oneself by talking about what you’re working towards in a natural, conversational manner: “Always let people know what you are doing, because that’s where opportunities come from. It’s all about the connections you make, that’s where your opportunities come along.”  
  Despite having multiple award-winning films under her belt, Film Connection mentor Christine Chen of Moth to Flame Films (Austin, TX), chooses to volunteer at SXSW every year, seeing it as a great way to expand her connections and meet aspiring filmmakers. “Volunteering, honestly, is a great way to go. I can afford a ticket, but I always try to volunteer because that’s a great way to force myself and meet people. If you’re doing stuff on a volunteer gig for eight plus hours, you’re going to talk to somebody.”  
  Film Connection mentor Jason Winn (Atlanta, GA) says communicating skills and talents you possess that can help further a project makes for great win-win situations. “Externs Tal and Dennis recognized that they had a talent that, if they didn’t tell me about it, I wouldn’t know. So they did a really good job of marketing themselves like, ‘Here’s what I can bring to the table. Here’s what I can do.’ You can’t be afraid to speak up.” Thanks to them speaking up, Jason was able to get them more involved on a film project!  
  Film Connection mentor Christine Chen has more great advice, especially for those of us who are naturally a little more introverted: “Ask someone what they do. People love to talk about themselves. So if you’re not comfortable talking about yourself first, be curious about what other people are doing.”  
FC mentor Sean McCarthy   Award-winning filmmaker and Film Connection mentor Sean McCarthy of Guerilla Wanderers (Bay Area, CA), loves it when students adopt a collaborative mindset and get in deep on a project: “I love teaching but as a working professional, I don’t have the time to go to schools and teach. I’ve gone and guest lectured for a day…But when I get to pair that with students where I’m working on a real-time project, then they become a collaborator, they become a teammate that I don’t just mentor but can be hand-in-hand with. Those opportunities only happen when you’re in the middle of it.”  

Michael Vail Blum

Recording Connection mentor and Ableton specialist Brian Jackson of Form Labs (Brooklyn, NY) says having an entrepreneurial mindset is crucial in today’s climate: “A lot of the bigger DJs that are also producers are basically little industries. So over time they realize they that they don’t want just want to be a DJ, they don’t want to just produce tracks and remixes, they also have their own labels, their own booking agencies, their own clothing lines…So yeah, you have to figure out what you want to do and do it. You have to be flexible, but you have to be focused…You have to think like an artist that’s also an entrepreneur.”   Platinum-selling producer/engineer and Recording Connection mentor Michael Vail Blum (Los Angeles, CA) believes in staying proactive and being entrepreneurial as a rule: “I think that it’s really important to go out and build your own career. And that’s what finding talent is to me, is being able to have the opportunity to find something I think is good and valuable and bring it to market. In the process, incidentally, I have my own label.”   Doing so, often means letting go of outdated understandings and misconceptions people have about how the industry works. Speaking to this point, Recording Connection mentor Jeramy Roberts (Austin, TX) says, “All artists have misconceptions. Then you start breaking down the process…and they very quickly find out that it’s nothing like they thought it was going to be… So once they start to get all this information, then their minds start to pick it apart and go their own way… I don’t want them to just go out and get a job: I want them to create their own job. And [once they know how] they’re ready to start doing that.”  
  Angel Rivera and RC mentor Doug BoulwareRecording Connection mentor and producer/engineer Doug Boulware at The Abstract Recording Studios (Glendale, CA) shares how he was able to get his foot in the door and grow his knowledge and connections back when he was just starting out without a studio of his own: “I went to bigger studios…and I said, ‘Okay, I get that you don’t have a job, but if I bring you a client, can I hang out in the session and just kind of soak everything up?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, of course.’”   And when he wasn’t in the studio, Doug was working at getting working with as many artists as possible.   “It was never like, ‘Oh, I’m just kind of trying to get a job at a studio.’ I would go out to shows and I would hand out business cards that I made on my computer…I started doing stuff for free for people and hip-hop guys around my neighborhood and people I went to high school with… Once they saw how excited I was about their music and how energetic I was about doing it, they wanted to work.”  

Scott Johnson, mentored by Steve Catizone

Recording Connection mentor Steve Catizone considers dependability a huge factor when it comes to getting hired. His former student, now employee Scott Johnson, is the exemplar of dependability and thanks to that, his career is taking off fast! “Luck is preparedness meets opportunity, and anytime I’d ask [Scott] to come in to shadow or assist, he was there…[Now]he’s my go-to guy. When I have sessions, I’ll call him first.”   Even when the artist coming in is Charli XCX, Scott is the guy Steve calls! Learn more.   Recording Connection mentor David Hughes of Shine On Studio (Oakland, CA) says putting in the time and showing his level of dedication was a key ingredient in his success: “You’ve got to be the guy they can count on when they need you to get things done…Putting in long, long hours, especially hours that I didn’t want to put in, when I wanted to make plans with my girlfriend, friends, or family was the most difficult self-discipline that I’ve had to endure. You really have to sacrifice some of your free time to be respected in the industry.”  
  Recording Connection mentor Victor Abreu of Clear Track Studios (Tampa Bay, FL) says there’s no getting away from spending the time it takes to master the craft: “The whole 10,000 hours thing is the time you put in to become great. Create opportunities for yourself in the different places that you want to go. Continue that same attitude when you reach that point, and when you reach the next point. Just trust the process. Continue to do what you know how to do best, and everything else pretty much falls into place.”  
  Recording Connection mentor Luis Pacheco of The Hideout (Las Vegas, NV) shares a few final words of advice that everyone should heed: “Keep your head up. Opportunities are everywhere. It’s just about opening the door and running with it.”  
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Apprentices in Action

A Day in the Life of Our Students

   Film Connection student/extern Julia Chance (Dallas, TX) is welcoming the experience of diving in headfirst on an ongoing project with mentor Deen Olatunji:“We have jumped right into shooting a series as I began studying and it was wonderful and painful, frustrating at times but when I listened, when I applied myself to the needs of the crew and director and could give them a sigh of relief or a simple “Yes, we’ll do what she said,” it’s the collaboration I was hoping to achieve…Deen (my mentor) has been interested in everything I want to do: production design, cinematography, playing with the Ghost Drone…It is madness while we shoot and I’m learning a great deal through questions, observations, communication, sometimes lack of communication, discomfort…caffeine, problem solving, joke making, actor appeasing, tolerance, intolerance, understanding one’s limits, then thinking, ‘How can I expand these limits so I too can be a film hustler?’” Go Julia go!    Recording Connection student/extern, Chris Jennings (Charleston , SC) finds he’s in his element at the studio, where he’s absorbing as much as he can during lessons and while shadowing in-session: “This week I had the opportunity to be graced with presence of Daryl Hall from the group Hall & Oates, from the 80’s and 90’s. During this session, I had an opportunity to help set-up the studio for Mr. Hall and his engineer. Simple placement of mic stands, mics, amps, Hear Back, headphones and other basic studio set-up were part of my job. During most of the session, I was a “fly on the wall” as Elliot instructed me. I was able to gain some insight on the type of equipment Mr. Hall’s engineer used, as well as some techniques used in his mixing process. Overall, it was an incredible experience.”  
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or call (800) 755-7597