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Issue #211

Weekly Newsletter

by Liya Swift

Student Successes

Recording Connection student Derek Bradford Gets in &
Grows at Engine Room Audio!


Michael Bader, Derek Bradford, and Mark Christensen at Engine Room Audio

Derek Bradford is a music producer and aspiring audio engineer as well as a husband, father, and waiter at a high end restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. As such, his days are busy, and long, especially since he enrolled in Recording Connection. Nevertheless, he knows he’s growing both creatively, as a beat maker and musician, and professionally, as an audio engineer.    When he found Recording Connection, Derek says he recognized the value of our real-world approach. “I know that the music industry is very competitive. And I like the fact that the program is an immersion-style course, where it brings you right into the studio. So you get to actually touch the knobs, and, you know, press the buttons, and pull all the patch cables, and things like that. I think there’s something to be said for the classroom setting, but why wait when you want to be in the studio?”   Getting acclimated to being in the studio was a big priority on Derek’s list. He’d started making beats in 2009. By 2014, what had started out as a hobby had become a full-fledged passion. He recalls the moment he got honest about the kind of future he wanted to build and told himself: ‘All right, this is definitely what you want to do, and you’ve got some skills and you’ve got some knowledge.’”   Yet he knew he needed more. When Derek thought about the challenges that lay ahead, getting comfortable working within a professional recording studio environment stood out as a crucial step in his development. “We can be comfortable when we’re at home or with our buddies, but if you’re doing it professionally, you got be able to go into any studio and produce.” He says his experience in the program has changed that. “[It] really helped me settle my nerves and just get comfortable.”   But when he walked into Engine Room Audio (New York, NY), the feeling he had wasn’t one you could necessarily describe as “comfortable,” not at first. With high ceilings and lofty interiors, the fully-appointed multi room facility is impressive to say the least, and Engine Room’s owner, Recording Connection mentor Mark Christensen (The Killers, 50cent, Dr. Dre, Trey Songz, OK GO) is a renowned, highly respected mastering engineer with three decades in the business and a slew of gold and platinum credits to his name. “I was floored, and to be honest, I was intimidated…Mark has his plaques all over the studio. And some of them might be your favorite artists across different genres. And I was just like, ‘Oh, man, I don’t even want to talk to this guy, because I don’t even know if I’m going to say the right thing.’…Then when you meet Mark, he’s like the nicest guy in the world and you can tell that he has a passion for teaching young people.”   Since starting his externship with Mark and co-mentor Michael Bader, aspects about recording and making music which were once “shrouded in mystery” have become clear, techniques have been garnered, and realities gleened. Recently, Mark even pulled back the curtain on the songwriting process in a special songwriting session he gave to students. Derek says, “We’re all musicians and creators so we all know the gist of songwriting, but Mark really broke it down in black and white. He made these charts, and when you see the visual chart with the audio, it just clicks because it’s something you know instinctually, but when you see someone put it in plain English, you’re like, ‘Oh, okay. Now that makes total sense.’   Where once there was mystery, clear understanding has moved in to take its place. “A lot of times you like to think, ‘These guys just do it, and it just happens to come out magically or from some kind of crazy inspiration.’ But sometimes, you know, it’s very deliberate process, it’s very thought out. Learning that process really helped me kind of open up and [it’s] even led to various ideas.”   And even though Derek has a lot on his plate, he’s making it a point to put what he’s learning into use on a hip hop project he’s working on with artist Mr.DasOne. He says the difference in his work is nothing short of palpable. “I get so much more warmth and clarity out of my vocals now, and you know, the songs have so much more pump or bump in the low-end.”   When it comes to the future Derek’s building for himself and his family, he’s setting his sights on becoming a “really good tracking engineer” because the time he’s spent at Engine Room has reaffirmed just how passionate he is about working with mics, the human voice, and achieving “the right sonics for the artist.” While working as a tracking engineer, Derek plans to continue building his repertoire as a music maker and producer who works solo and collaborates with other artists.   Derek advises other Recording Connection students to do what he did for himself: locate areas that need improvement or where understanding is limited and then work hard to get informed and get skilled. “You got to know what you don’t know. Go find it and be persistent about it… Be passionate and come ready to learn. Humble yourself, ask questions. If you don’t have a question, think of a question and just be proactive. And practice the techniques. Like, if you learn something, go home and try and emulate it. Because you can learn something one day, and then completely forget about it the next. But if you use it in your own setup, your brain will start clicking and retain it faster.”  
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Mentor News

Top Screenwriting Tips from Our

ON HOW TO DEVELOP TENSION IN A SCREENPLAY   Los Angeles-based Film Connection screenwriting mentor Eric Abrams (Married…with Children, Liv & Maddie) has the following tip:   “You always want to make it as difficult as possible for characters, or else why are we watching this? Challenges met and mastered. You want to make it an obstacle course for them. The second act is when things are looking most grim…[Your characters] should always want different things. That’s how you get conflict…She wants him to get a better job, and he wants to get out of there as soon as possible. Those are two different wants, and yet they’re forced together and it’s going to be awkward. If they get along great, you probably don’t have a very interesting scene. We want that in real life, but not when we’re paying, what is it, $12 to see a movie these days.”     ON KNOWING YOUR SCREENPLAY’S CHARACTERS   Film Connection screenwriting mentor Aaron Feldman (PewDiePie, Poop Talk) is a big believer in getting in deep and knowing your characters through and through, then learning what it takes to bring that to the page.   “Make a three-dimensional character that you know you can talk to because, essentially, you have conversations with these characters [as you write]. And if you know your character, you’ll understand how they’re going to react. So whatever situation you have, you’re basically creating a sandbox, and you can create the scenario that brings them up, brings them down, or that inevitably leads to success or failure…The great thing about screenwriting is that you get to be all these different characters, the good guys, the bad guys. Visualize everything. It’s a daunting task, but then it comes together and it all has to do with great characters…Again, it’s character, character, character.”     ON CONFLICT AS AN ESSENTIAL COMPONENT OF CHARACTER   Film Connection screenwriting mentor Ron Peterson (Crossroads Entertainment), stresses the relationship between the character and the conflict he or she must go up against.   “There is a direct relationship between character and conflict. As a simple example, what if I start with the movie of Rocky with a fighter, because we’ll agree that that conflict of Rocky is great, right? But…I can ruin that conflict in two seconds. What if I start the movie where Rocky is not an out-of-shape fighter, but Rocky is a fighter that can do 50,000 pushups, takes Vitamin B12, is in great shape, is like this wonderful person, and now that fighter gets to fight for the championship of the world? If that’s how I put his character, do you think there’s a conflict now? I just destroyed the conflict. So your choice of your character has as much as to do with the establishment of the conflict as the conflict itself.”   Want to prevent the all-too-common “Act 2 lag”? Get Ron’s tips on Story Transformation , all made easy to understand with examples from movies nearly everyone knows and loves.     ON HOW TO REVEAL THE THEME IN YOUR MOVIE   Ron Osborn Seven-time Emmy nominee and Film Connection screenwriting mentor Ron Osborn has sage advice on the often daunting subject of theme in screenplay.   “No one should set out to write a theme. No one sets out to write “war is hell” as a theme. No, you sit down to write a story, and as you’re working it out, you realize what you’re really saying is war is hell. And once you know that, that becomes your compass. Now there’s the danger of playing the theme versus playing the plot, and you don’t want to do that. You want to play the plot and let the theme come out of it. By way of example, going back to “war is hell,” if you have a scene with two soldiers in a foxhole in WWII and they’re talking about what hell they’re going through, that’s playing the theme. But if they’re in a foxhole and it’s winter, and if they don’t start a fire they’re going to freeze to death, but if they start that fire they’re going to alert the enemy snipers to their location and probably get shot, that’s hell. You don’t have to tell me: as the audience, I get it. So you don’t want the theme to dominate; you want the theme to play underneath and guide you, but you want to play the plot and let me, as the audience, get to the theme.” Ron Osborn on Comedy, Drama, and Theme.     ON LETTING YOUR STORY GROW   Film Connection mentor Ana Bendaña believes in letting your creative mind get engaged in the writing process and easing up on the structural reigns, at first.   “You have to let the story grow. It’s almost like having a child. You have an idea and a vision of what it’s going to be like, and then you actually start nurturing the story and starting the story and building the story, and the next thing you know, it’s morphed into something completely different. It’s developed into something better, it’s progressed into something better, and I believe that writers should definitely allow room for that, unless you know 110% what exactly it is that you want.”   … AND THEN TRIMMING THE FAT   Then, when it’s time, cut what’s unnecessary. All your hard work has helped you grow real characters and a story that rings true, so do away with the ancillary stuff. What was once scaffolding is unnecessary.   “Trim the fat. If it’s not essential to what is happening in front of these characters, I would probably omit it. We only have a very small window into these characters’ lives…You’re showing your characters in situations that are very, very important for their development as a character. So you want to cut all the boring stuff. If it’s not essential to your story and it’s not essential to the scene and what’s happening in front of you, don’t include it.”   Ana’s tips on organizing, trimming and developing a winning screenplay!      
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Apprentices in Action

A Day in the Life of Our Students

   Film Connection student Tonea Melvin who externs with at Dean Ronalds Falling Up Films (Manhattan, NY) Is blazing full steam ahead and we love her energy! “I haven’t pulled so many all-nighters since high school, and I am kind of loving it…I am a huge planner; I plan everything-even when I know it’s not going to go to plan. So I have mounds of papers on my desk right now, all color coordinated, with paper clips and binder clips flying everywhere. I’m enjoying taking my characters apart and making massive character charts, drawing maps and outlines, all the things that go into figuring out which archetypes fit where in my stories…now I get to really play around with my characters’ worlds. I can’t wait until I can quit my job at Target and write all day, because building these worlds is so much fun! …I also plan on shooting my first commercial this week, so stay tuned for that video!”     In a recent blog post entitled “The Bittersweet End,” soon-to-be Film Connection graduate Jessica Wise had this to say: “My time with Film Connection is coming to a close. It’s impossible to put into words just how much I have learned and experienced through this program and with Wrigley Media Group. I’m glad I got to witness firsthand all that goes on in a production company and how films and commercials are shot, edited, and distributed. It was all way more insightful than anything I could have been taught in a classroom. It’s weird to say bye to it all but I am looking forward to the world that awaits!…   I’m ready to finalize my script and set up a meeting with a producer! I’m equal parts scared and excited!”    

Recording Connection mentor Luis Pacheco

Weeks into the program, Recording Connection student Connor Boyce is making it a priority to sit in on his mentor Luis Pacheco’s sessions and absorb as much as he can: “I really got to see Luis work his magic…The person who previously worked on this track sent over the Pro Tools project and Luis had to sort of undo everything the previous engineer did. He took off all the reverb and other stuff the past guy did by eliminating the side chain/bus for everything…Then, he added his own reverb back to the instruments and vocals. After that he completely changed out the drums for the track…After that, Luis put EQ on the vocals and vocal doubles, added some sort of continuous circle pan to some parts of the piano, violin, and vocals…   After 6 glorious hours Luis was done and the artist was happy! It was cool to see the artist and engineer work together to get a flawless mix. I’m glad I was there to witness that session!”       
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