Recording Connection graduate Nigel Dean
Since graduating Recording Connection in 2016, Nigel Dean
has worked with a number of bands and artists including The Shins, Cold War Kids, and Missio. We recently touched base with the rising engineer/producer and composer to learn more about what led up to him getting hired at Phaser Recording
, the studio where he trained, and to find out how he was able to turn his dream job into a surefire reality.
Do you come from a musical family?
“Not my close family, not my parents. My mother and my father aren’t at all musically inclined…I’m kind of like the black sheep…I’ve always loved music, started orchestra in 5th grade and started playing the violin then started guitar in 6th grade. Music has just always been a part of my life.”
So you eventually you signed up for Recording Connection but prior to that you attended a large university. Could you tell us a bit more about that experience and what led you to us?
“When I graduated high school I enrolled into Boise State University as a musical composition major. My major was in classical guitar with a minor in piano. Then about two years through that, I had to do a little self-reflection. You know, I enjoyed going to school there, classical music was great, but I didn’t see a real career happening in classical music.
So I reevaluated and decided that I wanted to move more into the recording and production side of the industry. So I went around looking at different schools. I looked at Berklee College of Music, a couple of other private music schools, but the cost was ridiculous …Then I found Recording Connection. I did a little bit of digging and I saw that the style of teaching was more one-on-one, which really intrigued me. So I made a huge life decision. I dropped out of state university and moved to San Diego so I could be in a city that had more going on.”
How much would you have spent if you had gone the Berklee path?
“I would have been at least $50,000 in debt.”
So tell us about meeting Patrick Heaney, your future mentor, for the first time?
“I think I had been in San Diego for like a week. I was in that totally excited mood and everything was new to me. When I met him I was basically like a little kid who’s going through his presents at Christmastime. Patrick is a lot more laid back. So I guess I was a little like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t know if this guy likes me. He seems really quiet.’ But he showed me around and I was immediately taken aback by the studio. It’s gorgeous. As soon as I saw it I thought, ‘If this guy will accept me, I’m in no matter what.’
By the end of the interview I felt confident that he was going to accept me, and I think a day later I got a call from you guys saying, ‘Hey, Patrick accepted you, said you were a cool guy. Let’s get the ball rolling.’”
And even though you’re a multi-instrumentalist and have been writing songs all your life, you didn’t really know any of the DAWs when you signed up, right?
“Not really. I mean, I had Logic, and I knew a little bit through that. I had been messing with it for like three months. That was the whole reason I enrolled in Recording Connection…To me it was like, I could figure it all out myself or I could save myself a bunch of time, maybe spend a little money and learn from somebody and just cut that corner so that I could excel quicker. That’s basically what I ended up doing.
I did my whole apprenticeship (externship) so that I didn’t have to do this long studying by myself independently. If I was studying by myself, I could be learning something totally wrong instead of having Patrick there to say, ‘I know that the internet tells you that this is what you do, but it’s not.’
When I met Patrick what I lacked was the fundamental understanding of what mixing even was…I mean my tracks sounded great in terms of composition but in terms of sound, they sounded muddy. So he opened the door on how to clean everything up, how to make sure everything has its own space within the frequency spectrum, that everything is cohesive as a whole. Then, he really explained to me the technological aspects: how different types of microphones work, the essentials of certain equipment, and basically the fundamental components of what the equipment does.”
Ultimately you got hired but prior to that, Patrick asked you to come in to help on certain projects. Yes?
“Yeah. I got to sit on some projects where I was the assistant engineer and similar things where I helped produce. I even had some sessions where I was the session guitarist. I’ve gotten to work with some really amazing artists that I would never have dreamed about working with. Some of them were my idols growing up as a kid. Luckily, after the program was done, he continued to hit me up and say, ‘Hey man, I need help with this.’… Then finally one day he was like, ‘Hey man, you’re here enough. You might as well just be one of us.’”
In your opinion, what do students need to do to make the most of their experiences with Recording Connection?
“Number one, they have to have an exceptional work ethic. The mentors can guide you places but they can’t make you move your legs. For anybody who’s trying to enroll, one thing that they need to know in their head is that this is the hardest work ever, in my opinion, or one of the hardest. Any entertainment industry job, whether it be acting or standup comedy or whatever, it’s nonstop. The only time you really get time to yourself is when you’re sleeping at night. So I think any student needs to go into it knowing that this is going to be hard work.”
Okay, it’s hard work but you seem to love what you’re doing.
“Oh, totally… It’s some kind of euphoria. That’s what keeps me going, honestly.”
How does it feel to now be able to go home, play your guitar, record it, track the whole thing and mix it yourself?
“It’s an amazing feeling. There’s nothing I can’t do now, which is one of the greatest things ever, [to be] a musician and an engineer and all that. I’m confident that anything that I want to do musically, I can do it now. There’s no limitations.”
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