or call (800) 755-7597

Issue #249

Weekly Newsletter

by Liya Swift

Student Successes

Russell Dennis Jumps,
Gets Hired and on The Right Track.


Recording Connection graduate Russell Davis (at console) with Miguel, Jermel, and Tre Se7en (from left to right) at recent “Meeting at the Booth” session.

When Russell Dennis enrolled in Recording Connection for Audio Engineering & Music Production, he was already successful by many people’s standards. As an instructional designer and technical support specialist, he was making a good living serving clients IBM, Bank of America, and ADT Security. Yet despite the status quo, Russell yearned to get back to what he loved, making music, recording it, and working with artists. A self-taught producer, he’d been making tracks since 2006. Understandably, work and family life cut into his music. Things could have continued that same way for years, were it not for a decision he made.   We recently talked to Russell about the decision he made, finding Recording Connection, and where he’s at today.   Your decision to change career paths was sparked by a conversation you had with a former manager at your old job. What can you tell us about that?   “My former manager, Cassandra Bray, she used to just do all these incredible things. She would maybe fly to where the main corporate office was at one in the morning and come back to work at four in the morning the next day. So, I remember one time…I said, ‘How do you do this?’ She said, ‘It’s passion. If I didn’t love what I was doing, I wouldn’t be able to do this.’   She asked me what I was passionate about, and I told her music.   She said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I said, ‘I’m 32 years old, I have a family, I have responsibilities. I don’t have time to pursue music.’ She said, ‘You’ll never be happy if you don’t pursue what you’re passionate about.’ So that resonated throughout this whole process.”   How did you find us?   “When I saw the Recording Connection [online], I clicked on it. The idea of being able to learn right in a studio appealed to me the most because that’s how I learn. I didn’t want to go to school and learn Music 101. I wanted to be able to do the things that would be transferable to when I applied for a job and I finished the program, so that I could be confident to know that I know what I’m doing.”   Are you more confident today than before you joined the program?   “[When I met Rick, my mentor] I just explained to him that I’ve always been into producing music, I just never had the skill set of making it sound good through engineering. And I told him once I learn that, that’ll really help me feel more confident about selling my products and pursuing this as a job.   “I can’t even go in depth about the amount of hours [I spent] and my family. My daughter Deja, who was my motivating factor behind me doing all of this, I could not have done this without her. She can tell you the times that I just kept playing a snippet of a song over and over and over because I was trying to EQ it the right way…   My proudest moment was when I got hired on at Vision 3 Studios and I was able to bring her to the studio and let her record one of her favorite songs, by Billie Eilish. She was able to record her song there. So that was a special moment for me as well. Shout out to Deja Dennis and to my wife Joana Torres.”   What was it like to extern with longtime Recording Connection mentor Rick Rooney at Empire Sound?   “Rick Rooney is the man. He’s no nonsense…He’s just used to people coming in and realizing that this may be a bit more than they can chew. But once he sees that you are willing to put in the work, he’s extremely supportive.   I remember I had a mix that I was working on, and I was using an HP computer, and it was really slow, and I said, ‘Rick, I’m trying to do these vocals,’ like this song that was mixed by some famous engineer. Rick was trying to help me on it….He was like, ‘We can work on that, Russ, but it’s going to be really hard on your computer.’ He sat there for a good two hours trying to help me, and then he was like, ‘Just go home and work on it and let me know what you come up with the next day.’   So I went home and I worked on the mix for about eight hours straight, and I came back the next day and said, ‘Rick, I worked on that mix.’ He said, ‘Cool, man. Get that on the speakers and we’ll check it out.’ I played it back for him, and he listened and kind of jumped back a little bit, he looked at me and said, ‘You did that?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, Rick. It took me about eight hours, but I did it.’ And for a good month straight, Rick bragged to just about everybody there at the studio….That gave me a confidence booster like no other. So Rick is like a caring father in a way, you know, to the people who show that they care about this for real.”   Has the production quality of your songs improved through the course of your training?   “I spent my entire time in the program teaching myself how to play keyboard. I just read any book I could get my hands on and watched a lot of tutorials on YouTube on how to play keyboard. So that definitely helped me improve my production. Then of course, applying the different treatments from engineering, my sound has completely changed.   At one point I would play my music and most people would say, ‘Okay, that’s cool, keep working on that.’ Now it’s like, ‘Wow, man! How much are you selling that for?’ I mean, that’s no exaggeration. It really just went from one thing to the other.”   So what are you doing at Vision 3 Studios?   “I am a recording engineer there….Once I had my resume and references, everything that my career counsellor, Gervais Maillard, helped me set up for me to look for jobs, it really had a hand in Vision 3 choosing me as the engineer. They were really impressed with the professionalism, the layout of the resume and everything. I’ve also started working at LMG Studios as an engineer…   I definitely want to say that I had probably a picture perfect group of people help me at the Recording Connection. I definitely want to shout out Gervais Maillard. I 100% have to shout out Corey Titov. That guy right there, I couldn’t have gone through the program without him. He was very patient with me. I have some great counsellors out there at Recording Connection.”   Did you work with any artists while you were in the program?   “One of the artists I worked with was Azán. She has a single out right now called Sunshyne. I worked with her early on in my time at the Recording Connection. She did a cover of Summer Walker’s “CPR.”   I actually invited her to the studio, to Empire Sound Studio, Rick was there. He helped me to set everything up, and just gave me basic rules and best practices. How to make artists feel comfortable, make sure there’s some warm water there, make sure I give them time to warm up, make sure I’m there early. I’m very excited to have worked with her because her career is really taking off.”   So how did you connect with Azán in the first place?   “My biggest way to reach out to artists is on Instagram. Definitely important to follow all the hashtags, wherever you are….When I recorded her, I didn’t charge her or anything like that. I just simply invited her to the studio and just gained the experience. I mean, not everything’s going to be about money. It’s about building relationships.”   You’ve also started a meetup at Empire Sound. What can you tell us about that?   “It’s called Meeting at the Booth. I have it every other Wednesday. I go on Instagram and invite artists down to Empire just like I did with Azán, and I allow them to just showcase whatever it is that they do. My goal is to have a network of artists and creators that I can reach out to at any given moment. I’ve had the opportunity to do that so far with a lot of my artists.”   So what, in your opinion, can students do to make the most of their time in Recording Connection?   “If you are following the same format as Rick, where you have a song that’s completely unmixed, there’s nothing done to it, and then you go and you work on it and you’re proud of what you’ve done, definitely have a portfolio of all of those mixes…where you can put [together] a slideshow of what the mix sounded like before you did it and what it sounded like afterwards….Definitely record at the studio as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to record, and become good friends with the people that are there in the program, because I had Alex Schwarting reach out to me and she told me she was interested in Meeting at The Booth. And I found a great position for her to help me with doing that. So it’s important to befriend the people that are in the program with you.”   Learn more about Recording Connection and checkout our programs for Audio Engineering & Music Production, Hip Hop Production, Beat Making, and more.      
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or call (800) 755-7597

Student Successes

CASA graduate Cody Woodside
gets Skilled in Culinary, Enriches Career Path.


CASA graduate Cody Woodside at The Green Pheasant (Nashville, TN)

After years working as a key member of an internal producing team for Scripps Network where he worked on content for HGTV and Travel Channel, Cody Woodside found himself merged out of a job when Scripps was acquired by The Discovery Channel. Rather than seek something else in production, Cody saw the forced hiatus as an opportunity to delve into the culinary arts in the CASA Schools Gourmet Chef program.   We connected with Cody to talk about his journey into the culinary arts and where it’s leading him today and in years to come.   Were you completely blindsided when you found yourself out of a job at Scripps?   “Honestly I think it was a blessing in disguise….As mergers and acquisitions go, some roles are eliminated in that process…My team [at Scripps] was eliminated from the structure at that point, and I had some free time on my hands after that. I noticed that I wasn’t necessarily very sad about that decision being made for me, because I think I wanted to switch things up a bit for some time…Through that soul searching I realized I was cooking and baking a lot, as sort of a stress-release method. From that, I decided to start looking into culinary programs and settled upon CASA because the whole externship idea, the hands-on [approach] really drew me in.”   So you called CASA and we sent you to interview with Chef Kristin Beringson at The Green Pheasant. How did that initial meeting go?   “I had stalked her online beforehand and learned that she was actually on an episode of Chopped and that she won her episode. So that added to the pressure that I wanted her to want to work with me, especially if it’s going to be the next six to eight months of my life. You know?…   So I was nervous going into it, but as soon as I walked into the restaurant, the atmosphere alone was enough to disarm me and calm me down. Then once Kristin walked out in her black shirt and black yoga pants, just all cool, calm, and collected, it really removed all tension. We just hit it off from that first meeting, and within 20 minutes we had decided when I could start and what my schedule would look like, and moved on from there.”   During the early days of your externship what kinds of skills did you learn?   “So I spent some time up in prep, and that’s where I really dove into knife skills and techniques….They do this appetizer called Dan Dan Wings where they debone a chicken wing, which sounds ridiculous   As you can imagine, deboning a chicken wing is really hard. It’s technical and your knives are sharp, and it’s a small workspace that you’re in. So that was one of the first major technique tasks that I had. And then from there we kind of moved into different types of cuts and slices and dices and all that jazz, and I learned quickly that I was afraid of my knife. So Kristin encouraged me to just figure out a rhythm and go slowly at first and slowly work up my speed until I felt comfortable. And by the end of the second week I would say I was chopping pretty proficiently and feeling really safe behind my sharp ol’ knife.”   Over the course of your externship, have you seen your culinary skills improve?   “Probably two to three months in I really felt like I was growing as a chef, and I could tell because one of my Instagram food friends… just got a cookbook deal and had me as an assistant to help test and develop recipes, then…come out for the shoot.   So that happened during the first week of my externship. I split my time for a couple weeks helping her with development and testing.   Then when I went back a couple months later, for the shooting of the cookbook…she referenced that I was vastly different in the kitchen and that my comfortability and my ability to do multiple tasks at the same time had really grown since we had developed recipes a couple months prior. So I know that was all due to time…in the kitchen there with Kristin.”   Your parents also got the benefit of witnessing your growth.   “So I was born and raised in Nashville and went to Knoxville, Tennessee for school and stayed there at Scripps…When I decided to move back to Nashville for my CASA externship…I crashed with my parents for that time, and they actually were like, ‘If you want to just cook us some meals a few times a week, don’t worry about any rent.’   So whatever I was working on at the Pheasant that week I would bring that home….They were definitely eating a lot better when I was there. I think they’re getting a lot more takeout now that I’m gone. They even commented that I seem to really have ‘found my thing.’…I was a lot more calm and I felt like I was a lot happier when I was cooking a lot. So I think that my parents appreciated that and saw the positive impact that I was getting from being able to learn something that I’ve been passionate about on an amateur level for so long, and [it] then being able to have larger takeaways.”  

CASA mentor Chef Kristin Beringson & grad Cody Woodside

How was Chef Beringson as a mentor?   “Kristin was a fantastic mentor. I still text her when I forget how to make ricotta at home. She sends me the recipe. It’s really easy. We’ve built a really great rapport in that I think she could tell I was really ambitious because I wanted to finish my program in six months or less just because I had a plan. I wanted to be done in Nashville in six months and then come back and figure out some sort of food job in Knoxville. So she really worked with me.”   That leads us to ask about your new job and what you’re doing now that you’ve moved back to Knoxville.   “I got hired at Discovery. They’re doing a joint venture with Chip and Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper. They are launching a network in 2020, and I’ve joined the development and programing team here. So I’m working with our programing executives here to make sure we’ve got fun, innovative content, making sure we’re hearing all the pitches from the production companies, and figuring out what we want to air when it’s time to launch. And that does include food shows as well. So I’m getting to use a little of my culinary expertise here and there, too.”   So let’s flash forward five years from now. What do you see yourself doing?   “Ideally, I would love to find a way to marry my food experience with my TV experience. So I’m really trying to shape my current path into working on food content. That would be overseeing shows, being a culinary producer for shows, making sure recipes make sense for viewers, making sure there’s innovative, fun content, shedding light on new cuisines, too.   That was another great thing from the Pheasant, is that I really, I mean I’ve always grown up eating Chinese food, blanket term there, but I really had no experience with Japanese cuisine, let alone fusion. So that really put me out of my comfort zone, and now there are things in my fridge that I hadn’t even heard of a year ago. So I would love to be able to do that for other people, too, through the content that I’m producing and seeing.”   What’s your advice to current and future CASA students on how they can make the most of the program while they’re in it?   “I would say one of the most important things would be connecting with your mentor and being up front with them about what you want out of the experience.That’s something that Kristin asked me early on is, ‘Are you trying to leave this program and cook on a line somewhere? Or are you trying to get back into TV?’…. And once I did that, she was able to shape the curriculum with me and guide me further that way. So, just really being upfront with your mentor, about your desires and what you want to obtain from the program is probably the best way to make sure you get what you want. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, right?”   Learn more about CASA Schools’ Gourmet Chef Program.      
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or call (800) 755-7597

Mentor News

Joel Franco on Niche Filmmaking,
Taking Films to Market & Lifelong Learning.


Film Connection mentor, filmmaker Joel Franco (on right) with Denie Hiestand from One Man’s Journey to Truth

Film Connection mentor, director/producer Joel Franco (One Man’s Journey to Truth, Dino Costa: Truth Unscripted, Exit 38) is a firm believer in going the distance and being agile and receptive to learning every step of the way. We recently spoke with the owner of Chesapeake Films to learn more about how he got his start in the industry, discuss his experiences taking the documentary One Man’s Journey to Truth to market, and why learning is forever a key ingredient in being a successful filmmaker.   What got you into film in the first place?   “Since I was a kid I was always into movies. I watched everything, read everything. Then when I was 11 or 12, something like that, my parents took me from Italy to Disney World. The MGM section of Disney World had just opened down there…[Later] it became Universal…And I was hooked.”   Was it having a window into the magic that goes into making movies that captivated you?   “Even at Universal they only show you a very tiny little bit [of how it’s done], but yeah, I couldn’t have enough of it.”   Did your love of film eventually lead you to go to film school?   “I did go to film school. I did my undergrad at University of Maryland Baltimore, UMB. Then I went to film school and got my MFA at Loyola Marymount in film production. Then from there, I started doing what everybody else does, worked as a PA and worked my way up.   [During] one of my first PA jobs, somebody asked me if I knew how to break down a script, and I said, ‘Of course,’ and I did it. And they said, ‘Okay, well you’re not going to be the PA anymore. You’re going to be one of the assistant directors.’ And I said, ‘Okay,’ and then, ‘Can you do schedules?’ and I said, ‘Yes, of course I can do schedules.’ So they were like, ‘Oh, wait. You can actually do something?’   So it’s like one of those things I always tell the students, which I think is what Oprah Winfrey used to say all the time. You know, luck meets preparation. So if you don’t do your work, if you don’t study, you don’t learn, you don’t practice, you don’t read, you don’t watch, all of those things, when the opportunity does come and you’re not ready, you only have yourself to blame.”   So how did your production company, Chesapeake Films, come into being?   “I honestly just got tired of working for other people, because I also realized I wasn’t doing what I wanted…I just felt like I wasn’t growing. …If you don’t grow, you’re not going to get better. If you don’t get better, you’re not going to learn anything. If you don’t learn anything, you don’t get the job you want. So I just thought I’d try to do stuff on my own. That’s how it came about.”   You called One Man’s Journey to Truth, which you sold to Gaia, a niche documentary. Why did you choose to do niche?   “I wanted to do something small that I could manage. You don’t want to make something on Nazi Germany or the Holocaust or something huge. It’s too much right off the bat….I knew that I needed to make something specific…I did my research, I knew where I was going with it and, luckily enough we did it and they [Gaia] liked it, and they bought it from us.”   So you wrapped production, edited it, and took it to EFM (European Film Market). What can you tell us about that experience?   “It was almost like going to film school all over again, because I had to go through the whole process. Find a distributor, find sales agents, find blah, blah, blah…. A lot of the things film students never get to learn. One of my biggest pet peeves with film school is that they’re a little detached from reality, very detached from reality in some cases. They tell you how to make it, the movie or TV show or whatever it is that you want to do, but they don’t tell you how to put it out.   I loved meeting all the people…. You see what’s out there, and you start to understand where your film fits into the bigger picture…and also how people in different countries react, how different distributors react, who’s looking for what. Those types of things. To learn that was invaluable….It was a great experience. I loved it, I absolutely loved it.”   It sounds like you’re one of these people who’s always open to learning more. Would you say that’s an important quality for a filmmaker to have?   “It’s one of the number one things, yeah. If you don’t have that, why are you doing it?…If you’re not passionate about it, don’t even bother, because you can’t sell it. If you don’t care about your project, why do I care? You know what I mean? That’s how I’ve always looked at it.”   What qualities or characteristics do you want to see in your externs?   “Somebody that wants to learn. Somebody that wants to do the work, and somebody who’s independent and doesn’t look for me to do everything for them.Those three things are key… You know, when you shoot or edit something, it’s concrete, it’s something that you are doing that everybody can see the results of, right?…This is something that has a lot of fun times…but two thirds of what we do is sending an email, making a phone call, brainstorm[ing] something…You have got to love the process from start to finish. If you don’t, it’s not going to change later.”   Learn more about Film Connection for Film Production & Editing, Cinematography, and more!  
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or call (800) 755-7597

Apprentices in Action

A Day in the Life of Our Students

   Recording Connection graduate Emily Stamer aka Lucii is playing Thunderdome 2020!   Headlined by dubstep king Excision, she’ll be playing the 2 day music festival with Riot Ten, WOOLI, Trampa, Liquid Stranger, G-REX, YAKZ and more!   A graduate of Recording Connection for Advanced Ableton Production, Emily had the epiphany that led her to double-down on her music career while she was attending the Electric Daisy Carnival, watching Bassnectar perform:   “I saw Bassnectar’s performance and I literally just had a weird connection with it. I felt like I should be up there instead of watching…I really felt like I was destined to be performing.”     Learn more about her journey and experiences training with Recording Connection mentor Joey Paranoia in this issue of the newsletter.         Sending a big congrats to Film Connection for Film Production & Editing graduate Katz Carter (Los Angeles, CA) on the premiere of his suspense-thriller #FullMethod!  

Film Connection graduate and his family at #FullMethod premiere.

Getting from concept all the way through to completion has been nothing short of a life-changing experience for the director/screenwriter:   “It has been a long journey but on the 19th all the hard work is paid off with my 1st passion project. With my mentors Daniel & Bayou, the Dream Team directors, I was able to organize and polish my film to be seen in theaters.”     So what’s #FullMethod about?     “A key theme would be the depths to which one goes to attain fame/infamy. Matthew [the lead] has struggled as a working actor, and now that he’s landed a great gig, he’s eager to brag about his success to his old friends. He also sees the party as an opportunity to spark up a romance with his crush Liz…” but something else is afoot.    

Director/filmmaker Katz Carter with actor Ashley Eddy

Check out our interview with Katz Carter on doing his first indie and working through it all with SAG.     Remember, here’s where you get the latest on what RRFC students are doing. (Subscribe).