or call (800) 755-7597

Issue #269

Weekly Newsletter

by Liya Swift

Student Successes

Recording Connection grad Jared Wenkman on Getting Hired,
Working with Bands & The Advanced Audio & Music Production Program.


Recording Connection graduate Jared Wenkman

  When Jared Wenkman found Recording Connection, he hadn’t spent years imaging how cool it’d be to work in a recording studio. He didn’t have Pro Tools on his computer. In fact, he knew next to nothing about recording music at all. What he did have was lifelong love for music, a mom who supported him through-and-through, and a pretty good idea that a career somewhere in the arts, not some 9-to-5 job, would be something he could find fulfillment doing.   Prior to finding Recording Connection you were on a different path. Tell us about that.   “I went through high school as a film student… with one of my best friends and we were competing through all the film competitions. We actually won first place in a lot of those, and that really pinned us in the direction of going to college for film…. [Then] I went to UTA of Arlington to study film. However, once I was there, I really wasn’t liking the classes…. I really wasn’t happy with it.   I ended up dropping out of college and sort of feeling a little… lost on what I was going to do…. My mom was saying, ‘Well, you know, have you ever thought about being a sound engineer? Have you thought about doing something in the music world?’… So, I’ve always been into music ever since I can remember. You know, I got my first guitar maybe around 10 or 12, been playing ever since then. …   When I got into Recording Connection my mind was blown. I really didn’t know anything about how Pro Tools worked, how music worked, how even recording worked. You know, one of the biggest things that blew my mind was stereo panning. I didn’t really even know left and right. Once I figured out you could pan a guitar left and right and it opens up the sound, it was like, ‘Oh, that’s how they do it.’… [From] not knowing anything at all to being able to put effects on tracks, separate through panning, create aux tracks, you know, stuff that sounds like mumbo jumbo to somebody who doesn’t know about it, but now I’m pretty well versed in everything.” Get Jared’s advice on working with bands in our Straight Talk video below!    That first “mind blow” came courtesy of longtime mentor Ricky Rooney (Warner Bros, RCA Records, Atlantic) who saw potential in you. Tell us about that.   “He saw something in me basically where he pulled me aside… [and said], ‘Look, I see something in you, you just have to be more driven about it. You have to put forth more energy into this. I think you could actually do something with this,’… At the time I was just like, ‘Am I in trouble? Did I do something wrong?’ But… looking back at it, I can properly say that I feel like he saw something in me and just knew that I wasn’t really sure of myself. …   Towards the end of the course when I was actually wrapping up… we were sitting at this mixing board and he was like, ‘All right, go through this board. You can only mix on the board. You can’t touch plugins; you can’t do that. You can send it off to the plugins that we have analog-wise, but no editing through Pro Tools or whatever.’ So, I was sitting there just messing with it… trying to find a good sound and he actually walked [back] in[to] the room and was like…’You did that on the board?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. Yeah.’ And… I saw this look of like surprise on him. He was like, ‘Wow. Okay.’ And then he just walked out of the room. And it was like, ‘Whoa, okay. I don’t know 100% what that means, but I think that was a good thing.”   Flashforward to you moving to Austin and taking Advanced Audio Engineering & Music Production with Evan Kleinecke at 5th Street Studios (Tyga, Diplo, Pharrell, Leon Bridges). Thanks to you getting a good foundation with Rick, you and Evan could move into more complex terrain.   “When I got with [Evan], it was basically like, ‘All right, do you know how this works?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, I do.’ And he’s like, ‘Good. Do you know how this works?’ ‘Yes, I do.’ ‘Good. Okay. Well, we can put a lot of the learning stuff that you already know, we can put that on the side and start pursuing more and more advanced ideas…. All the… stuff that… a beginner really shouldn’t even be learning because that’s just a lot more information to jumble up in the head, but more precise things that, as someone who has experience with Pro Tools, has experience recording, you can really start getting into the fine details of it all. And that’s really where the advanced course, for me, excels. You have this knowledge, this predetermined knowledge…. Because of the curriculum that Recording Connection sets, they pretty much know where your understanding is at, so the Advanced course picks up immediately from that.   Going with Evan was an amazing experience…. I was able to book full days as a novice, just working with the band and be like, ‘Look, I don’t know 100% [of] what I’m doing, but we’re not really charging you guys so it’s sort of a mutual benefit. You guys get to learn the studio, I get to learn the studio, and we’ll come out with hopefully, a good product.’… Maybe after the first two bands… it was more of [Evan saying], ‘All right, I’ll come in, help you set up, but I’m actually going to leave. So, you’re in charge of the studio, you’re by yourself. Don’t mess up anything. Hopefully, you figure anything out. If you need a problem, you can call me, of course, but you’re on your own.’   So honestly, I got to learn about how to talk with clients…. I learned a lot about troubleshooting stuff, especially when I didn’t really want to bother [Evan] every time something wasn’t going right. So, it was more of, ‘All right, I got to exhaust everything that I can on my end before I call somebody.’ And that really teaches you to work for yourself, get everything going.   I would come in maybe an hour or two before the band gets there and have everything set up. I’d have drums set up, I’d have mic set up, everything ready to go, so they can just walk in and sit down, and we can start getting sound.” 
Control room in 5th Street Studios

Control room at 5th Street Studios

  What led up to you getting hired at 5th Street Studios?   “It pretty much coincided that I was still using them to bring in some bands here and there… after I graduated. So, it was this situation where I [would] have to call my mentor and be like, ‘Hey, can you get to the studio to open up for me?’ and this kind of deal. But it turned out… they had a position opening up right as I was graduating…. So, I was like, ‘Well, you know, I’m here.’… I got the keys from one of the engineers… [and] he was like, ‘You know what, keep the keys. We want you to stay at 5th Street with us.’ And I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, holy crap. That’s amazing.’” [Note: After a couple of years with 5th Street, Jared has moved on to record rock at The Shire. He keeps in touch with 5th and refers artists to them regularly.]   What’s your advice to other Recording Connection students? How can they make the most of their time in the program?   “Coming into Recording Connection, especially the beginner course, understandably it’s daunting… especially a board with a patch bay that’s all hooked up with a bunch of wires. That was one of the first things I saw in the studio. It was like, ‘Oh, no, I don’t know if I’m going to do it. I don’t know if I can do this. That looks crazy.’   It’s really about pushing yourself out of that little timidness and be like, ‘Well, hey, what does that do? Hey, what does that do? Can we sit down and explain this to me?’ Your mentor is there to be a mentor to you. You’re a student. You’re here to learn as well as progress. So… ask questions, honestly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your mentor understands that this is confusing.’…   This isn’t [conventional] school… like, ‘Oh, I can go home and read a book and maybe figure it out,’ this is something that you’re paying to have hands-on learning with. So, get your hands on that stuff…. Ask the mentor, ‘Hey, you know, I know we don’t have any bands coming in today, but could we maybe do, like, a mock setup? Like, could I just set up for drums or set up for a guitar real quick and maybe run some sounds?’   You know, it’s really about pushing yourself out there because if you don’t, the mentor can nudge you along but really along with anything out there it’s about you, it’s about what you put into it.”   Learn more about Recording Connection, for Audio Engineering & Music Production, Live Sound, EDM, Beat Making, DJing, and more!  
 *  *  *  *  *  

or call (800) 755-7597

Student Successes

Film Connection grad John Lacuesta Gets Hired at Mentor’s Studio,
Works Award-Winning Documentary.


Film Connection gradute John Lacuesta

When John Lacuesta found Film Connection, he had recently graduated high school and had his sights set on pursuing a career in cinematography. Now graduated, John’s got a full-time job as studio supervisor at EQ Studios—where he trained as a student extern—is an experienced 1st AC, and has a bright future ahead of him which he’s building day by day, project by project. We reached out to the 19-year-old film professional to learn more about his experiences in the program, the award-winning documentary he worked on, and more!   You researched your options prior to enrolling in Film Connection. What did you like about us in the first place?   “I was just looking at different choices as far as schooling when it comes to film…. The Film Connection was, like, a lot more hands-on. And I was like, ‘This is the new generation of learning,’ you know, ‘This is the new way to do it.’… It was really, really nice, finding out and knowing that I would actually be in a studio… just learning the new things.”   Do you learn better through hands-on training?   “Absolutely, especially when it comes to film. There are a lot of things that you just can’t read and understand…. There’s something that you actually need to see and do, like panning or you have hands-on camera movement…. I probably wouldn’t have gotten close… if I’d taken a different route.” Watch our Straight Talk video with John below to learn how he proved himself and got hired at EQ Studios.   Due to Covid-19 restrictions, you and your future mentor, Hector Ramos, interviewed online. Tell us about that first interview.   “I was nervous, you know, just because this was, like, my first step into after-high-school learning…. I had no idea what the future was holding. And I just remember… him being really open with me and saying, ‘Oh, hey, this is what’s it about.’ I sent him some of my previous work I’ve done, which is super amateur… you know, being a junior [in high school], just with the camera, not knowing what I’m doing. [So] they knew what my skillset was. And I feel like that’s the biggest thing here at EQ. They see where you’re at and then teach you accordingly as far as what you need to know and stuff like that. And I just remember just being so welcomed and having them be excited for me to come aboard.”  

Graduate John Lacuesta and mentor Hector Ramos at EQ Studios

What’s the award-winning documentary about?   “[It’s] called ‘Sounds of the Sidewalk.’ It’s about this homeless man named Steven Reid. And he came to this woman named Michelle, and then she came to us saying, ‘Hey, you know, like I have this project and I want you guys to work on it with me.’… [Steven] had actually written a song, and that the choir performed… on “America’s Got Talent” and got the golden buzzer and literally two hours later, he had passed…. That was… the last thing he heard. So… not even knowing this guy but knowing the impact he made was just really emotional…. At the time I was still an extern… it was really nice, you know, just being there, like, not even knowing how far it [would] take us. …   We won the best documentary under 45 minutes at the New York International Film Festival, I believe it was.”   [Note: “Sounds of the Sidewalk (A Journey of Goodbye)” won Best Documentary at the New York City International Film Festival (NYCIFF) 2021, and placed Official Selection at the Joyce Forum Jewish Short Film Festival]   Care to tell us about any projects you’re working on?   “Me being here at EQ, my job is a little bit of everything. So, I feel like, ‘Why don’t I edit? Why don’t I screenplay? Why don’t I have a little bit of everything that I could show?’… I created this [movie] idea and this concept…. I’m in the middle of writing my first screenplay and then, eventually, just a little short film, just trying to get something with my name out there. …   Right now, me and my brother are working on part three of our three-part music video series… [for] three singles he had…. So, we’re getting ready to finish that tomorrow. … I’m 19 right now. So there’s just so much ahead. So, that’s what I’m working on right now.”   Your brother Justin recently enrolled in Recording Connection for Audio Engineering & Music Production. What do your friends and family think of your experience in our program and how fast you’ve been able to get going in film?   “At first my family was a little skeptical, like, ‘Oh, you know, you’re putting a lot of time in there.’… Now they see that I’m hired on, and that what I’m doing now… and they’re really supportive of it…. My friends… they’re all, like, artistic people and… they know what it’s about.   And as a matter of fact, I had posted something on social media saying that I graduated from the Film Connection, and somebody from my same high school signed up for the Film Connection…. He saw what I did and what I was able to accomplish, and he’s like, ‘You know what, I want to do that as well.’ So, now he’s here on his own journey, trying to graduate from the Film Connection, and learning hands-on here [at EQ Studios].”   Learn more about Film Connection for film production & editing, cinematography, and more!  
 *  *  *  *  *  

or call (800) 755-7597

Mentor News

Lucy Thompson-Ramirez of Pez Cantina
Trains & Hires Passionate Foodies with CASA!


CASA mentors Lucy Thompson-Ramirez and Chef Bret Thompson

  CASA mentor Lucy Thompson-Ramirez is one-half of the powerhouse duo behind Pez Cantina, the sustainable Coastal Mexican-style restaurant and bar, located on historic Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles. Despite the impact of Covid-19 on operations, Lucy and Chef Bret Thompson have hired not one, not two, but three CASA graduates who completed our 6–9-month Chef Apprentice School of the Arts (CASA) program at their bustling restaurant.   We recently connected with Lucy to gain insight into how they mentor our students at Pez Cantina, learn more about what impressed them in the CASA grads they’ve hired, and more!   How did Pez Cantina come about in the first place?   “Well, it was one beautiful summer in about 2012. We were in Loreto, Mexico, which is a sleepy fishing town down in Baja, California. And the boys had just caught some fresh fish, and we were literally on an island, grilling the freshly caught fish. We chopped up some pico de gallo, warmed up some tortillas, and were eating fish tacos and drinking a cold beer right on the beach, and we thought, ‘Okay, this is a little slice of heaven. We need to create this concept in Los Angeles.’ At the time, we had a café and catering business called Market, and we knew we wanted to open something else. And we thought it would be really cool to take a taco stand and turn it out to a full-service restaurant with a full bar, 170 seats, [and a] large patio. Pez Cantina opened in January 2015. So, this year we’re celebrating our sixth year.”   How do you and Chef Bret work with CASA students during their time in the program?   “Chef Bret is a great mentor. I really appreciate the time he takes with his students from holding a knife correctly to firing a full-course meal…. Chef Bret and I would never allow a dish to go out that is not to the best quality or the best plating…. These students get that one-on-one but also the intensity of being in full service. They learn so much so quickly, and they never back down. I just feel like their passion keeps them going, and I think there’s a reason why they’re in CASA now, because they really want to aspire to maybe open up their own thing or become their own chefs. So, it’s been a really great experience for us so far. … Lucy tells why she and Chef Bret mentor with CASA & talks about the students they’ve hired in our Straight Talk video below! 

Lucy Thompson-Ramirez & Chef Bret Thompson

  We have two floors. Our prep kitchen is downstairs and our main kitchen is upstairs. So, they start off in the prep kitchen, and they learn every ingredient, every chopping method. And the repetitiveness, I think, just really ingrains the ingredients of every dish so that once they go upstairs and they go into service, they remember exactly why this is chopped this way and they understand why it’s presented this way.”   Has mentoring for CASA enabled you to find talented people to hire?   “It’s been really great to take people like this because sometimes you get applicants… who want to work in the kitchen, and not to say that it’s bad but it’s just a means of getting a paycheck. I feel like the CASA students come in with a passion and a willingness to learn. And although sometimes it gets really hectic, I think people who already participate in the program know that in the restaurant industry, once you’re on, it’s full force.   I’ve worked with Marina and Christian for quite some time now. And while they were students, they were such a pleasure…. They brought in all of this passion and creativity and suggestions, and… we always wanted to have them have the opportunity to voice their opinions and contribute to recipes and maybe say, ‘Plate this. Plate that.’ And once we realized that they were so talented, we took them on full time. We did a lot of off-site events. Marina and I, we did a lot of women chef events. It was really fun. And Christian, we did massive catering events. We did one for El Nido [El Nido Family Centers’ Garden Gala], which is a fundraiser in Beverly Hills…. He did just a phenomenal job. And he was always very, very receptive and really talented. And Jessica, she came on, and she… and I share the same Mexican background, and she was really passionate about what we were doing with making contemporary and creative Mexican food…. She’s just really blossomed. I mean, her creativity and her hard work and her dedication is through the roof. And we’re just so happy to have her on board.”   Busy as you are, why do you choose to mentor for CASA?   “I feel like every student we’ve had they’ve got this passion and this light that makes them feel so focused…. Working at a restaurant is physically, mentally hard work, and you’ve got to have that dedication and that drive. I feel like these students have already made that decision; they’ve already made that commitment to the kitchen. So, when they come in, I feel like they’ve already got one foot in the door, so all we have to do is help them bring the other foot and grow that passion and creativity and teach them as much as we can on our end.”   Learn more about 6-9 month mentored culinary externship programs and remote online one-on-one training with CASA, The Chef Apprentice School of the Arts.    
 *  *  *  *  *