Since launching his career as a producer/engineer in 2010, Recording Connection mentor Dakarai “D.G.” Gwitara has risen rapidly in the industry, his talents and personality opening many doors for him. He currently works as the chief engineer at Quad Studio in New York City, one of the most notable recording studios in the world. His client list is expansive and includes names like T-Pain, J. Cole, Sara Bareilles, Nelly, Marsha Ambrosius, Jamie Foxx and many others. We’re pleased to have him as one of our mentors, and as you’ll see in the interview below, his students often get to work on projects with major artists.
In a recent conversation with RRFC, D.G. had some great things to say about personality and attitude in the studio, knowing your stuff, and having a balanced view of what it means to “make it” in the recording industry. Below are some of the best excerpts from that conversation. Enjoy!
RRFC: How did you wind up at Quad Studios?
Dakarai “D.G.” Gwitira:
Well I studied in Texas, and I moved to New York…I started at Quad, I’d say mid-2010, for I’d say a total of about five months, and then I left Quad and I started working for record labels independently. And I was working with a lot of songwriters and things of that sort. And then some of the writers I would work with actually worked out of Quad, and the studio recognized that, and they were like, “Oh, how would you feel about bringing some of these clients to us and work out of here and become the house guy here?” And that’s pretty much how it went down, and from then I’ve been working at Quad.
RRFC: So they recognized your talent and brought you back later on.
Right, exactly, so it just happened to work out. So it literally was an opportunity that presented itself. I just kept working hard, and one thing led to the other.
RRFC: So it seems like your networking skills led you to a full time position.
Definitely. It was definitely networking. The biggest thing that I try to tell, especially some of the students, is the skill is very, very important—however, sometimes what may carry somebody over is the personality and how you communicate with people. Because you know, we’re working with music and it’s primarily about the vibe in the studio…But if your attitude is bad, you might be the best, but the client might not necessarily– it’s not going to help them create the magic that they want to create. You hear a lot of musicians talk about “magic,” and if you’re not part of that magic, they really don’t want to work with you. The personality is very important, and skill is very important, and when you have both of those then you’re definitely a golden child, you know, you’re good to go.
RRFC: Have you ever seen a situation where an engineer has thrown off an artist, or an assistant engineer, and they nicely asked for someone else to come in?
Oh yes, that’s actually pretty standard, but fortunately that doesn’t happen to me [laughs]. A big gig I got [was] for a songwriter who was signed to Sony TV, which was one of my first big label gigs…this client had actually kicked off four engineers, off the sessions. So I was the fifth guy to come in and do the session, and I did that, and it just happened to work out. They liked me, they were like, “Every time I come here I want to work with him,” and it just went from there, really.
RRFC: Do you ever have a conversation with someone, and they have these expectations of being an overnight sensation? Do you ever have to tell people it’s not that quick, it’s more of a gradual approach?
Of course. I was one of those people when I first started. I was one of those people that thought, “Oh, you know, gonna go in and do this, and then by this time I should have made it.”…But it’s just like anything else—it’s a process…The thing is that you really have to ride on faith and believe in yourself, and just accept that it’ll happen as long as you keep getting better.
RRFC: Did your impression of “making it” change the longer that you worked in the business?
Of course—I would say “making it,” it’s really relative. It’s a personal thing, you know. For some people, “making it” is, “Oh, I want to be a star on TV.” For some people, “making it” is, “I just want to be able to make a living working on music.”…So you can decide to say, “I still haven’t made it,” or, “You know what, I’m somewhere. At least I’m paying my bills through music, opposed to working fast food, or working at Chase Bank as a teller.” It’s one of those things that’s all relative, but I would say a more reasonable term of “making it” would be, as long as you’re experiencing consistent progress and if you’re able to sustain yourself somewhat, then you’re making it. The rest happens over time, but I’ve yet to meet somebody who made it overnight, with all the clients I’ve worked with when I speak with them. I’ve yet to meet somebody who just had their one single blow up, [and] even if they do have one single blow up, they’ve been recording for like, five years prior to that when it happened.
RRFC: Was there anything that you had to learn on the sly working at the studio that maybe a traditional campus didn’t necessarily know how to prepare you for?
I’ll put it this way, and this is why I’m an advocate for the program. The school teaches, for instance, the personality thing, or how to deal with clients and the real world stuff. [Traditional] school didn’t necessarily teach that. I’ll say, for example, wrapping up cables. When I went to school, I was taught you wrap cables and then when you get to the end, you make a little knot. This is how we were taught, so everyone I went to school with was taught this. I remember my first week at Quad, I’m wrapping up cables, put that little knot, and the people there are like, “What, what are you doing?” And for me, I’m completely clueless that I’m not supposed to do that, but that’s how I was taught, and that’s what I knew…What happens is, when you’re in a professional setting, you’re working with people who go to other studios, so the definition of what is right is more accurate because the clients that say, they’ve worked in LA, they’ve worked in Texas, they’ve worked in Atlanta, and there’s a general “this is right” way to do things. And to be a successful business, like Quad is, we have to sort of know what is accepted around the world, in a sense.
RRFC: Who are some of the favorite artists that you’ve gotten to work with?
[I] just worked with Jamie Foxx, and the song we worked on is actually his latest single. There’s Jamie Foxx and Chris Brown, and there’s another guy on the record…Jamie Foxx is really cool guy, and awesome, awesome personality. Got to work with Waka Flocka, which was really cool, Sara Bareilles, Akon. Let’s see, T.I. is really cool as well. That guy’s a master at his craft. Actually, all these guys [are] masters at their craft. Man, you can tell that they practice a whole lot…And Wallpaper—I have to mention Ricky Reed, I’ve learned a lot from that guy. He’s really cool, he produced “Talk Dirty” by Jason Derulo, and “Wiggle.” He’s a great, great guy.
RRFC: Awesome. And have any of the Recording Connection students gotten to sit in on any of these sessions?
Yes, actually. When I was in the process of working on some of the Jamie Foxx records, most of the students were actually there for that, and I would explain to them that the record would probably be out like a month from then, and sure enough, it was on the radio.
RRFC: When potential apprentices come to interview with you, do you flesh out what they’re trying to get out of the program?
Definitely, that is one of the things I try to narrow down in an interview process, because sometimes—this is the thing with engineering: engineering, I believe, helps just about anything and everything in the music business. So let’s say you want to be a rapper, or you wanna be a singer or songwriter. When you’re engineering, you get to work with everyone else’s music beforehand, before it gets released or anything like that. You get to learn the formats, you get to learn why people do things this way. If you really listen to radio closely, you’ll notice that most things are formulated. So with that when you’re engineering, you have to understand and know that formula. You have to understand how to create that reverb, or create that delay, or what’s going on with that compression…If you’re an artist, you can then apply that to your own music. If you’re a writer, you get to record writers and see how they write, and see how they come up with ideas and all that. I don’t really know that there’s any other position in the music business that would probably give you that access…So I do try to narrow that down and explain what I just explained to you throughout the interview process.
RRFC: So how much do you enjoy teaching and mentoring?
I actually enjoy teaching a lot…It’s really just cool to just imagine being part of other people’s lives and helping their dreams come true, ‘cuz I remember when I was in school, one thing I hoped for, I was just like, “Man, I wish somebody would take me under their wing and mentor me.” And that never happened…So it’s one of those things that I enjoy, it’s like, I like sparking the passion or helping cultivate somebody’s passion. Help them get to their dreams.