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WEEKLY NEWSLETTER January 9, 2017 by L. Swift and Jeff McQ


Recording Connection student Zachary McCaw finds
indie-rock success, and fresh confidence!

Recording Connection graduate Zachary McCaw recalls the first time he walked into Crystal Clear Studio in Philadelphia to meet his mentor, Joey Heier:   “I walk in,” he says, “and the first thing Joey said is like, ‘Call me Uncle Joey.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this guy is so cool already.’ When I was in high school, I played a lot of jazz music in the jazz orchestra and band…And he’s a horn player, he plays trumpet. And we’re both talking about playing jazz music and playing just horn instruments. So we’re talking about that. We’re talking about kind of what inspires us and why we want to do audio and things like that…So I knew right off the bat he was going to be a great inspiration. But the other thing was him showing me around the studio, and my jaw was on the floor with the equipment that he had…It was like love at first sight…I was just totally nerding out.”   Zachary’s love for audio and music was sparked in his teenage years, growing up in Ohio, helping out in the audio department at his church. “I was doing audio with them on pretty big setups out there till last year,” he says. “When I started with them, I realized how much I loved it, and they were gracious enough to give me actual hands-on live experience…That was a really great opportunity. I realized how much I enjoyed it and how much it brought me closer to music.”   Even so, Zachary says he was hesitant to pursue audio engineering as a career, in part because he wanted to be the best at what he did and was insecure about whether he could be “good enough.” But shortly after a move to Philadelphia with his wife, he was encouraged to try. That’s when he found the Recording Connection online.   “I’d been looking at schools for a while and I didn’t see one that I really liked,” he says. “I worked with other audio engineers before, but I hadn’t had any formal schooling and stuff. So when I saw that the way you guys set it up with Recording Connection was that you mentor with somebody who’s already in the industry…that’s when I signed up.”   The on-the-job training proved to be everything Zachary hoped it would be, and more.   “When I first got there, I had my first question,” he recalls. “[Joey] was like, All right, here is how this is going to go; I’m going to give you the technical answer and then I’m going to give you the Uncle Joey answer.’ He gave me the technical answer and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s fascinating.’ And then he gave me the Uncle Joey explanation, and I will remember it forever. It just made perfect sense.”  

The Lunar Year

It didn’t take long for Zachary’s training to start paying off. Not long after his move to Philly, he started playing bass in an up-and-coming indie rock band called The Lunar Year, fronted by songwriter/vocalist Katie Burke. Within two weeks of starting his apprenticeship with Joey, he brought the band in to the studio and started recording them.   “I actually did the sound pretty bad because it was, I think it was the second week of school, and I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he says. “We released an EP about five or six months ago, maybe like four months ago. So that was…I think it was six songs or seven. And since then, Katie and I have recorded probably about 10 or 11 songs after that. So we recorded a ton. And to hear it, like some of the stuff I recorded and mixed earlier, and see where it’s at now, it’s pretty fulfilling to be able to hear the quality I’m able to do now as opposed to with that first song.”   Regardless of Zachary’s self-critiques, The Lunar Year’s music is finding a following, in part, because of his work on the recordings. The band recently completed a mini-tour in Ohio, and they got word that one of their tunes even got airplay in France. Zachary says one of their recent songs, “Porcelain,” got over 2600 SoundCloud hits in its first day. And interestingly, one of their first songs—which Zachary says was one of the tunes he recorded poorly during week 2 of his training—now has over 10,000 listens on SoundCloud! He says that reality is teaching him that capturing the essence of the artist in a recording can be even more important than getting everything technically right. “It’s pretty crazy to see a song that I recorded get all those people from all over the world listen to it and they really like it,” he says.   Now as part of an up-and-coming indie band, and with his audio skills refined, Zachary is poised to go nowhere but up. He even recently set up his own studio space. “I’m really happy. I never thought I’d be able to have a space like this,” he says. “I don’t think I would have the space or have the confidence to set something like this up if I didn’t go to school.”   Speaking of confidence, Zachary also says learning from Joey has given him a fresh perspective and helped him relax a bit about his own abilities. No longer pressured to be “the best,” he finds himself inspired to do the best he can with what’s in front of him.   “When I went into it, I was like, ‘I’m going to be the best audio engineer in the world,’ he says. “And I’m talking to Joey and I see his capability and his gear and all the stuff, and he was like. ‘Every single time I record, I learn something new.’ When he told me that I realized, it doesn’t matter if you’re the best audio engineer. It doesn’t matter to have the best equipment…If Joey’s not even going to say he’s the best audio engineer in the world—which he is, in my opinion, one of the best…None of that stuff matters. It’s all subjective. It’s what you can do with what you have.”   
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Film Connection mentor Kevin Sharpley involves students in groundbreaking documentary project with Sundance Labs!

When RRFC students learn on the job from their mentors, not only do they acquire important hands-on skills and make industry connections, but they often also get to share in their mentor’s opportunities and successes. Film Connection students working in Miami, Florida with mentor Kevin Sharpley recently got such an opportunity when Kevin’s documentary film-in-process was accepted into the prestigious Sundance Labs program of Sundance Institute!   “We just started the film,” Kevin explains. “It got accepted into the lab portion of it, and the way that works is they work with you with the particulars of your film, and then as you start to develop the film, you check back with them, until you finish with the film…It’s an incredible process because not only does the gentleman that’s over at the Sundance documentary institute outreach come down, they also bring other mentors. So we had an Academy Award nominated mentor, they come and they really help you to rethink what your film is all about. And this was really exciting…because most of the crew that worked on this were students from the Film Connection. So I think that this is a great start for them…When you talk about film, this is where it’s at. It doesn’t get much bigger than Sundance.”   The documentary, Kevin explains, is about a Miami-based African-American artist named Purvis Young, one of Florida’s most pre-eminent artists whom many in the art world have compared to New York’s Jean-Michel Basquiat. For Kevin, it’s a passion project he’s wanted to do for about 10 years.   “The first time I saw a Purvis painting, I just fell in love with the power of his work, the distinction of his work,” says Kevin. “He passed in 2010…So I was able to connect with the executor of his estate, and some of the other surrounding people…He’s [in the] Smithsonian, he’s in the new African American Museum that just opened…One of his last managers got his meat hooks into him, and next thing you know he declared him mentally incompetent—because you can do that in Florida, the only state in the country that you can do that, otherwise, you have to be in the family. And it was just kind of downhill from there. And his estate currently is hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt…In this film we’re using several techniques: we’re using animation, we’re using archival footage, of course, in an attempt to kind of bring him back to life.  
Documentary on Purvis Young by Kevin Sharpley

Documentary on Purvis Young by Kevin Sharpley

Kevin finds it remarkable that Sundance honed in on the project given its subject matter. “Documentaries that are about an artist and their art aren’t necessarily deep tissue documentaries,” he says, “and so they may not necessarily go to Sundance or Tribeca, maybe they’ll go to PBS or something like that. But as I started to dive deeper into the story and peel away the layers, I was like, ‘Wow, this is just incredible. This story is just a dynamic story, an unbelievable story.’ So it’s still unfolding…As we move forward with the project, I think, we’re going to have something really, really big.”   Kevin says several Film Connection students are working with him on the project and will get credit on the film. One student in particular, Marcia Stadler, he says has grown by leaps and bounds as a result of her participation.   “Her growth throughout the documentary shoot was just phenomenal,” says Kevin. “She kind of started not necessarily knowing what to do…[she became] comfortable running the A7 by herself, and then she ran third camera behind the scene, which probably will go on the documentary…Marcia got to a point where I had her showing the other students how to run third camera…She really stepped up.”   For Kevin, giving his Film Connection students the opportunity to work on such an important real-world project is a key to what the program is all about, and he’s pleased to share the experience with them.   “One of the biggest benefits of Film Connection is that you get an opportunity to get real world experience,” he says. “Take advantage of the real world experience, because that’s what everybody’s going to look for at the end of the day. What have you done? What have you worked on?…The more that you do, the more your mentor or whoever around you will take note, and they’ll give you more responsibility. And the more responsibility you have, the better it is for you to move up. And that’s what happened in this case.”   
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A Day in the Life of Our Students

   Impromptu shot of Recording Connection student Dawnette Scolari (Los Angeles, CA) during a mixing class at ES Audio. Dawnette has amazing ears and business sense too! We don’t know what she’s got planned next but we’re sure it’s heady and fun.    Film Connection student, Cecelia Sayler (Denver, CO): “I’m learning so much, and everything is so exciting. I’ve went on to use so many different tools with my mentor Johny, I learned how to use a jib, slider, Steadicam, shoulder rig, and then last week I learned how to use the Ronin-M which is basically another camera stabilizer…I have been messing around with my camera a lot more, not only taking video but also messing around with photography as well and taking lots of pictures. I’m just trying to get myself involved in as many things as I can, and I’m very excited for the future and this upcoming class and weekend.”  
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