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WEEKLY NEWSLETTER July 24, 2017 by L. Swift and Jeff McQ


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Finding his feet: Recording Connection grad Devin Zorn’s
career goes into high gear!

  
Over the past few months, Recording Connection grad Devin Zorn (Dallas, TX) has seen his career as an engineer take some remarkable turns for the better. He’s traded his job at Guitar Center for a gig with far fewer hours and much higher pay, freeing up his time to work on other music projects. He’s recorded and mixed records for known and up-and-coming acts like Tom Devil and the Wizard. He plays guitar in bands Kenny Hada and The Others and Pampa Gray, with whom he played the Dallas International Guitar Festival this past year. Devin also freelances as an engineer at Fort Worth Sound Studio, and recently he even joined IATSE local 127 which has opened doors for him to work in some amazing live venues. Devin’s life is now full of the things he loves to do, with more still to come.   It didn’t happen automatically. In fact, to hear Devin tell it, a lot of his recent victories came from a decision to pull himself out of a slump.   Since going through the Recording Connection, Devin had landed a decent job at Guitar Center in Dallas and worked on a project with Tommy Katona and Texas Flood, a high-profile Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute band, doors which opened to him, in part, because of his connection with his well-known mentor, Dallas engineer Rick Rooney. But after a while, Devin found himself struggling with his audio engineering career, and even started getting rusty as a guitar player. That’s when he says decided to help out an up-and-coming band—Tom Devil and the Wizard.   “The owner of the band had done EP’s and used to spend $3,000 a song to get the recording mixed, mastered, and produced and everything,” says Devin. “After an EP and about three singles, he was never happy with any of his recordings or mixes.”   At first, the band rejected Devin’s quote for how much it would cost to record, but after trying unsuccessfully to record on their own, the band approached him again. “At the time, I hadn’t done anything since Tommy Katona and the Texas Flood,” Devin says. “It had been like 10 months. I was overweight and my guitar chops had been going down. I was just like, damn it, this sucks.”   Devin recalls the moment he decided to take the plunge and offer to help out the band, even if they didn’t have much of a budget. He went up to the band’s bass player, Joe Pirro, who’s also a friend and said, ‘Hey, are you still trying to record that thing?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, we’re having a lot of trouble with it.’ ‘I’ll f**king do it. Let’s just make it happen. You don’t have to worry about paying me, even.’…So we did it with no budget.”   Devin says it took about a year to record and mix the whole project from start to finish, but it revived his own passion for engineering and making music.   “I wasn’t expecting how good of a band they were going to be,” Devin admits. “From their musicianship down to their writing…It was really substantial music all the way through. So it was definitely a treat to get to work with them being the truly amazing artists that they are and the work I put in there vastly improved my recording and especially my mixing techniques…After the band’s bad experiences with other studios, it was quite a compliment when they told me that I’d made their recordings sound exactly like what they’d had in their heads. We have an amazing amount of mutual respect and plan to do many more projects together.”   Through the experience Devin pulled himself out of his slump and renewed confidence in his own abilities. Not long after, he says he was able to land a gig doing live sound at a large church, a move which enabled him to quit his job at Guitar Center and move onto another phase in his career.   “Working and doing audio for a church every week, the consistent pay…I make more doing that six hours a week than I did 40 hours a week at Guitar Center,” he says. “So it was one of those things where now I work two days a week and the rest of the time I can fill up with music and whatever else I want.”   Devin has definitely made the most of the extra time, taking gigs and working at live events whenever the opportunity presents itself, including plans to record Tom Devil’s next project. Now out of his slump, Devin says his experience with his mentor Rick Rooney continues to inspire him as well as open doors for his career—even at the church where he now works.   “Rick was like an oracle, you know?” says Devin. “He believed in me…Recently at [the church] we had one of Rick’s colleagues, Keith Harrelson, came in… when I told him Rick was my mentor, he looked immediately at all my bosses at the church and was like, ‘You need to keep this guy.’”   As for recovering from his slump? Devin rightfully gets to take all the credit for that one.   “Literally the only reason why I’m successful right now is because I didn’t quit,” he says. “It was one of those things where I had to just put my foot down, like, ‘I’m making something happen.’ That’s been the most important lesson in life that I always followed but never thought about till now – don’t quit! Just keep walking until you find your way out.”   
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Film Connection mentor Sean McCarthy offers students
real-world experience on award-winning webseries
and other projects!

  
FC mentor writer/director Sean McCarthy and producer Elizabeth Mitchell of Guerilla Wanderers

FC mentor writer/director Sean McCarthy and producer
Elizabeth Mitchell of Guerilla Wanderers

As the founder/owner of Guerilla Wanderers, a full-service production house in the San Francisco Bay Area, Film Connection mentor Sean McCarthy maintains a huge roster of projects that includes films, music videos, commercials, animation/visual FX and more. As such, Sean is able to provide plenty of real-world opportunities for his Film Connection students to learn hands-on—most recently so on his studio’s current pet project, a comedy called Doucheaholics! Episodes 3 and 4 of the webseries just premiered last month at the 20th annual Dances With Films Festival, a the historic TCL Chinese Theaters on Hollywood and Highland and won the Audience Choice Award for Best Web Series!  Doucheaholics is a comedy series that I co-created with Elizabeth Mitchell, who’s a producing partner and the head of creative development,” Sean explains. “We put this series together with our Guerrilla Wanderers team, which is Dustin Strocchia and Kevin Loader, and we have a lot of people on our Wanderers team, including people who’ve come in through the mentorship program…We’ve shot six episodes for the first season and we’re already shooting episodes for the second season, and so we have students working on everything from pre-production and development before we shoot. We have students on set during production, then we have them on post-production and everything from post-production to working on episodes themselves to working on the promos, really giving everyone a hands-on experience.”   Talking with Sean, you can easily pick up his passion for helping students grow, and that for him, involving students on his project isn’t just about filling out the crew. He has a genuine interest in identifying the strengths and interests of each apprentice and tailoring the experience and training they receive to fit each student’s particular goals, interests, and talents. Sean gives several examples:   “Ruben Dayao, who’s a phenomenal student, he’s been with us the last year,” he says. “When he first started, he had very little editing experience, and he actually had—I hope he wouldn’t mind me saying this, but he had a bad experience with another film school or program, and he left that film program to come to the Film Connection. Then we sat down, we went over his goals. He doesn’t want to do the screenwriting stuff. So he worked it out with the Film Connection and with us that he’s not going to go the traditional route in terms of quizzes in screenwriting, because his needs are just to be a focused editor. We go over story, and I’ve had him on set in other positions so that he can gain perspective and insight to grow as an editor, so his main focus and what we have him on is growing as an editor.   “Then another student like Eric Whitehead, who’s been with us a shorter period of time, he went to UCLA for acting and he had a whole career as a professional actor and as a filmmaker himself, and he just wanted more growth…I look at his needs different than someone like Vi Bui, who’s 18 and just trying to get experience, and he’s a very talented, smart kid, but he’s in a different place than Eric. So instead of just a general class where people would sit down with us and [we] go, ‘All right, let me just teach everyone what a close-up is,’ I look at each person and go, ‘Where are you at, how can we grow you, and how can we attach you to real-time projects?’”   It’s a teaching approach that’s not without risk—placing inexperienced students in roles of responsibility on a project. But in Sean’s mind, there’s no better way to learn and grow.   “Knowing what [the students] want and need,” he says, “and then pushing them to grow, obviously there is going to be an experience of, ‘I’ve never done this before,’ or, ‘This is new to me.’ So they’re pushing themselves. I say, if you’re feeling a little frustration or if you’re feeling a little stressed, that’s good…You’re going to be definitely stressed, and you’re probably going to be intellectually and emotionally tired because you’re pushing yourself to areas you’ve never gone to before. But that’s how you grow.”  
Film Connection grad Alex Geranios at the premiere of Doucheaholics

Film Connection grad Alex Geranios
at the premiere of Doucheaholics

Of course, the payoff for Sean is watching students break through. “It’s a beautiful thing when you see people who are trapped in something and they’re really talented, really smart, and you see them unlock,” he says. “I think that’s a key thing as a graduate, to be free and unlocked, and now not just be the inexperienced child, but…have the experience and awareness of an adult who’s gone through a variety of professional experiences and grown their craft…Someone like Alex [Geranios], who started with us as a PA on episode 2, and worked his way up to script supervisor and assistant editor by episode 5. So it’s really cool to see that evolve over time.”   Sean also says he loves the unexpected surprises that come from involving students on the set.   “There’s so much DNA from all the people, all the great creative artists, actors, and filmmakers that are involved in the show,” he says “and there’s a large portion of Film Connection students that we tried to get involved in this too…It’s almost like jazz. There’s an element of planning, from the writing to the shooting to the editing, there are a lot of planned out things, but there’s also an element of, ‘Oh, we need a person for this. They can fit this.’ Alex is actually in Doucheaholics. He has a small role. Eric, I talked to him about getting him into little cameos and things like that…You just never know where this is going to go. You don’t know if they’re going to end up behind the camera, in front of the camera…As these relationships grow and you start to learn people’s skillsets and talents even more, you start to work with them in different ways. So there’s a lot of surprises and you never know where this can lead.”  
Cast and crew of Doucheaholics at Dances With Films

Cast and crew of Doucheaholics at Dances With Films

For Sean, the relationship with the student doesn’t necessarily end at graduation, either; he sees them as potential long-term teammates. “I really enjoy working with Eric,” he says as an example. “So even when he’s done with the Film Connection, he’s someone that I think of that I would like to collaborate with in the future.   What I like about having a longer term mentorship with a student is we’re able to build trust,” he continues. “And just like any kind of relationship, you get to see people at their best and worst, and you get to give them opportunities when you see it’s the right opportunity for them.”   
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A Day in the Life of Our Students

   We caught up with Recording Connection student Jacob Waid and Root Van Dorn during an Ableton lesson at Incident Music Labs in (Greenville, SC). As is often the case, a question led to an informative learning experience—delving deep into the differences in time/tempo manipulation between Reason, Logic, Pro Tools and Ableton. Might as well learn all the DAWs!    Just weeks into the program, Recording Connection student Stephen Tyler Bostrom (Milwaukee, WI) who apprentices with Todd Fitzgerald at Winterland Studios, has taking the foundational work seriously. It’s a pursuit that’ll pay dividends in the future: “The last two lessons have been very information heavy. But hey, with everything you learn in life you gotta get through the basics, before you get to learn the fun stuff. Sometime last week I went in to shadow a mixing session, my mentor was doing for a band…Met a lot of the engineers that work at Winterland Studios. They’re all some pretty cool dudes. Met some beat makers, some other clients recording, and making beats there. I love this apprenticeship, it’s tons of fun, and I’m learning lots. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for tomorrow, and what comes in the future!”  
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