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‘What is a Grind Opp?,’ you ask? It is a job opportunity. A help wanted ad.
Taking Opportunities: Recording Connection grad James Kyle Dickey leverages connections and lands job!
Colorado Sound Studios in Denver, CO. Like so many, James’s first entry into music was as a musician, starting as a bass player for a now-defunct pop-punk band in Denver, and then as a vocalist. Making his way into audio engineering, he found the Recording Connection online and decided to enroll. After completing the basic program with mentor Ryan Conway of Conway Sound, he decided to continue into the master’s program at Colorado Sound, where he was paired with veteran engineer Jesse O’Brien (Norah Jones, The Lumineers). “I was definitely impressed with the way he was working,” says James of his mentor. “I could just tell, like the way Jesse, he’s so relaxed and able to express his credentials without seeming like he’s cocky or whatever. He’s just really laid back, and really cool guy, really understanding…It really seemed like they really knew what they were doing, and obviously, I’m with it. Just like the client list on Colorado Sound website, you know, they’re working with some of the biggest names in the industry right now.” With the advanced program, most of the training is hands-on practice in the studio, and James says Jesse went the extra mile to give him the opportunities he needed. “Jesse was actually really cool about letting me sit in on sessions with clients, and I was able to help out,” he says. “I’d mic the entire drum kit. I’d help him set up the board. I’d patch stuff. He was just really cool about letting me come in on his kind of lower profile clients and just giving me kind of free range, helping him set up everything and then tear down everything. So just being on the sessions really got me a lot of experience.” The training didn’t just happen on sessions, either. “Every time we were in there, he’d just pull back one of his old mixes and he help me work on it and do some really cool stuff,” says James. “He’s got all the really awesome old vintage gear, and then mixed with a lot of the new digital stuff, so it was a really big opportunity to get my hands on that stuff. So Jesse was just really cool about creating opportunities where I would be hands-on…because that’s how I learn.” James says he’s also learned a lot about the art of engineering, rather than just the technical side of things. “What’s really cool about Jesse is he’ll sit there and tell me, ‘This is the typical way to do it,’ kind of like the rule of thumb, like whether it’s mic’ing an acoustic guitar or using this certain mic…something like that. And then he’ll be like, ‘This is how you break that rule,’ which is so cool because it’s art, so there’s no set rules. I mean, obviously, you want to make sure everything’s in sync, you want to make sure things are sounding good, you want to make sure you’re not clipping, but…it’s still art.” Since completing the program, James has continued to work with Colorado Sound as a contractor. He says the learning has continued, not just with his mentor, but with the other engineers in the studio—so much so, he says, that he keeps a notepad with him. “Tom Capek at Colorado Sound is one of the best mastering engineers I’ve ever met,” says James, “and he’ll just throw tidbits of information tricks at me. I’ll be like sitting there having lunch and he’ll just go, ‘Hey, do you want to know how to do this?’ like a really cool vocal delay or something. Or, ‘How to brighten up a track when it’s dullish? ’ And I’m like trying to write it down real fast because this is gold, like he’s just throwing out gold at me.” Lately, James says he’s been working with the live audio arm of Colorado Sound “Kevin [Clock] has Colorado Sound Mobile,” he says, “and he’s got a recording truck that’s got a really nice Studer Vista console in it, really cool system set up with a nice live mic, and we go around and do either live web broadcasts or live recordings of bands. Like he did the Mumford & Sons’ Red Rocks live album that won a Grammy…So I actually get to go out with him on the truck…I’m like the guy right there interfacing with the live engineers and the artists to make sure we’re getting the best sound we can in the recording truck.” It was that connection with live sound that James leveraged, making the most of an opportunity to land his new gig at Kinnon Entertainment. “It was just one of being in the right place at the right time sort of thing,” he says. “I did A2 for Colorado Sound for the Keggs and Eggs Show that goes on in Denver every year…They do a live broadcast over the radio, and the guys that do the live sound venue are Kinnon Entertainment. So this is all, like I said, the networking. And then about a year later—they also do the sound and the lights for the MMA events—I saw them at one of my buddy’s fights because he was fighting and I was cornering him. And I look over and, ‘Hey, you guys are the guys that did the Keggs and Eggs last year.’ They’re like, ‘We remember you from Keggs and Eggs. You’re with Colorado Sound, right?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah…I’m looking to get a job in helping out in live stuff.’ ‘Oh, yeah, you can just come on board.’ I didn’t even need to interview, like if you use the name Colorado Sound—‘You’re good, man. Just come shadow.’ And that’s how I got in there…I started out as load in, load out stagehand and then got promoted to stage manager…It’s those little opportunities that you need to get ready to pick up to be able to promote yourself and get yourself where you need to be.” Now well on his way to a long and happy career in audio, James has this advice for up-and-coming Recording Connection students: “The biggest thing I’ve learned, especially: you don’t ever want to turn any opportunity down,” he says. “You’ll never know that one client…especially in the music industry, it’s all about networking, and who you know, and being in the right place at the right time. So being there and being willing to learn and put in the time and the dedication…This goes back to talk to anybody in the industry, putting in your time, and not being too proud to do the dirty jobs, too…running people, getting people coffee or getting people’s lunches, cleaning toilets, stuff like that. But you’ve got to put in your time, you’ve got to put in the work, and not be saying, ‘This is beneath me’…It’s just that opportunity where someone’s not available one day…and then the boss calls me up, and says, ‘Hey, you know the board, right?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ …I was able to go online, do a lot of research and tutorials on the board which I had for Grizzly Rose, and I was able to run front house because the other guy wasn’t available that day. So it’s those little opportunities that you need to get ready to pick up to be able to promote yourself and get yourself where you need to be.”Finding success in the music business is often a combination of connections, hands-on experience and a healthy dose of confidence. Recording Connection grad James Kyle Dickey (Denver, CO) is wasting no time putting these three elements to work in building his career. When we caught up with him recently, James had landed a gig doing live audio for Kinnon Entertainment—a job that resulted in part from connections he made in the field after apprenticing at
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