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WEEKLY NEWSLETTER October 23, 2017 by L. Swift and Jeff McQ


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RC grad Blake La Grange forges his own path to success,
builds his own mastering studio!

  
For Recording Connection graduate Blake La Grange, the path toward music industry success was nearly inevitable, not just because he knew early on what he wanted to do, but also because he found the passion and drive to defy conventional wisdom, when necessary—which is partly what led him to the Recording Connection. Today, he’s a successful mixing/mastering engineer in the process of building his own 2-story studio in San Diego!   Blake says the choice to pursue engineering and producing came as early as high school. “I knew I wanted to do music fulltime for a living,” he says, “but at 15 or 16, I had a sudden realization that I don’t think I’ll be able to ever make a living doing what I’m doing unless I’m on the other side of the glass. So that’s kind of the lightbulb that went off.”   Once the decision was made, Blake’s approach to his own education took a drastic turn.   “I looked at the last two years that I had left in high school,” says Blake, “and I saw all the classes that I needed to do, and I realized a lot of it was elective and a lot of it was a waste of time. I already knew what I wanted to do. So I just figured, how can I do that as soon as possible? I knew that I needed to get out of high school, so I studied really hard and I actually graduated high school in two and a half years, and as soon as I was done with that I said, ‘Okay, what’s next?’”   Blake quickly realized his answer didn’t lie in college courses. “The next step basically was to get into a studio,” he says. “I knew that was the next thing, just to kind of double down and finally get inside of a recording studio and basically show that I know what I’m doing to a certain extent…I was looking at a lot of colleges because that’s sort of what you’re told. You have to go to college, get a job, all that stuff, and I didn’t think that that was the best way to go about life, especially not in this field. So I just did some research and found the Recording Connection, and what really jumped out at me was I had an opportunity to get in the studio basically day one, which is what I knew I needed to do.”   Blake enrolled and was placed as an apprentice with Recording Connection mentor Steve Wetherbee at Golden Track Studio in San Diego, CA. Not long after, he says a second “light bulb” went off in his head.   “I just knew that there was going to be a turning point where I said, ‘Okay, how can I do this for a living?’” he says. “I remember after a few months doing it, I got comfortable with the board and got comfortable with the gear, and again another lightbulb went off. I said, ‘If I bring a band in here and I know how to run the studio, then I think I can get paid for this.’ So that’s kind of the ‘ding ding’ moment. So I quit my job and just went hard trying to get bands in there.”   The studio owner also took note of Blake’s progress and gave him a green light. “The studio owner told me, ‘It looks like you know how to run the studio. If you bring a band in here, then they’ll pay you to do it, as long as the studio gets a cut.’”   Motivated and determined, Blake resorted to working for cheap and using early forms of social media to start filling his schedule.   “All the people that I brought in first were my friends—all of my friends’ bands I brought in,” he says. “I let them know the studio rate, and once I realized that that’s how the business was, that the studio rate exists and then the engineer rate exists, I just gave them a severe discount so I could get them in the studio and learning some more. So at first, it was friends, and then quite honestly—this is back when Myspace was hot—I made a Myspace page for the studio and I messaged something like 3,000 bands in the area, basically telling them that I have a new discounted rate, because I was doing everything for super cheap. And that basically booked me for three or four months.”   Blake never looked back. Since that time not only has he learned how to book himself solid, he’s also gotten the opportunity to work with a number of big-name artists along the way, including Lil Wayne, Kanye West, P.O.D. and members of Cake, to name a few. He also began carving out his own reputation as a mixing/mastering engineer.   “I really found my niche was taking something that was already recorded and getting it to the next level,” he says. “So instead of going from zero to one, going from one to two. Once I realized that, I took everything I learned from the studio, from the experience, from my mentor, from the artists I worked with, and I took a step of faith and said, ‘I think I can do this on my own and that I can maybe build my own studio or my own brand.’”   That decision ultimately led to Mercury Mastering, Blake’s new San Diego studio. “I’m remodeling and building it now, a two-story full production studio,” he says. “It’s just all at really one critical pivot point, kind of the next level. So that’s my main mission now, is to just get as many artists, bands, anybody who needs mixing and mastering excellently, to get them in the door and out of the door and to have a really fun process. And it’s great, too, because I have people working with me and for me, and it’s just cool to see things full circle, that now I get to pour into others because somebody has poured into me.”   Looking back, Blake realizes he was able to streamline his success because of the choices he made and the opportunities he took—especially where his training was concerned. He keeps this in mind since soon he’ll start taking on Recording Connection apprentices himself.   “In this field, experience is way more important than formal education, period,” he says. “I think there’s this mentality, especially with millennials, where you get out of high school, you go and get a bunch of student debt, you go to college and study something you don’t really want to study in hopes to find a job where you work for somebody else, and then you pay a bunch of taxes and you trade your time for money…Once I realized that this industry wasn’t really like that, that it was really yours to lose and you kind of build your own hours, and you go and find work, and it was much more dynamic, it really appealed to me more. I started to realize that the best way to learn this is to get in the studio, be with a mentor, get experience, get your hands dirty, and that will teach you way more about this field than it would if you were to sit in a classroom.   “Conventional doesn’t necessarily mean the smartest choice,” Blake adds. “I wouldn’t have traded anything for the world, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I’m so glad I didn’t get into a bunch of student debt and go to a school where I’m having to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in debt in something when to really kickstart this whole thing, I just needed to be in the studio with a mentor and gaining experience.”
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THE RRFC INTERVIEW: Film Connection mentor Dean Ronalds talks about premiering his latest film and
the importance of the creative habit

  
Spend a few minutes talking to NYC Film Connection mentor Dean Ronalds, and you quickly pick up that his whole approach to filmmaking is to create and promote as much content as possible—a trait he also seeks to pass on to his students. At the time we (finally) caught up with him recently, he was preparing for the premiere of his latest short “The View from Up Here” at the Savannah Film Festival, along with preparing to release a full length docu-horror film, #Screamers in the coming months and pitching several other projects. During our recent interview, Dean talked about the multiple projects he’s working on and took a few moments to weigh in on why he believes in the motto, “Always be doing.” Enjoy! Enjoy!  
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  RRFC: So can you tell us more about this latest film weve been hearing about?   Dean Ronalds: The latest one is a short that I produced for a playwright and theater director named Marco Calvani. My partner has known him for 15 years…I remember when we were watching one of his one-acts and we thought it would be the perfect to develop it with him to direct as a short film. So last year my partner and I, with our company, Falling Up Films, we produced this short film from the play with the same title, called, “The View From Up Here.” It stars Melissa Leo and Leila Bekhti. Leila is a superstar in France, a young, incredible talent. I guess she would be the equivalent to a young star out here. She’s won a French Oscar and she’s in endless films in France. And everyone knows who Melissa Leo is, the Oscar winner. And it’s just an extremely important short about a Syrian refugee, and it just seemed like the perfect time to tell this story and bring it to an audience…And now we are going to premiere it at Savannah Film Festival, and then it’s going to go to St. Louis, and we’re waiting to hear back from about 30 to 40 other festivals.   RRFC: What was it about that one act play that said “movie” to you? Was there something in the material itself?   Dean: “It was the story…It’s a message of acceptance and tolerance, and it takes a hard look at exactly what’s wrong with society today, with our culture in the United States…Also, because this young director, young in filmmaking, not in age, he—Along with the message, it seemed simple enough that, for a first outing for a theater director/writer/playwright who directs for the stage, that it could be something that would enable me to nurture him as a filmmaker and help him understand how to translate that story and, as a producer, cultivate this young playwright to understand how to translate stories into film.   RRFC: Do you have any other projects in the works?   Dean:  I have a feature that I wrote and directed that should be coming out in November or December. It’s called “#Screamers.” It’s a found footage docu-horror film, and hopefully in the next week or so the press release will go out. I’m actually just waiting to figure out the release date from the distributor myself, so more news to come from that. And then about a year ago I wrote and directed a film called “Fourplay” [which is] another very dear project to my heart. It’s four actors, one location. It’s black and white, 77 minutes long, and it’s one shot. There are no cuts, no edits, no tricks. We’re just figuring out right now the best way to push that one out the door, trying to get it sold. I’ll be at AFM this coming November, seeing what I can do with that film. Then I’ve got three other films I’ve been developing for some time, and I’ll see if I can get any interest at AFM to get some distributors involved and maybe come on to distribute before we make the movie, and try to do it the old fashioned way. Instead of getting any equity money, just try to get the interest from the package and get a distributor who also finances involved, and get a movie made that way.   And then I’m always writing…I just wrote a pilot with a friend of mine, which we are taking out here in a couple weeks… So working every aspect of it, trying to also write for TV, too…I’ve got three or four shows I’ve created and I’m brushing up because they kind of just sat, and now I feel like the opportunity to get them out there exists more than they ever have. So you know, pitching, writing, producing, developing, a little bit of everything.   RRFC:  So youre writing, directing producing, you’re going to be at AFM, you’re out there marketing this stuff, you’re meeting people, you’re talking to them. So how do you do all of it? And do you compartmentalize different parts of your personality or your brain or your work practice? How do you manage it for yourself?   Dean: I don’t really compartmentalize my mind in regard to art and commerce…I try not to get involved with any project that I don’t creatively feel passionate for, because it doesn’t serve me. If I’m not passionate for it, then I can’t sell it, then I don’t want to sell it and I don’t even want to be involved with it. So if I am writing something that I’ve been working on and I’m also trying to pitch it, then that’s an easy meeting to take, and it’s also an easy meeting if I am working on a project that I’ve developed from the ground up with a writer, with a director. Again, it’s a project that I feel passionate about. So the idea of hopping on a meeting to discuss the business side of it, why it would sell, why it will work, why it won’t work, who I think it’s for, I think they go hand in hand.   RRFC: Talk to us about your Film Connection students. Do you feel you have any standouts right now?   Dean: I do. I have this young student, his name is James Braun…he’s phenomenal…James has clearly exhibited elements of passion, which I also tell them I can’t infuse passion in them, and they have to have the passion themselves, because that’s what will drive them forward. This young man has that passion and has listened carefully and executed even more carefully my mentorship, and he’s phenomenal. So I definitely have to give it to him.   RRFC: What is your approach to mentoring? What do you try to convey?   Dean: I feel like I have sort of a foolproof plan, and I feel confident with that. If they do simply listen and execute on the things I tell them, there’s work to be had if they’re willing to put in the dedication. So the ones that do, they find work, they get work, they find that what I speak is honest truths about it. And I also always tell them, my way isn’t the only way. No. I plant seeds and I tell them, “These are the seeds to grow, and if you truly have the passion, you’ll understand that these ideas will help you calculate your own ideas and own opinions about how to do it.” There are many ways of doing it, and what I express to them and what I teach them is that these are the seeds, the ways I tell them are the seeds that I will plant. If they take those and water them and nurture them, it will grow them into a career.   My motto is “always be doing.” Not thinking about doing, not trying to do, just do it… Even if you sit down in front of the computer for two hours and don’t write anything, great. Do that every day for two hours and change the habit so at least you create a habit of sitting in front of your computer, and then you’ll grow in that…With all the time in the world that these young folks have, they should be creating content consistently, and that’s my biggest thing, because that will, again, it’s like going to the gym. They expect that they’re going to be able to just lift 250 pounds the first day they’re there. No, not the case. You have to build your muscles, your filmmaking muscles, and the only way to do that is to just do whatever you can, and I will guide them in the process of the ways that will help them grow.   
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A Day in the Life of Our Students

   Film Connection student Jake Sutherland (Albuquerque, NM) is getting hands-on just weeks into the program: “On Tuesday and Thursday I got a chance to film the New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra while they were performing at the University of New Mexico. John [my mentor] showed me how to lay out the cables from the cameras to the computer so they wouldn’t get stepped on; he also showed me how to operate the camera and how all the buttons worked. He started talking me through how to shoot the camera and how to focus it. While I was operating the camera he was giving me directions through a headset and telling me where he wanted the camera positioned next. I had lots of fun my first time filming and I look forward to doing it again!”    Despite being a busy professional, Film Connection graduate Luis Palacio (Atlanta, GA) made it a point to make the most of the experiences he had with filmmaking mentor Jason Winn, including “the opportunity to be constantly on set, shooting movies, or videos, learning the production language, and networking with other crew members as well.” Luis also trained with professional screenwriter Ron Peterson (New York, NY), whom Luis calls “a very talented and passionate screenwriter” who “loves culture, social issues and putting stories into simple yet structured screenplays.”   Armed with his newfound knowledge, Luis is putting all of it into the works! He’s recently written and directed his own film, “Social Love” the story of a young tech company owner who gets sidetracked and ultimately redeemed when he helps a community of deprived elders.  
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