A Working Dad Gets In & Gets Skills at Engine Room Audio
Derek Bradford is a music producer and aspiring audio engineer as well as a husband, father, and waiter at a high end restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. As such, his days are busy, and long, especially since he enrolled in Recording Connection. Nevertheless, he knows he’s growing both creatively, as a beat maker and musician, and professionally, as an audio engineer.
When he found Recording Connection, Derek says he recognized the value of our real-world approach. “I know that the music industry is very competitive. And I like the fact that the program is an immersion-style course, where it brings you right into the studio. So you get to actually touch the knobs, and, you know, press the buttons, and pull all the patch cables, and things like that. I think there’s something to be said for the classroom setting, but why wait when you want to be in the studio?”
Getting acclimated to being in the studio was a big priority on Derek’s list. He’d started making beats in 2009. By 2014, what had started out as a hobby had become a full-fledged passion. He recalls the moment he got honest about the kind of future he wanted to build and told himself: ‘All right, this is definitely what you want to do, and you’ve got some skills and you’ve got some knowledge.’”
Yet he knew he needed more. When Derek thought about the challenges that lay ahead, getting comfortable working within a professional recording studio environment stood out as a crucial step in his development. “We can be comfortable when we’re at home or with our buddies, but if you’re doing it professionally, you got be able to go into any studio and produce.” He says his experience in the program has changed that. “[It] really helped me settle my nerves and just get comfortable.”
But when he walked into Engine Room Audio (New York, NY), the feeling he had wasn’t one you could necessarily describe as “comfortable,” not at first. With high ceilings and lofty interiors, the fully-appointed multi room facility is impressive to say the least, and Engine Room’s owner, Recording Connection mentor Mark Christensen (The Killers, 50cent, Dr. Dre, Trey Songz, OK GO) is a renowned, highly respected mastering engineer with three decades in the business and a slew of gold and platinum credits to his name. “I was floored, and to be honest, I was intimidated…Mark has his plaques all over the studio. And some of them might be your favorite artists across different genres. And I was just like, ‘Oh, man, I don’t even want to talk to this guy, because I don’t even know if I’m going to say the right thing.’…Then when you meet Mark, he’s like the nicest guy in the world and you can tell that he has a passion for teaching young people.”
Since starting his externship with Mark and co-mentor Michael Bader, aspects about recording and making music which were once “shrouded in mystery” have become clear, techniques have been garnered, and realities gleened. Recently, Mark even pulled back the curtain on the songwriting process in a special songwriting session he gave to students. Derek says, “We’re all musicians and creators so we all know the gist of songwriting, but Mark really broke it down in black and white. He made these charts, and when you see the visual chart with the audio, it just clicks because it’s something you know instinctually, but when you see someone put it in plain English, you’re like, ‘Oh, okay. Now that makes total sense.’
Where once there was mystery, clear understanding has moved in to take its place. “A lot of times you like to think, ‘These guys just do it, and it just happens to come out magically or from some kind of crazy inspiration.’ But sometimes, you know, it’s very deliberate process, it’s very thought out. Learning that process really helped me kind of open up and [it’s] even led to various ideas.”
And even though Derek has a lot on his plate, he’s making it a point to put what he’s learning into use on a hip hop project he’s working on with artist Mr.DasOne. He says the difference in his work is nothing short of palpable. “I get so much more warmth and clarity out of my vocals now, and you know, the songs have so much more pump or bump in the low-end.”
When it comes to the future Derek’s building for himself and his family, he’s setting his sights on becoming a “really good tracking engineer” because the time he’s spent at Engine Room has reaffirmed just how passionate he is about working with mics, the human voice, and achieving “the right sonics for the artist.” While working as a tracking engineer, Derek plans to continue building his repertoire as a music maker and producer who works solo and collaborates with other artists.
Derek advises other Recording Connection students to do what he did for himself: locate areas that need improvement or where understanding is limited and then work hard to get informed and get skilled. “You got to know what you don’t know. Go find it and be persistent about it… Be passionate and come ready to learn. Humble yourself, ask questions. If you don’t have a question, think of a question and just be proactive. And practice the techniques. Like, if you learn something, go home and try and emulate it. Because you can learn something one day, and then completely forget about it the next. But if you use it in your own setup, your brain will start clicking and retain it faster.”
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