Recording Connection grad & mentor Dawsøn on Working with Kanye West, Recognizing Opportunity, and more!
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When Kanye West premiered his lastest album Donda via livestream from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Recording Connection graduate Alejandro Rodriguez-Dawson aka Dawsøn was the engineer capturing Kanye’s performance for all 5.4 million viewers. We recently spoke with Dawsøn about that experience, learned more about his own path into audio engineering and founding Junxion Søund—including one sideline gig that was instrumental in his success—and got his advice for those looking to build their careers in music, so read on!
When Kanye West livestreamed the release of his new album Donda, you were the audio engineer there to make it happen. How was that experience? Please tell us more about that.
“As you can imagine, there’s a lot of pressure, so much pressure…. Before we even started recording, there was so much going on. We arranged the room three times and everybody was working out and playing music and so by the time he got time to record, I was much more calm…. I do this every single day. The only difference now is it’s for Kanye. I’m an extremely efficient and quick engineer, which is exactly what he needs because he demands the thing immediately. So, I got to be on point, super on point. But he’s a genius and he needs to get it out immediately and you’ve got to be able to capture that. So, that’s the challenge…. He was loving our vibe and our team and everything like that. We just stuck it out.” Learn more about Dawsøn’s experience in our Straight Talk video below!
How did you get into audio engineering in the first place?
“I got into music probably in high school. I was living in Hawaii at the time. Me and my friends just started rapping… thought it was fun finding YouTube beats and stuff…. My mom was super supportive, she helped me build a little studio setup and I just had my friends over every single day, and we were just making music. I was also an artist at the time, but I was also the one putting everything together. So, engineering just fell in my lap like that. I didn’t really know that what I was doing was an actual… occupation…. And around the time when high school was over, I was looking at colleges and stuff like that, trying to figure out what I was going to do, and that’s actually when I found Recording Connection.”
You enrolled in Recording Connection for Audio Engineering & Music Production and did your externship at Camel Hump Studios.
“What I really loved about the program was just that they just threw me into a studio immediately, which I thought was really, really good…. It was like a very homey environment and the people there were super friendly, and it was easy to build a family environment. And it was just super easy for me to get comfortable and learn that way with them, and [it] made me realize I can do this on my own as well.”
How fast were you able to progress through the program?
“I was probably about three months into the program [when] they already had me running sessions and… would leave the room and just leave me there to record. Before Recording Connection, I did have a little bit of prior experience, just like recording my friends. So, the process in itself was familiar for me.”
You went on to get hired at Camel Hump. After that, you got creative when it came to building your credits and growing your career as an engineer. How did you do it?
“I had some money saved and I was now a full-time engineer at Camel Hump like a junior engineer and everything and they were paying me hourly. …
I had met my soon-to-be business partner at the time… TNES… he had an event called “Tuesday Blend,” which happened every first Tuesday of the month… he would put hip hop acts from Vegas on the scene and whatever [and] he was building a new team…. One of the positions was for talent coordinator who handles all the email submissions for all the artists in Vegas who want to get on this event…. He had a creative space already where there was a studio before. But the people in there, they left, and they trashed the place and stuff, so it needed to be fixed up. But when I got brought in, I [could] already foresee what was going to happen.
[I was] new to Vegas, I [didn’t] have a clientele here… Now, I’m the talent coordinator for one of the biggest events locally…. Now they’re all emailing me. So, it was just a no-brainer. Now I have this whole list of potential clientele. And then, sure enough, a month or two into that he asked me if I wanted to… rebuild the studio [and] would I run it and everything like that. …
It worked out better than expected. Once we opened that up, I was constantly booked 10-hour days consistently. That’s really where I got my chops up of just recording over and over and over again every day and just getting quick and all that. Yeah.”
You didn’t take the prescribed route. You saw an opportunity to do a sideline job that would be instrumental to your growth as an engineer. Anything you have to say about that?
“It was always a plan of mine to own a studio…. I was taking business classes in high school and we had to make a five-year plan, and that was my five-year plan was to build a studio…. It actually did happen in five years exactly. So, it was not exactly how I had planned it out in high school, but it eventually ended up being that way. So, I think just having a vision and writing everything down is very important. And when I go back and I look at my old journals… everything that I have right now was written down. And so, I’m a firm believer of just writing things down and actually preparing for it. It’s crucial to the process. Absolutely.”
So how did you get from there to working with Kanye West?
“Once we opened up Junxion Søund… that’s when I started working with a bunch of people…. There were probably about three to four artists who I selected who I was going to have a different work relationship with. These were the people that I just wanted to work with free of charge, and we just build a sound together consistently. That was just something that I’ve always wanted to do. 40 and Drake are my inspiration, [Derek] Ali and Kendrick. Just having an artist that you break with, and you’re known for being that person’s engineer. So, over the years, there was a few artists who I had worked with [like that] and most of them I had a falling out with… except for the one person who actually linked me with Kanye. His name is Fya Man…. Before I met him, he had already done a lot of major things of like working with Pharrell and Jay-Z and a bunch of really big-name people. And yeah, he was the one who brought me into the Kanye situation.”
What’s your advice for Recording Connection students? How can they make the most of the program while they’re in it?
“I think just to be able to come in as much as you can because that’s really when the opportunity presents itself. It really presents itself to those who are available…. Even with Bennett, he’s [new]… and he was brought into the Kanye West situation as well because he was available. I called him and he answered, and he was willing to bring his whole studio set up immediately. So now, because of that, he’s brought into the situation and there’s things that happen like that, maybe not on such a major scale, but like that all the time just because you’re available. …
Whether you’re applying what you learn from the curriculum, or if you’re shadowing a session and you’re watching us in Pro Tools, and you see us do something that you just learned, I think it’s just important to just apply that immediately.
Definitely my biggest advice is to stick with it. If you’re an artist, engineer, or whatever it is that you’re doing, you got to ask yourself what are you doing this for, and if you really love what you’re doing. For me, the answer is yes. I’m doing this for the long run regardless. If money wasn’t an issue, I feel like I’d [still be] doing the exact same thing…. A lot of people… they’re not going to see what you see, and they’re not going to understand…. They don’t get it and that’s fine. You just got to believe as much as possible in yourself and it really doesn’t matter. You got to believe so much in yourself that other people have no choice but to believe in you.”
Learn more about Recording Connection, for Audio Engineering & Music Production, Beat Making, EDM, Live Sound, Music Business, DJing, and more!