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Catching up with SAE Institute NY Alumni & Audio Engineer for Wyclef, James Robinson

While a degree in Audio can lead to a wide range of career options, some paths for graduates often lead to working directly with influential artists and musicians in the music industry. We recently caught up with 2012 New York campus alumni, James Robinson, who has been working as an engineer for the legendary artist and former member of hit recording group The Fugees, Wyclef Jean. We sat down with James who sheds some light on how he got started, what he learned from his time at SAE Institute, and what it’s been like working with a major artist.

Tell us about why you decided to pursue a career in Audio?

I had been playing guitar for years and my band was gaining some local popularity so we decided to record an album. When we went to the studio I fell in love with the process of creating a record. The engineers and producers showed me how they set up microphones, used plug-ins, triggered drums, and tons of other amazing techniques for creating professional sounding music. The work was fun and engaging and the engineers were making great money doing what they loved. I felt like this was the perfect career for me as a musician looking for a practical job in the music industry. 

What was your time like at SAE Institute NY?

I loved my time at SAE, it was such an amazing experience. I gained so much hands-on practical knowledge, and I developed skills that I use every day in my audio job. Being able to come to class and then spend hours afterwards working with SSL consoles and Neumann mics was incredible. My classmates were also all like-minded creative people and we all became fast friends, I still talk to all of them to this day. SAE Institute really created a perfect foundation to help me take my first steps into my career.  

What was your experience like getting started in the industry after graduating?

SAE Institute was the only reason I even got a job in the industry. Within my first week of graduating, my class advisor set up four interviews for internships at various studios around NYC. I ended up getting hired as an intern at Engine Room Audio, and worked there for three years, eventually being promoted to in-house engineer and general assistant. I worked with Ryan Leslie, 50 Cent, and engineered podcasts for Angela Yee and tons of other high level industry professionals. All the practical experience I learned at Engine Room helped me eventually land my job with Wyclef Jean. But none of that would’ve happened without SAE.

What has it been like working with Wyclef?

Working with Wyclef has been nothing short of life changing. He is beyond a musical genius and watching him work helps inspire me to keep pushing towards my own musical goals. He has given me opportunities I wouldn’t even have dreamed of. I’ve worked with companies like Gucci, Land Rover, and Showtime and have had my mixes and compositions featured in commercials and tv shows all thanks to him. Being able to spend almost every day with a musical legend and having him trust in my engineering skills has been a true blessing. And most people don’t know, he’s a pretty solid engineer himself. He actually recorded and mixed the entire Fugees album, The Score, in his basement in the early 90’s. 

What advice do you have for current students looking to follow a similar path?

My advice would be to keep persevering. The road we’ve chosen is one of uncertainty and it can be scary at times, not knowing where your future will lead you, not having a 401k or steady work hours, working a session until 5am just to have to go back to the studio to do another session at 10am. It gets difficult at times. I never for a second thought I would be working for Wyclef Jean, but I kept perfecting my craft and working as hard as I could and it paid off. My belief is that if you put the effort in, the universe will recognize you and reward you for that effort. It may take time, I graduated in 2014 and didn’t get this opportunity until 2019, but I kept at it for those five years and didn’t give up. SAE will give you all the building blocks you need to begin, it’s up to you to put them together to build your castle. 

Stay up to date with James by following him on Instagram @mixedbyjames_. For more information on our Audio programs, or to schedule a tour of our New York campus, get in touch by phone at (212) 944-9121 or visit us online at www.usa.sae.edu.

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