Engineer, Educator, Coffee Drinker…

Dean McCarthy At the Neve Genesys at SAE Oxford

My passion is music and sound.

Sound is one of these elements many people take for granted. It is also one of the elements that can have a prolonged and profound effect on our lives. From early childhood development, to finding your clique in school through to deciding the way you spend your money on clothes, music and sound plays a big part on who we become. I grew up with a mixed up sense of where I belonged among the complex social circles of high school, which I partly put down to the wide scope of music I listened to as a teen. I bounced between Hip-Hop and Jazz, Garage and Indie, Metal and Acoustic – all shuffled up in my CD rack. Enjoying my Deftones while also listening to Coltrane or Oasis became a complicated balancing act among social circles, being shamed if I was caught dabbling in another genre. And imagine what it was like keeping my Irish music and dance background a secret. We as teens are weird creatures.

My career has been as shuffled as my CD collection, but always surrounded by music and sound. As a teen I had some crappy sound gear and an acoustic guitar, which put me on a route to learning more about recording sound. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom geeking over sound gear, opening up consoles and trying to figure out what was going on. I got some early opportunities mixing gigs in London which helped cement some of that signal flow knowledge and expose me to how crazy this industry is. As a young wannabe in London, I was lucky to get pulled into so many gigs before taking off to join a string of different Irish theatre companies. After almost 4 years on stage I shifted back to off stage, returning to London for more mixing gigs before heading back to Ireland as a Production Manager for the previous shows I performed in. In that time I got to work in a flourishing music scene, mixing gigs for Laura Marling, Florence and the Machine, Noah and The Whale, Jamie T, Emmy The Great and many others.

The years I spent in Irish music and dance shows were culturally formative years for me. I grew up surrounded with Irish culture through my parents and their social circles, but it took living in Ireland and being immersed to help me fully appreciate it. It improved both my musicianship but also the way I looked at traditional culture. understanding Irish culture, diaspora and cultural hybridity became a focus for my studies later on. I still play sessions have found myself working with several dance projects over the past few years.

After being exposed to these theatre productions, I wanted to further cement my sound knowledge, enrolling in the Sound Engineering programme at SAE London. On completion, I returned to the live sector working in venues in Oxford and London. In 2008, I shifted my experience and knowledge base into the education sector. Working with SAE President Tom Misner, I helped oversee the installation of offices, studios and practical facilities at the impressive £12m Oxford campus which would be announced as SAE’s global HQ. Since then my role has developed from Lecturer, to Programme Coordinator and into Programme Leader for the Audio Production BA programme. In 2014, I also worked on the development and launch of a new Music Business BA programme. I continue to work with some fantastic staff and students, both of which inspire me on a daily basis and show me how vast, complex and fascinating sound and music can be.

While building SAE Oxford, I continued working as a freelance live engineer around Oxford and London and was lucky enough to work with more fantastic artists including Sia, Dizzee Rascal, Stornoway, Aidan, Rise Against, Frank Turner, Primal Scream, Lethal Bizzle, The Script, Mumford and Sons, Bat For Lashes, Glasvegas…

In 2012, I completed my MA in Music Industries at Birmingham City University, working closely with industry leaders such as Prof. Andrew Dubber and Prof. Tim Wall. My hobby of debating and arguing about the past, present and future of the music industry found a formal place in the MA Music Industries programme, and being mentored by other enthusiasts has fine tuned my ability to take part in the ongoing discourse.

One of my other hats is the Technical Manager for Music Tech Fest.  Music Tech Fest is the festival of music ideas. It’s a free three-day arts festival and creative space that brings together inventors, media, artists, academia, industry and cultural performance. It features innovative technology, performances, inventions, presentations and cutting-edge research in a hands-on, experimental and improvisational space. The purpose is to develop, explore and play with technology, body, voice and movement to invent new musical instruments and experiences. The festival gives me the opportunity to work with some of the brightest, most talented people in music technology and allows me to find new means of exploring my passions.

Much of my time is spent between teaching and creating, and luckily I get to engage my passion in both areas. If I’m not in the classroom, I’m in the studio. If I’m not there, I’m writing classes, working on Music Tech Fest, at a music tech event or in a coffee shop writing on here. Failing that, I’m at a music session, practicing bodhran/guitar or, when I can fit it in, sleeping.

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