Student Spotlight: Steven Chen
“Student Spotlight” is a recurring segment where we feature an SAE Institute student and some of the projects they’ve been working on. This week’s featured student is Steven Chen, from SAE Miami.
With such a large Latin influence, words adorning the shops, stores and street signs of Miami are understandably printed in both English and Spanish. Consequently, navigating the city’s cultural climate is significantly easier if you’re bilingual.
For Steven Chen, ATP student at SAE Miami, the creation of music is also a process that requires two different languages of understanding.
Chen started out his collegiate career at FIU, majoring in jazz performance and music composition, but transferred to SAE Miami when he decided it would be advantageous to understand the technical recording and engineering side of music as well, to further serve his broader artistic vision.
“If you can produce, mix, master or engineer your own songs, that’s less people on the payroll when you create,” says Chen, “I want to be a well-rounded, well-respected icon in the music industry. Fortunately and unfortunately, I’ve always known that was the route I was going to take. SAE allowed me a greater stability in finding a job.”
Chen’s style and talent exemplify his eclectic Miami surroundings. He is a multi-instrumentalist: he studied the Saxophone for several years and is also familiar with the Tuba. Additionally, Chen played drums for the Miami Heat street band at home games. “Playing at the games was fun,” reflects Chen, “there was a backstage aspect to it that I liked.” Though those are his primary performance instruments, Chen has musical leanings outside of jazz and big band, too.
Born to Jamaican parents, Chen’s instrumental repertoire also has notable Calypso and Reggae influences. “I had a very cultured upbringing,” says Chen, “and I find myself drawing from that in all aspects of my music: my mixing, my composing, whatever.” Chen played the steel drum for a professional steel band, nailing difficult runs riddled with several 1/8 and 1/16 notes.
“Growing up in a Caribbean family, music is always playing,” says Chen, “it was always around.” But for Chen, it was more than what was being played, it was how it was being played as well.
Chen’s parents, both DJ’s while living in Jamaica, fostered a creative familiarity with both music and equipment for Steven from early on. “I grew up familiar with the gear,” says Chen, who also has an uncle that designs various audio setups, “I saw the way it was put together and how it worked, especially for the live sound stuff.”
Chen began recording himself in High School, but while in college, he knew he needed to refine his craft to pursue a career: “I knew if I wanted to record things professionally, I would have to get better at it.”
Chen, an employee at the Apple store, heard about SAE Miami from a fellow employee’s anecdote. “Everyone [at the Apple store] is into an art,” recalls Chen, “and one of the guys was telling me that he ended up in a class with a student who had gone to SAE, and that the student’s knowledge was so thorough, he would often end up teaching the class for the instructor.”
Since transferring, Chen remains satisfied with his decision, as it has allowed him to learn a wholly different discipline that he wasn’t initially as comfortable with. “Never stop learning. The wisest people are the ones who realize that they don’t really know anything,” says Chen, “If you know engineering, learn music theory. If you’re a musician, learn how to mix, how to master. Be as versatile as possible.”
Versatile. Or, as they say in Spanish: “versátil.”