Music: Aspiring Audio Engineer Attempts to Break Into Music Industry During COVID-19

Dante Duncan-Murphy, working with all MilkBoy studios has to offer. (Courtesy Isabella Dulac)

After graduating from SAE Audio Institute via Zoom in 2020, Dante Duncan-Murphy managed to find a silver lining, acquiring an internship at one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious music studios, MilkBoy. With uncertainties still looming from COVID-19, the new intern faced limbo, wanting to focus on furthering his career while simultaneously taking proper precautions. 

Duncan-Murphy, of Bensalem, Pennsylvania, recognized he was going to jump headfirst into a difficult job market with ongoing unemployment due to the pandemic, but that wasn’t going to deter him from going after his dream job.

“I always wanted to be in the music industry,” Duncan-Murphy said. “I just didn’t know if it would be as an artist or behind the scenes. About six, maybe seven years ago, I suddenly was fascinated by how music was really made.”

From there on in, the 22-year-old kept his head down while working numerous blue-collar jobs and studied the production process songs go through. 

Required to find an intern position before graduation, the stern Gen-Z student copied and pasted the same email to MilkBoy, owned by a couple of underdogs, Tommy Joyner and Jamie Lokoff who founded the studio in 1994.

MilkBoy Studios has been one of Philadelphia’s music staples since the early ’90s.
(Courtesy Dante Duncan-Murphy)

“I was desperate,” Duncan-Murphy said. “I sent them an email three times a day for one month and they weren’t even hiring.” 

After landing the internship he began to work three days a week, responsible for errand running and studio cleanliness. But he was grateful for the ability to sit in sessions with other engineers. 

Similar to other businesses, music studios are following COVID-related safety precautions. Masks are required and limited capacity are placed on the number of people in a room. If the limit of people per room is reached, the intern is unable to sit in on a session. Regardless, Duncan-Murphy shows up.

“I needed to put my career first,” Duncan-Murphy said. “I wasn’t going to let COVID stop me from getting to the studio.” 

At the studio, all interns are partnered with current audio engineers. These engineers can also be called mentors for their time shared and advice given to new hires.  

Matthew Ticcino, 27, of Washington Township, New Jersey, has called MilkBoy home for the past seven years. Jumping from the rank of intern, to assist and now turned audio engineer and producer. 

Similar to Duncan-Murphy’s start, Ticcino found himself interning for three years, after each one slowly taking on more responsibility like working sessions and finding clients. 

“I decided to take a leap of faith to study audio production,” Ticcino said. “Working in a recording studio seemed like an aspiration similar to being drafted into the NBA.”

Ticcino and Duncan-Murphy work closely together in order for the veteran engineer to share his intellect with the new intern. Since his first day, Ticcino admired Duncan-Murphy’s work ethic.

“He’s eager to learn and understands that every engineer here has been in his shoes, cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, and making runs for clients,” Ticcino said. “I encourage every intern to be creative and discover their own way of working.” 

The respect is mutual between the two who are both simply trying to succeed in an unforgiving industry. 

“Matt hasn’t just taught me more about the engineering side of music but how to be a professional and treat clients,” Duncan-Murphy said. “He’ll stay after hours with me correcting edits I’ve made, then he’ll erase it and let me do it again myself.” 

MilkBoy operates in a way that enables interns to set their own limits as far as how much experience they want to gain. The learning curve is potentially endless.  

“I knew MilkBoy was the right place for me, the artists, the atmosphere and opportunities,” Duncan-Murphy said. “Tommy [Joyner] is just walking around the studio playing his guitar.”

The intern has been making connections and was lucky enough to sit in through an impromptu session with part-owner Joyner, which perfectly describes how the industry itself works. 

An analog console booth less used by artists today, but still put to use by studio co-owner Joyner. (Courtesy Dante Duncan-Murphy)

“I’ve never seen anyone work an analog console like him before,” Duncan-Murphy said. “He knows everything there is to know.”

Duncan-Murphy’s girlfriend, Isabella Dulac, 21, of Yardley, Pennsylvania, was overwhelmed with emotions when she heard he landed a position at his favorite music studio.

Dulac has seen the late nights at the studio where Duncan-Murphy sometimes doesn’t clock out until four or five in the morning.

“I’m incredibly proud of him for taking on an opportunity in a time that causes all kinds of obstacles,” Dulac said. “I also think he has to set boundaries for himself because yes, he is gaining knowledge but he has to balance out his time because he isn’t getting paid.” 

Each half of the couple are on their own career paths, both creating their own image. Dulac, a licensed cosmetologist, understands the sacrifices that need to be made for one’s craft.

“We are very invested in each other and with each other’s professions,” Dulac said. “I’m doing what I love, and he loves what he’s doing.” 

Duncan-Murphy is working on attracting clientele by posting his work on social media and a self-promoting website

Besides his girlfriend, Duncan-Murphy’s family has always supported him but he admits they aren’t fully able to relate to his passion. They can’t see past how competitive the music scene is.

Some of the historic records made at the label featuring Lil Uzi, Kelly Clarkson, and Miley Cyrus. (Courtesy Dante Duncan-Murphy)

His father, Rich Duncan-Murphy, 53, pursued a professional athletic career but fell short due to injury. He didn’t meet his goal and it still wanes on him.

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy for him in this profession,” Rich Duncan-Murphy said. “But I want him to succeed more than anything.”

The two are very close and share a unique bond.

“He always reminds me to take advantage of the moment,” Dante Duncan-Murphy said. “Stay ready, he told me.”

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