When Gimel Androus Keaton, aka Young Guru, was a kid, some of his classmates thought he was a nerd because he liked engineering. He was even a member of Forum for the Advancement of Minorities in Engineering.

DIGITAL SOUNDS: As a producer, Guru has spent a lot of time making recordings; after realizing that he wanted to be a music engineer, he learned just how involved the music-making process really is.

Tools of success

That name proved to be prophetic, because now he’s one of the most sought-after recording engineers in hip-hop. Young Guru has worked with mega-stars like Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Rihanna. His lifelong passion for music helped fuel his success, but he couldn’t have done it without his education in musical engineering.

The roots of Young Guru’s career go back to his teenage years. “All my life I’ve been a DJ and recording my friends,” he recalls, describing his early ventures as “sort of garage recordings to get my feet wet.” Eventually he realized that he wanted to pursue a career as a music engineer, after what he calls a “whole life of doing it without realizing what it’s called.”

“‘The most important thing I’d say is to master as many computer programs as you can.’”

He studied formally at Omega Recording Studio’s School of Applied Recording Arts and Sciences. He’s quick to point out that the “engineering” part of music engineering is hard-core. “You need to know how to operate some type of mechanism in order to record music,” he says. Now that so much music is generated with computers, “it’s about audio-to-digital converters, things like clocking your whole system and understanding how to program. We are translating what we used in the physical world into a digital world, which obviously involves coding.”

Words of wisdom

In addition to mastering the technical aspects of the field, Young Guru advises aspiring music engineers to learn on their feet. “Don’t look to the path of previous people, because times have changed,” he says. “Saying, ‘I want to intern at a studio,’ is great but there aren’t that many studios left. Find some sort of mentor to shadow.”

But the importance of engineering is never far from his mind. “The most important thing I’d say is to master as many computer programs as you can,” he adds, mentioning not all musicians use the same programs. “That way your clientele can be open.”

MAKING MUSIC: With the amount of education required of a music engineer and the translating and coding involved, Guru advises to shadow a mentor and to learn as many computer programs as possible.

Becoming a teacher

Young Guru’s passion for sharing knowledge eventually led him to teaching. “It’s something I fell in love with from giving talks to students and not feeling like I had enough time to get all my ideas across.” Now he’s an Artist-in-Residence at USC, where he has discovered that being able to explain a complex subject to students “allows your understanding of whatever you’re teaching to go deeper.”

He is also reaching out to young people through his social enterprise, Era of an Engineer, which “promotes engineering in all its forms.” This includes making videos “with tips and tricks, so people can learn things not necessarily taught at school.” He is also advising companies like BMW and CSNY, speaking on panels and creating content for Time Warner. It’s a multi-faceted program, which reflects the many ways that STEM education can lead to an exciting (and cool) career. “If you build it,” he says, “they will come.”