Building the Nashville Dream

Student Life at Dark Horse Institute

I love seeing the Nashville Dream shining bright in the eyes of new students at Dark Horse Institute on their first day. Every time a new class starts, I’m always a little bit curious what each student will do with the 3 and half months they spend as audio engineers in training. As you can expect, not everyone here starts at the same level. Some students are complete beginners while others have had more exposure to the world of recording. While Dark Horse encourages the inexperienced to jump right in, it doesn’t hurt to already be doing a little on the side. The great thing the about DHI is that wherever you are on that spectrum, you get the opportunity to train in one of the best music hubs in the country – Nashville, TN! While there’s still plenty of room on the “getting out and exploring” soapbox for everyone, this post is about a couple of new students who aren’t waiting around to experience the “Nashville Dream”.

Meet Mike and Nico

Michael Riley Nico ZanzucchiHere we have a couple of guys from Ohio and Chicago, respectively, who had never met each other prior to signing the dotted line on a lease to be roommates for school. Mike Riley is your average, All American Boy with a twinkle in his eyes and a song in his heart; well, lots of songs, actually. Mike found himself singing and playing his guitar on stage almost the second he opened his car door and breathed in a little Nashvegas air. Nico on the other hand, is the Music City Muscle. Unlike the infamous Chicagoan from the 1920’s, Nico is a great guy that really makes things happen behind the scenes. He is a driven, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer kind of kid. His recording experience is rooted in the soul of the Chicago Hip Hop scene. As a drummer and guitarist, himself, he hasn’t stopped building the Tower of Babble-uh, I mean, his apartment recording studio since he parked his car for the first time as a Tennessee resident.

They’ve only been audio engineering students for 4 days at Dark Horse Institute, and what a 4 days it’s been…

The Interview

Sean: What made you want to come all the way to Nashville to study recording?

Nico: Even though I’d been recording rap and hip hop in Chicago with a steady clientele, I didn’t feel like I would be as successful of an audio engineer as I wanted to be without more training. I’ve had a passion for music since I was 9 or 10 so this is all I want to do.

Sean: It’s your first week of school and you guys have already been in the studio non-stop here at DHI. Tell me about the microphone shoot out you guys did the other day.

Nico: It was great! I hadn’t ever had the chance to work with a tube microphone before and I learned some things I hadn’t known about dynamic mics too. Dennis is an awesome teacher and such a cool guy!

Mike: Yeah I love his stories and the fact that he knows so much! I really feel like I’ll learn a lot from him.

Sean: Tell us a little bit about the recording studio set up you guys have created in your apartment

Nico: The second I got inside the apartment, I immediately started setting up my recording gear. (laughs) I think I upset my mom because I wouldn’t set anything else up…but she eventually got over it!

Sean: From Facebook, it looks like you guys are spending almost every chance you get networking, meeting people, and exploring Nashville. How are you guys doing it and finding so many people to record in your home recording studio?

Nico: (chuckles) Mike just kinda meets people randomly when he’s out!

Mike: Yeah, you know, people always say to immerse yourself in the culture. I go to open mic nights and writer’s nights almost every night.

Sean: Do you have a trick to meeting new people?

Mike: Honestly, I totally play the “New” card all the time. People in Nashville are so nice anyways, but if you tell them you’re new? You can really get them to open up. It’s great! I haven’t met a mean person since I’ve been here.

Sean: Last question-you’re in your 4th day as a Dark Horse Institute student. Describe the best part of your experience so far.

Mike: I love that we have been so hands-on. We’ve already started learning the console (Trident 80b) and have just jumped right into recording!

Nico: Ever since I got here, it’s felt like I’m in a really good dream that I’m not waking up from. It’s so fun and I’m learning so much!


If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, we have more like this one every Thursday. Hope to hear from you in the comments and please share this interview with a friend!


Sean Rogers Dark Horse Institute

Sean Rogers is the Director of Student Services at Dark Horse Institute as well as a seasoned producer and audio engineer. He has over 7 years of career counseling experience and is credited for his work on major label projects for artists such as Lady Antebellum, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, and more.



  • I am extremely excited to see this blog! As Michael’s mom, I also was scared and upset to see my son just pick up and leave home by himself. Becky and Sean from admissions have been wonderful at making sure both Michael and Nico succeed before moving to Nashville. The day after we moved him down there- he was pushing us to leave right away because there was an open mic night at Tootsie’s. Parents who are concerned- I have never seen my son thrive and happier then he is right now. No worries with amount of attention they get at Dark Horse Institute. Everyday – Michael says it’s amazing! And he truley has met a life time friend/ new family member in his new roommate Nico! I’m so proud of both of them. And want to personally thank this school for everything!

    • Thanks so much, Amber! We love what we do and it’s a privilege to support your son and rest of the students at DHI!


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