Our Alumni Spotlight series is where we highlight alumni of Musicians Institute and ask them about their programs, what they’ve learned, and their careers after MI. This week we speak to Derek Keota, a graduate of the Audio Engineering program, who now works with producer Rodney Jerkins, aka “Darkchild.”

What is a lesson you learned in an MI audio engineering class that you feel you use the most in your career?

Reflecting on the MI AE classes I took, I think one of the most helpful “technical” lessons was the Pro Tools course. Pro Tools is the industry standard and once you learn how to track and mix on it, it’s one of the most utilized programs.

 Describe the road to your internship from MI and how it has impacted your career today

During my last semester at MI, I saw a flyer in the hallway that provided information about the internship at MI for students to apply for. Since I was unsure of what my “next step” would be, I took the leap of faith and applied for the program. Soon enough, I had an interview with one of the counselors at MI. During the interview, she asked me specific questions about my career goals—what I aspired to do, what type of music I wanted to create, etc.

Based off of my answers, she helped me to set up an interview with Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. Fast forward to today, I’m Rodney’s engineer, tracking and mixing the type of music I’ve always aspired to work on. I wouldn’t be where I am today without that little blue flyer and without the help of everyone at MI.  

What would you tell a young engineer who was thinking about enrolling at MI?

To those thinking about enrolling at MI, if you have the passion for music and the respect for the art of it all, you should take that leap of faith and do it. There will be challenges along the way but as long as you put in the work, keep your goal in mind, and utilize all that MI has to offer, you’ll go places.  


What is a memory or moment at MI that you felt really shaped you as an engineer?

Every semester, the school gives you about 10 times to book one of the studios for your own use. I would be one of the first ones to book those rooms, find classmates from different programs that could write and sing, and I’d ask them to record with me. Even when I didn’t have anyone to record, I would book the room just to better familiarize myself with the gear and console, It was when I first started recording that I knew I was exactly where I needed to be and that it was what I wanted to do.  

Tell us about how you got your first GRAMMY nomination? What lessons have you learned since being nominated?

Honestly, I didn’t expect the first GRAMMY nomination. Working with Rodney, we go through at least 3-5 songs a day. We continue to work on various songs that each have so much potential. But I remember when I got my first GRAMMY nomination for Chromeo’s “Don’t Sleep,” I can’t even describe the joy I felt.


Since then, I’ve learned that the grind doesn’t stop. There have been so many challenges but through it all, I’ve learned how important it is to stay resilient and persevere and how important it is to take notes and seek guidance from those who’ve been in your shoes before. There’s still so much left that I want to do so this is just the beginning.

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