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Brett Manning Studios: Student Spotlight – Dustin Small

Brett Manning Mixes It Up Big Time With Dustin Small

After working with Brett Manning for just two short months, singer-songwriter Dustin Small has not only added a full octave to his range, but he also feels better than he ever has about working with a vocal coach.

“I had worked with someone for years, but the relationship had become dormant. There was no growth,” Dustin said. “Brett has opened me up. He has also tricked me into finding my mix. I knew it was there, but I just didn’t know how to get to it. He’s now working with me on consistency with the mix.”

The 22-year old native of Houma, Louisiana in Cajun country is also impressed by the caliber of people Brett works with, as well as the positive vibe that permeates headquarters for Brett Manning Studios and Singing Success in Nashville.

“Brett deals with a lot of people on a day in and day out basis, but he deals with you personally,” Dustin said. “There’s an immediate sense of family here. There is love, encouragement, and support, physically as well as mentally. The singing comes after all that. I find myself wanting to come to lessons just to feel the camaraderie and to be lifted up as an artist.”

Dustin had known of Brett Manning through online videos and the Singing Success program. He was referred to Brett by a friend, Madelynn Pey, who is a strong artist in her own right.

Making Strides With The Master

He is pleased at the progress he has already made in working to find what he calls his signature tone. In fact it is Brett’s work with Dustin that helped him pull off a recent performance when his voice was only operating at 25 percent. In the past he would have cancelled a performance when he knew he wasn’t operating at full voice.

“I don’t feel that I have a great voice, but I want to have a signature tone that’s mine,” Dustin said. “Brett told me that if I kept working at it, I would have one of the most distinguishable voices in pop, should I become successful. So I’m focusing on finding the right voice.”

Dustin believes that his search for his signature tone has helped with his songwriting as well. But where a lot of performers his age are focused more on showing off their range and doing little tricks with runs and growls, his focus is on having his audience feel the range of emotions and sincerity he strives to evoke.

“Showing range and versatility are important, but drawing in the audience with tone, getting them to feel, that lets me know if I’m successful,” he said. “Brett told me something once that continues to resonate with me. He said, your audience won’t be moved if you’re not. He’s taught me that my goal is to find a happy medium between giving a moving performance and moving the audience.”

Brett has helped him marry his songwriting and performances skills so much so that it gets him to think back before he sings each song to those feelings he had at the time when he first put pen to paper in the song’s creation.

“Brett also gives you tough love,” Dustin smiles. “He doesn’t stop you because he knows you’re at the cusp of something. He pushes you because he knows you are about to discover part of your voice and even part of yourself that you never knew was there. That gives you a great sense of accomplishment and confidence. It’s an amazing feeling.”

First Musical Memories

Dustin’s earliest memories of music centers around family drives in his dad’s white corvette while listening to Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror” and “Black And White.” His father was also a huge fan of strong male vocalists with clearly defined signature sounds such as Michael Bolton, Luther Van Dross, and Lionel Richie.

At the age of five Dustin was thrust into the world of piano lessons. At age 11 he took up the guitar. As a pre-teen he and his buddies had a rock band and often played to crowds of 1,000 or so, courtesy of connections his parents had in the community. Since his parents both sang in the church choir and were worship leaders, he also received a healthy dose of gospel and hymns along the way.

“I grew up in that soulful, rootsy, dirty vibe just South of New Orleans,” Dustin said. “One of my strongest musical influences was a funk bank from the 60’s and 70’s called The Meters. I like music that makes me move. If I’m not moving, you know something isn’t working,” he said.

Ties To Rascal Flatts


Dustin took up drumming at age 12 and believes it liberated him as a singer, songwriter and performer. He’s currently working on a project with band members from Rascal Flatts. Drummer Jim Riley has been a strong influence for Dustin who is primarily self-taught.

“My friend Jim Riley who is drummer for Rascal Flatts helped with smoothing out my chops,” Dustin admits. “I remember how with the piano, it was rhythm oriented; and even back then, I always had an interest in the drums. I like the sound it makes and the feel it gives you. I knew I wanted to create a hybrid of the emotional aggressiveness of rock, with the rhythm of R & B, funk, and have vocally-oriented music. I’ve always been vocally minded.”

Drumming Brings Out The Writer And Performer

While Dustin attributes the drums to bringing out the writer in him, he feels that his experience as an untrained actor helped to hone his performance skills and make him an honest, unaffected communicator. He feels he truly became a certified songwriter after his first experience with falling in love.

“It inspired me to get those feelings out that you just don’t know what to do with,” he laughed “That really was the beginning of my songwriting. It’s all about love and loss.
I tend to write mature subject matter for my peer market, but that’s what we’re going for – a young, country-pop-soul artist.. I like songs where you cut yourself open and share how you found and lost love. That’s what it’s all about.”

Drumming also awakened and brought forth simple, rhythms that would lend themselves to something intriguing and interesting for the audience to get a hold of.

“The drums dictate how I play any instrument I pick up. For me it was the easiest instrument to learn to play,” he said. “It gives me finesse and tasteful licks and progressions that are all simple. It helps me give a song just what it needs to be listened to, just enough to get the point across.”

Dustin credits the support and love of his parents and younger brother and sister as being the key to his positive pursuit of his career as an artist.

Experience And Maturity

“I also like to hang around older people that have more life experience,” Dustin said. “I mean not everything you sing about is what you went through. For me, others inspire me to get things off of their chests for them emotionally. A song can also allow the audience to experience emotions that maybe they can’t otherwise release.”

One of Dustin’s favorite songs he has written is called, “The Fall.” It’s set in the autumn season and tells of someone who tends to run away when it’s that time of year.

“It’s about somebody who made an impact on me and then wanted to leave. I wanted them to stay so they could feel me fall for them,” he said. “So it says, I don’t care if I fly at all, I just want to feel the fall.”

These days, Dustin Small is doing anything but falling. In fact, with the help of Brett Manning and his fellow associates, Dustin Small is set to soar – big time.

For more information on Dustin Small visit or check him out on Facebook at