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New Classrooms 2010

Oct 25, 2010 2:51 PM, By Barbara Schultz


For years, engineers out in the workforce have been asking us, “Why are audio schools still turning out all these graduates when there are no jobs?” And for years, our answer has been the same as the schools’: “Not every audio graduate is going to record bands for a living; the industry is more diverse and robust than that.” Which is true.

But lately that old question has been nagging at us, because in the past two years, in this economy, we’ve watched a serious boom in recording studio build-outs within the audio schools. And it’s not like schools ever have money to burn. So why are there all these beautiful new studios/classrooms? And why now?

“I think it’s a product of the evolution of music production, the GarageBand generation where we’re now producing musicians and composers who need to be engineers,” observes studio designer Larry Swist. “Musicians need to know audio and that didn’t used to be the case. So within the music schools, these people who are going to be musicians and composers are actually asking the schools to provide these kind of programs because they want to know more.”

Swist teaches master classes in acoustics to the music students at the State University of New York at Purchase and SUNY Fredonia, and he has three school studio projects in the works at Purchase, the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, N.Y.) and Buffalo State College (Buffalo, N.Y.).

“Peter Denenberg, who runs this program here [at Purchase], told me, ‘We’re turning practice rooms into acoustical studios,’ and brought me onboard because we have to train these kids to make their own environments down the road because the studios they’re working in will probably be their own. They’re turning four of what used to be strictly music practice rooms or classrooms into production suites and training musicians to work in studios.

“At Eastman, they don’t have a real sound tech program; this is an institution that’s private and classical in nature, but they’re hearing pressure from their student body to get technology into the program: ‘We need to know this stuff. That’s how we need to present ourselves to the world.’ It’s not just going into a recital hall and playing anymore. You have to get to know media somehow.”

Multitasking, in other words, is the wave of the future. And it’s one of the ideas behind the high-end Full Sail Live facilities at Full Sail University (Winter Park, Fla.). Full Sail Live encompasses a performance hall and a pro-level recording studio, which is fiber-optically linked to the venue. Not only do the new installations add opportunities for sound reinforcement engineering students to mix live bands, and for recording students to track artists in the studio, but the project also responds to the reality that SR engineers will be asked to record performances on the road, and it doesn’t hurt for studio engineers to learn remote recording.

“We used to offer a separate audio associate’s degree and a live associate’s degree,” explains session recording instructor Darren Schneider. “Recently, we switched to a bachelor’s program where recording and live students first have 12 months of core audio classes together, and at month 12 they split off into a live track or a recording track, but for the first year they interact. This is the first time everybody’s melding together because that’s what’s going on in the business. There isn’t a band out there that doesn’t have a live DVD, a live CD. We’re taking a more integrated approach.”

At the Art Institutes schools, many campuses are adding a Bachelor of Science in audio production, which has meant (mostly) Walters-Storyk–designed studios opening up consistently during the past few years. Nathan Breitling, academic director of audio production at the Art Institute of California, San Francisco, says the issue of sending students out into today’s music/audio marketplace is “a thorny question, and I’ve put a great deal of thought into this.

“Ideally, I want them to be in a position where they can, by the time they are in their senior year and working on final projects, have developed a stance on what their future is, and they’re ready to go out and pursue their choice: Do they want to mix sound-for-picture? Do they want to pursue music recording? Do they want to get into game audio? We help them put together a portfolio that really leverages that particular interest and talent they have. But at the same time, students have to create their own demand. The reality is that may mean freelancing—training them to be those owner/operators. You really have to zoom in on every student and help them define what they want to do, and even help them define what constitutes success, happiness and career advancement for them so they can pursue those goals even in this economy.”

Elsewhere in California, the struggling U.S. economy has been a boon to some audio education programs, such as the certificate-based audio technology department at MiraCosta Community College (Oceanside, Calif.), where 35-year-old dilapidated facilities were recently replaced with large new studios, classrooms and a recital hall.

“The State of California has mobilized itself to get people work,” says Christy Coobatis, who heads up MiraCosta’s audio department. “The California Multimedia Entertainment Initiative was funded 13 years ago to set up regional training centers for the entertainment industry, which is obviously an important part of the economy here in Southern California.”

Thanks to vocational-training funds, MiraCosta’s certificate programs in MIDI, songwriting, business of music, music technology (analog recording) and digital audio (Pro Tools) are operating at full power, and the college is able to keep tuition down to $26 per unit, which is huge at a time when tuition at most public and private four-year universities is high and rising.

Coobatis emphasizes that under his guidance, MiraCosta has developed relationships with NAMM, technology developers such as Avid and even local theme parks to assist students in finding internships and jobs. “It used to be that the goal of community colleges was a transfer into a four-year program,” he says. “Here, that goal expanded to also include employability, which is one of the mandates set by the State. Students might still transfer and go on to get their bachelor’s, but our job is to give them vocational experience so they will be employable.”

Check out photos of some of this year’s new studios within schools and read about the way they were designed to support audio education.

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