Now I know a lot of people established in the industry today say, "A school can't teach you about recording, what could a class possibly teach you about the complexities of the recording industry?"
Now, I agree that school and the real world are very different. What school does offer is a chance for young engineers, like myself, to develop their skills and test out ideas, before their paycheck, and more importantly their reputation, is on the line. Students hear from engineers in the industry that have learned through the school of hard knocks, and may prevent making the same mistakes. I also find that the coffee running intern sometimes ends up teaching the established engineer how to do some trick maneuvers with Pro Tools.
When I realized my passion for recording I was majoring in music at Sonoma State University (SSU) where I currently attend. I went to SSU after graduating from South Tahoe High School to continue my studies and my career as a punk guitarist. But what I found at SSU, besides no punk bands, was a disappointing choice as far as musical instruction... jazz or classical. Hmmm, which category do Bad Religion, Minor Threat and NOFX fall into?
Anyway, I chose classical and grew out my fingernails to play with the ensemble. It was around this time that I had discovered a little known secret about the music department: It has a recording studio. Way down in the basement of the music building is a door that reads "Walford Studio." Named after the professor who started it, Walford is a custom facility equipped with one main room, 3 isolation booths, the control room and a tech bench. Equipment includes a 24x8x24 inline Spirit console, a two track analog Ampex, three 20-bit ADATs, two full racks of outboard gear, and a Pro Tools set up with CD burner. Oh and don't forget the flashing Budweiser sign shaped like a guitar. This is college, what do you expect?
I later found that the music department offers a minor titled "Recording Arts Concentration" but no major. I thought it sounded interesting, so I signed up for 'Recording I.'
The core of the program is comprised of four semesters (Recording I-IV) teaching everything from physics of sound and signal flow to mixing and digital multi-tracking. The first course was tough, but we covered a lot of useful information. It wasn't, "This is how you record a drum set, and this is how you mic a saxophone." We learned about acoustic envelopes and microphone patterns and the professor let us discover, on our own, what sounds good and what doesn't.
After the first semester I was hooked. I appreciate classical music and all, but my Leo Brower days were over... hand me the fingernail clippers. I knew I wanted the recording minor, but I still wasn't sure what to major in. I contemplated Communication Studies, which offers radio and video production, but I really wanted to pursue recording. I looked at other universities that had recording majors like Chico State, and some of the commercial recording programs, but my instant rice and Top Ramen budget kept me where I was.
I continued cracking away at my GES wondering how I could get a degree in recording. I was also spending increasing time in the studio until something out of the ordinary happened. I was visiting my advisor trying to figure out what to do when he suggested something to me called ITDS. "What?" I said. He told me that Interdisciplinary Studies (ITDS) is a department at Sonoma State University where people can create a "Special Major" that may consist of courses in two or more departments.
After tracking down the coordinator of the department, I sat down and told him about my situation. I verbally unloaded on the guy my passion for recording and that I want my own recording major. He sat back in his chair and looked me square in the eyes and said, "Are you on drugs?" He understandably misread my excitement for a crack twitch. Hey, I was just eager to discover the possibilities.
He instructed me to compile a list of all the courses I was interested in so he could take a look. He also mentioned that I could use courses from any other CSU college for my major! I jumped in my car and drove straight down to San Francisco State to check out what they had. After talking with the Music Recording Industry (MRI) Department coordinator, I found a bunch of great courses that would fill out the SSU minor into a major. While searching throughout courses offered through MRI, Santa Rosa Junior College and supplementary departments at SSU, I found topics such as audio for video, media production, electrical engineering, mixing workshops and music business.
My next step was to formulate my major to all the strict requirements the school has. Part of this process was to write a 13-page rationale to the ITDS committee on why my special major should be accepted. During what transpired like a court hearing, the committee overlooked my major and questioned anything they thought my proposal lacked. With my counselor acting as my attorney, they finally approved it.
My moment of triumph was when I strolled down to Admissions and Records to officially change from a music major to my own major, titled "Audio Recording Industry and Technology." As you can imagine, it was a great feeling being able to dive into the uncharted depths of University bureaucracy and come out with a major I loved.
This May I will graduate with my special major and dive into an even larger uncharted ocean: The "real world" My internship at Studio D Recording in Sausalito will aid me in the transition with their new 9098i AMEK console, Studer A800 2", 24-bit Pro Tools and amazing clientele list. This semester, in addition to my internship and part time job, I am attending three separate colleges and developing my skills with projects like recording a local swing band and engineering the soundtrack for a theatrical production on campus.
The chair of Performing Arts informed me that he is currently developing a major based upon my creation. I have had countless professors commend me on the advances I have made for the recording program and the university. I feel somewhat like a pioneer by offering future students, who may be interested in recording, the option of making audio engineering their major and possibly a viable profession.
In addition to taking the recording courses, I have become the on-campus recording club president, helping to get money to feed the increasing costs of maintaining Walford studio. I am also trying to open people's awareness about the school's recording studio and all of its possibilities. Not a week goes by where I don't see the stunned face of someone that has just learned SSU has a recording studio. Walford provides a real service to the school and the surrounding music community.
I feel lucky to get a degree that gives me an edge in this increasingly competitive field, and find it unfortunate how few students graduating with music majors actually work in the music industry. My efforts may be a small step in changing that. Audio engineering is the career I've chosen, and I look forward to my future. Something I don't hear many of my classmates saying.