Shure Pro Audio awards first-place honors to Texas State sound recording technology students
Thanks to a fortuitous convergence of luck and talent, three Texas State University students are the proud winners of a first-place award in a national sound recording competition.
Seniors Jordan Lott and Joel Cowen and sophomore Adam Brisbin, all students in the university’s sound recording technology program, beat out nine other teams from across the United States to win the grand prize in the Fantastic Scholastic Recording Competition, sponsored by Shure Pro Audio. But before they could win they had to enter, and that’s where luck came in.
For the last four years, Shure Pro Audio, a company known for making durable microphones that musicians take on the road, has sponsored a competition for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees related to audio engineering. Because the judges — well-known and award-winning recording engineers — don’t have time to listen to dozens of entries, the company randomly selects 10 student teams from the 100 or so applications submitted.
“I had applied every year,” says Mark Erickson, Texas State’s director of recording arts, “but this was the first year we were picked.” In 1993 Erickson established Texas State’s sound recording technology program, the only one in the U.S. Southwest to offer a bachelor’s degree in recording technology, and since then has helped build a state-of-the-art recording studio in one of San Marcos’ oldest buildings.
Built in 1915, the Fire Station Studios building has served as both the city’s fire station and city hall. Today the 93-year-old building houses multiple recording studios that serve as classrooms for Texas State’s sound recording program and operate as commercial studios. Musicians who have recorded here include Tish Hinojosa, Lloyd Maines, the Texas Tornadoes and dozens more.
In the Studio Not long after receiving word that Texas State would be one of 10 teams in the 2008 sound recording competition, a huge locker filled with 22 microphones arrived at Fire Station Studios.
“We had to use only the microphones they sent us,” says Jordon Lott, a member of the student team. Other stipulations from Shure: The recording had to be of a live ensemble, it had to contain at least one voice track, and the production engineering had to be done only by the recording team members.
“I was the squeaky wheel,” says Erickson of his role in the project. “I reminded them of deadlines and tried to keep them on schedule.”
The students’ first job was to find a musician. They logged onto MySpace and e-mailed some local bands. Graham Wilkinson replied, and on a Saturday in February 2008 the musician and his band, the Underground Township, arrived at Fire Station Studios. Songwriter Wilkinson, an Austin musician and a protégé of Alejandro Escovedo, combines folk and reggae for a unique sound.
The student team spent the Friday night before the recording session setting up the microphones Shure had sent them. They used 21 of the 22, and it took several hours to set up the large studio on the second floor. Despite getting somewhat of a late start on Saturday, they finished recording around 7 p.m., and the students felt like it went well.
Indeed it did. Two months later, Mark Erickson opened a letter informing him that the Texas State team had won the grand prize. Each of the students received a microphone worth $1,000 and an impressive addition to their résumés. The program got a major infusion of equipment — all the microphones used in the recording — plus $3,000 to be used toward scholarships.
The judges based their scoring on four criteria: clarity of sound, microphone technique, mixing technique, and production/arrangement. “These guys did it the right way,” wrote one of the judges, Grammy-winning record producer and recording engineer Elliot Scheiner, who has worked with Beck, Faith Hill, and the Eagles. “Great mix. Very impressive. Held my attention throughout.”
“Nice clarity, good fullness to the instruments and punchy sounding,” wrote another judge, Canadian record producer Mike Fraser, who has worked with AC/DC, Van Halen and Aerosmith. “Nice use of room sounds as well. The mix was good, the vocal was clear and sat nicely on top of the band but didn’t make them sound small.”
Training Recording Professionals For more than a decade, Texas State’s sound recording technology program has been turning out graduates who are now working from cost to coast in every area of the recording industry.
The program is small — around 60 students — and Erickson is the only full-time faculty member. Two engineers with deep roots in the music industry, Gary Hickinbotham and Bobby Arnold, work with students in addition to handling the studio’s commercial clients. Students also get a chance to work with the professional musicians who use the studios.
Enrollment in the program is competitive. Around 15 students are admitted each year out of 100 applications received. “We’re looking for people who have a music background,” Erickson says. “And the program is demanding. We challenge our students.”
Graduating senior Jordan Lott agrees. “You don’t just get a diploma,” says Lott, who was getting ready to head to Los Angeles for a round of interviews. “You get hands-on experience, you learn to use different equipment, and you learn to deal with problems.”
Graduates such as Lott enter the recording industry with creativity, knowledge, technical savvy and real-world experience. And at Fire Station Studios, the beat goes on.
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