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Music School Students Get In Tune With Industry

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Music School Students Get In Tune With Industry

Music School Students Get In Tune With Industry

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The past 100 years of musical history have been nothing short of revolutionary. The catalyst was technology and the evolution of sound, amplified, recorded, and digitized. Music and technology is the subject of a series we begin today. Over the next month, we'll visit a musical research lab in Paris and a violin maker shop in Brooklyn, where CAT scans of antique instruments help in the design of new ones. You will hear about experimental software that allows music to be made in real time across the Internet.

But our first stop is near the corner of Mercer and West Houston Streets in Manhattan and the campus of New York University. Here, students' careers begin at the intersection of music and technology.

Unidentified Man #1: OK, ready? First trivia question. What's the polar pattern of EKG 451? Adam.

Mr. ADAM: (unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #1: Yes. Question number two, I want polarity, I want voltage, and I want AC or DC. What is the...

HANSEN: This is a classroom in the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Clive Davis was head of Columbia Records, Arista, and J Records. He's chief adviser for this exclusive four-year program. Some 300 students apply each year. Only 20 to 30 are accepted and most graduate. Jason King, who has worked with everyone from Ornette Coleman to DJ Spooky, was the first full-time faculty member when the department was inaugurated in 2003. He is now the artistic adviser and maintains Clive Davis's vision.

Professor JASON KING (Artistic Adviser, Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, New York University): Clive Davis felt that too many executives in the music industry were simply operating from a purely corporate point of view in terms of the making of music. And what he wanted to do is to establish a school at NYU where students would be trained in a number of different areas, production in the recording studio, business, as well as the history and criticism aspects. But he wanted to train this sort of well-rounded and creative entrepreneur.

Mr. JEFF STRASSER: Hello. I'm Jeff Strasser (ph). I'm an aspiring audio engineer.

HANSEN: In the freshman engineering class, students have a range of career ambitions.

Ms. AMEHI YASI: Hi, my name is Amehi Yasi (ph), and I'm an aspiring singer-songwriter who is here to learn some engineering.

Mr. AARON RYU: Hi, my name is Aaron Ryu (ph). I'm here to become a producer of music.

Mr. MIKE PHARM: I'm Mike Pharm (ph). I'm interested in audio electronics.

Ms. TAYLOR BARNER: Hi, I'm Taylor Barner (ph), and I'm an aspiring CEO of a record label and a production company.

HANSEN: Members of the freshman class are all wide-eyed with optimism about their future. For a reality check on their prospects in the music marketplace after graduation, we sought the advice of the director of production curriculum, Nick Sansano.

Mr. NICK SANSANO (Director, Production Curriculum, Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, New York University): It's tough, just like it always was. You make your own business. You pave your own path. That hasn't changed much. For those who want to be engineers, it's tough as well because the internships aren't there like they used to be. The apprenticeships aren't there like they used to be because the good studios are no longer there.

HANSEN: Where'd they go?

Mr. SANSANO: They went into a basement in Connecticut. Another one went into a basement in New Jersey. Another one went into a basement in Detroit.

HANSEN: Because there's so much self-made music mixes?

Mr. SANSANO: Yes. You know, in my laptop, I can have an unlimited amount of multi-track recording stored on a drive that'll fit in my back pocket. Just a few years ago, in order to do that, I would need two or three machines as big as a washing machine, cabling, two people to explain to me where to plug everything in, trouble-shooting. But now, it's just so streamline. Everything is digital, and everything is miniaturized. And the quality, if it's done correctly, is quite good.

HANSEN: So what would be the advantage then with so much self-made music? What's the advantage to coming here and learning what the school has to teach?

Mr. SANSANO: Well, hopefully, you can learn how to do those self-made recordings the right way. There is a way to do it correctly. You have to learn the core of how to capture sound. That doesn't change. It could be at a $2,000-a-day room or in your mother's living room. But you have to learn the methods.

Professor MICHAEL MCCOY (Teacher; Recording Engineer): So what frequency band do we need to deal with? Are we talking about low frequencies, big frequencies, high frequencies...

HANSEN: Michael McCoy teaches a three-hour class in freshman engineering. He used to be the chief engineer at the Hit Factory and has a lot of gold and platinum records with A-list names. The classroom is a real studio control room. The dozen or so seats are arranged around a professional console. McCoy says the high tech surroundings have an immediate effect on the students.

Prof. MCCOY: There's a big intimidation factor for a lot of students. Even the students who have some technical background, they walk into this environment, and it can be a little frightening and overwhelming. And so I try to break down that barrier right away in the first week by just, let's have a really quick introduction to what the mixing desk is and give them a quick assignment. OK, for next week, you're going to take this file that I have for you, these tracks, and create your own mix for it. And there's no right or wrong. There's just - can you actually complete the assignment? Can you blend these elements together and print them so that you can make an audio CD?

Prof. MCCOY: OK, this one's got synth rock.

(Soundbite of music)

Prof. MCCOY: You know, the biggest lesson for me was, after I got out of college and was working as an assistant engineer in the industry, I learned that the technology exists to support the music and to support the content, and it's not the technology for the sake of technology. And making those really careful decisions of, well sure, I can make these vocals swirl around my head and bounce back and forth between the electronic speakers, but does that support the music, and does that support the meaning of whether it's music or dialog or a speech? Or does it take away from the recording? So everything that you have to do has to be right for the song.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) We are standing at attention.. We wanto to hear you speak. All our hearts and eyes are turned to you.

HANSEN: Late last year, students launched their own record label and released a CD compilation of their songs. It's the kind of project artistic director Jason King encourages.

Prof. KING: If you're able to think entrepreneurially as a student, you're in a much better position to actually create your own opportunities. So, by the end of the four years that the students are in the program, they actually have to create their own business venture, and they have to pitch this business venture in front of a group of invited industry leaders. And right there on the spot, they can get funding for their projects, or they can get mentorship and help from some of the industry leaders who are present. And it's exciting to see that the projects aren't just hypothetical for the students.

HANSEN: So, you've had a full career - a producer, an educator, a performer. What's the life lesson that you pass on to your students?

Prof. KING: The life lesson that I pass on to the students is to remember what's you're in it for in the first place, which is the music, which amazingly, because of all of the kind of tumult of the industry, can get lost sometimes. Just remember why you're here and why you love it and what your passion is. It sounds vague, but at the same time, that's really what it's about. And to some degree, being in the industry is about continually finding ways to reconnect with that original impulse that drove you into the industry in the first place.

HANSEN: Jason King is artistic director of the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. You can hear music created and recorded by students at our website,

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