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Winter Term class helps with community concert audio production

Led by Clay Stevenson in the Department of Music and Rick Earl, technical director of Cultural and Special Programs at Elon University, recording arts students traveled to western North Carolina in late January for real-world training in sound engineering.

Photo courtesy of Clay Stevenson

A dozen students in a Winter Term recording arts course took their skills on the road last month to assist a popular Eagles cover band with their audio and speaker systems at a North Carolina concert.

The band, Hotel California "A Salute to the Eagles," performed Jan. 25, 2014, at Isothermal Community College, and in the hours leading up to the evening concert, Elon University students worked in cooperation with a professional sound company and the theatre’s technical staff.

Students ran and connected cables for the sounds system. They hoisted speakers into the air. They conducted sound tests with band members who requested specific accommodations for microphones.

“We were looking for a bigger experience,” said Rick Earl, technical director for the Office of Cultural and Special Programs and a class co-instructor. “One of our venders, who we use for Convocation and Commencement on campus, mentioned the show at Isothermal. The director of the facility there is an old friend of mine so it seemed like a nice fit.”

Students in the course “Live Sound Production and Recording” had earlier learned similar applications on campus. They rigged a sound system in McCrary Theatre and assisted a local Elon band in the Taphouse, where space was tighter and less adaptable.

Elon University student Marcus Brown (photo courteous of Rick Earl)

But their campus lessons were dwarfed by the Hotel California concert where unexpected technical obstacles, particular musician needs and a tight timeline posed unique challenges with no room for failure.

“They got to visit a place and see things that Rick and I had been talking about in class and realize they weren’t germane. These are things that do happen in the ‘real world,’” said co-instructor Clay Stevenson, a lecturer in the Department of Music. “When you talk about something in class, students get an idea about what’s going on, but often, until they have the opportunity to put it into practice, they don’t truly understand it.”

The university’s Bachelor of Science in Music Production & Recording Arts teaches the intersection of music, technology, and liberal arts. The degree program includes songwriting, composing music for film and video games, audio engineering, postproduction, music business and performing in commercial music genres.

The recording arts track emphasizes live sound production, audio engineering and mixing. The program prepares students for a wide variety of careers in the music industry, graduate studies in music technology, or related fields.

“We can talk all day, week, month, year about how something works, but until you actually hold it in your hands, it won’t really make sense,” said Elon University senior Jesse Scarborough, a recording arts major whose interest in the profession developed as a high school student in Singapore. “When we were taking all the individual speakers and attaching them together to raise 30 feet in the air, you can very easily injure yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.

“You need to not only know how something works but practice doing it.”

Photo courtesy of Clay Stevenson

The visit to Isothermal Community College in Spindale, N.C., reiterated lesser-known points independent of the curriculum. Another student explained how working with Hotel California reminded students of practical safety concerns, too. 

“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that with the overall mixing of the show, even when wearing earplugs, there’s only so much you can do to protect your hearing,” said Elon University junior Spencer Clarke, a recording arts major from Durham, N.C. “You only have one pair of ears. Do everything you can to protect them.

“More than you think, the ears are the livelihood of anyone who wants to work in sound or music.”

Eric Townsend,
2/5/2014 8:00 AM