Current Issue | Archives | About| UNC Asheville

Sherrill Center

The Sound of Science

Students explore the digital side of music production

by Paul Clark • Photos by Cavan Brown

Sitting before a recording console nearly as long as he is lanky, Daniel Wedge was mixing tracks of a recording of the Brian Felix Trio’s recent performance at Lipinsky Auditorium.

Leaning over the soundboard’s sea of knobs and levers, working at a large video screen that displayed the tracks as pastel bands of color, Wedge peered through the dim light of the UNC Asheville Music Department recording studio. The buzz saw-shaped sound waves were visual depictions of the trio’s keyboard, bass and drums.

“Too much crowd noise,” Wedge said, while moving a set of levers. Pulling the sound of the two audience mics onto their own tracks, he shortened the length of each wave, condensing the applause by half. A smile broke over his face.

“I love this,” the senior Music Technology major from Westford, Mass., said of his project. His work later would be posted on Moodle, UNC Asheville’s online learning tool, for other students to study and enjoy.

While many college music departments still focus on training students in the performing and recording arts, for nearly three decades UNC Asheville also has taught students how to use the tools they need to compete in a digital marketplace.

Music graduates can no longer rely only on their chops and musical ability to help them find work when they leave school, according to Wayne Kirby, hired in 1983 to set up the department’s music technology and business program. They also need to be well-versed in all aspects of music production, from creation to recording to marketing and distribution. The university’s interdisciplinary approach—helping students synthesize and integrate ideas from a variety of academic perspectives—gives music majors like Wedge a broad base of intelligence and experience from which to find solutions.

“My dad was into ham radio, so I’ve always been intrigued by electronics and music,” Wedge said. “The classes I’m taking are a combination of those.”

The bachelor of science degree in Music Technology that Wedge is working toward is one of three undergraduate degrees that the Music Department offers (the other two are bachelor of arts degrees in Music and in Jazz Studies). Students enter any of the three programs only after passing a musical audition. All study piano and undertake ear training, music composition and music theory. As part of the interdisciplinary approach, Music Technology students also take classes in physics, mathematics and computer science.

“Today’s industry is rooted in technology,” Kirby said. “Even if you’re a singer-songwriter, you need to know enough about technology that you
can get yourself up on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—those are the places where people market themselves to a large extent.”

When Kirby was hired in 1983, this music department was one of the few in the country to have a digital recording studio, which—this being the early 1980s—consisted of a single, two-track digital recorder. MIDI and sampling technology soon revolutionized the recording industry, and UNC Asheville’s department kept abreast through new equipment and know-how.

With the guidance of Jude Weinberg, lecturer in music, students now work on a wide array of analog and digital recording equipment, including two Pro Tools HD recording systems with 96 I/O interfaces; 15 Pro Tools LE systems with Digi003, 002, and M-Box interfaces; and 16- and 24-track 1-inch multitrack analog tape machines. In the department’s main studio control room, Wedge mixed sound on the newly developed SSL AWS 900+ recording and mixing console.

The department also has an electronic music lab fully outfitted with gear invented and built by the late electronic music pioneer Bob Moog, an Asheville resident whom Kirby recruited to teach at UNC Asheville in 1989.

“So we’ve seen it become state-of-the-art, not only just in equipment but also in the context of our curriculum,” Kirby said. “Students learn not only the ‘button-pushing’ but also the theoretical aspects of it, putting all the electronics, mathematics, physics, computer science and music together.”

They also learn the legal side. Brian Felix, the keyboard player that Wedge recorded, is an assistant professor of Music who conducts the department’s music business and industry classes. He teaches students aspects of the business that include performance contracts, event promotion, product licensing, intellectual property rights, copyright law and the ins and outs of digital marketing and distribution. Felix gained his knowledge by touring internationally as instrumentalist, songwriter, road manager and general manager with Om Trio, an electric jazz ensemble that released five albums.

students in Music Technology Class

“The more you know, the better you’ll be. The better equipped you are, the better chance you have to make a living at this,” Felix said. “Even if our graduates are not going to be artists trying to sign with a major label, they may be working with an artist that is, or they may be working for a publishing company or an Internet startup.”

“The competition is a little more keen than it used to be,” Kirby said. “And the income stream has changed, so you have to be more versatile now. I am, on a regular basis, talking about the notion that you have a choice when you come to school and receive this kind of music training. You can do this as a hobby and enrich your life, or you can treat it as
a business.

Students learn not only the ‘button-pushing’ but also the theoretical aspects of it, putting all the electronics, mathematics, physics, computer science and music together."

“In order to do that, you have to understand something about marketing and accounting. So I encourage students to at least take marketing and accounting, if not a full-blown business minor, just so they get a feeling that there is a way to turn all this knowledge and skill into multiple income streams. If they do, they can do something that they love for the rest of their lives.”

Graduates of UNC Asheville’s music programs have landed jobs in the Asheville area with Moog Music Inc., manufacturers of the Moog synthesizers; Echo Mountain Recording Studio in downtown Asheville; Arvato Digital Services, a media replicator just north of town; and popular Asheville live music venues such as the Orange Peel Social Aid & Pleasure Club.

Joyce Dorr

FOLLOWING HER VISION The university recently honored Joyce Dorr for her contributions as a founding member of the Music Department. She came to Asheville in 1978 and developed the university's first courses in applied music and performance. Under her leadership as chair, the Music Department became a vibrant part of UNC Asheville and was distinctive for such characteristics as its emphasis on electronic music.

Others, like Gregory M. Rippin ’00, have taken their skills around the world. Rippin is a staff audio engineer at CBS and lives in New York City, where his clients have included television networks, advertising agencies, film composers and independent film directors. After working in studios in the 1990s, Jamie Candiloro ’95 went on to work with R.E.M., Courtney Love, The Eagles, Willie Nelson and Ryan Adams. And since graduating in 2005, Justin Baumann has toured North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia in multiple behind-the-scenes roles with the band State Radio and other international concert tours.

“A lot of students learn how to push buttons (on music consoles) in other schools’ programs,” Kirby said, “but they don’t really understand what is going on. So they can’t learn on their own when they leave school. But in our program, they have enough math, physics and electronic information that they can keep learning.

“From the engineering, to the music production, to the creation of intellectual property—whether it’s a song, a jingle or a film score—students here come away with a lot of skills.”

Read more stories (back to contents)

Bookmark and Share