Any teenager with a smartphone and some ingenuity can record a song and download it to SoundCloud or YouTube, says David Kennedy, program manager of the recording arts and technology program
(RAT) at Cuyahoga Community College. It's even possible, however astronomical the odds, that the song will catch on and launch its creator into musical superstardom.
The problem with this seat-of-your-leather-pants approach is its lack of structure, Kennedy maintains. The RAT program trains students for positions within the audio industry, allowing these DIY tune-slingers to pursue music as something that extends beyond a mere hobby.
"It's like we're giving them permission to do this, but on a professional level," says Kennedy. "These kids come in with a combination of talent and motivation. We want to harness that."
Do you know where you're going to?
Students joining the two-year program get much more than an iPhone to play with. Housed within the Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts on Tri-C's Metropolitan Campus, the program bolsters students’ musical pursuits thanks to a recording studio, music production computer labs and classrooms.
Tri-C's side of the $35-million, 75,000-square-foot building opened in 2009. The facility also is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Library and Archives.
This sweet technology prepares students for entry-level jobs in music recording and mixing, location sound, commercial production, television audio and video, Internet audio, record production and more.
The broad array of work available within the audio recording services industry is often a surprise to students, notes Kennedy. While some envision mixing a band's next hit album, that same band is going to need hundreds of people to manage the potentially dozens of shows the band performs while touring to promote that album. A field experience/internship component provides such on-the-job training, and Kennedy has had undergrads work concerts for Drake and Akron's own The Black Keys.
Other students might land on the management side of the business. Touring, promotions, marketing and booking all are viable avenues into an industry that's traditionally extremely difficult to crack, Kennedy says. Manufacturing might not be as sexy as management or recording, but there are a number of companies right here in Northeast Ohio that make microphones, amps and other equipment. Earthquaker Devices
, an Akron-based producer of guitar pedals, was featured in Guitar Magazine
Point being, the RAT program doesn't cater to just one kind of student, adds Kennedy. "All of these different places have hired our grads," he says.
Knowledge is king for a future King
Though “RATs” -- they actually are called this in-program -- might not arrive with formal training or experience, they move on with an all-important portfolio needed to make headway in an ultra-competitive biz, Kennedy explains.
Graduates receive an associate degree of applied science in recording arts and technology, along with certification on the Pro Tools recording software used throughout the industry. Students will leave the RAT’s nest with two original studio recordings, one live event recording and a creative remix project where they take a song like Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" and give it a rockabilly infusion.
"They're following the curriculum with artistry and creativity," says Kennedy.
Teaching these classes are industry veterans with eclectic backgrounds, the program manager says. One of his professors is an operating manager at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica. Another did sound mixing for cable programs like Discovery Channel's "Shark Week."
Kennedy himself is a musician with 20 years of experience in marketing, event promotion, equipment sales and sound system design. Part of his new job is getting the Tri-C program into the pubic realm. The RAT center amplifies the school's annual high-school rock off
, while program officials schedule remotes at local events that act as both a teaching and recruitment tool.
Once students complete the program, Kennedy would be happy if they stayed in Cleveland to pursue a career. Along with a manufacturing focus, the region boasts owner-operated studios where grads can work on equipment and gain active knowledge of the music scene. With the city's growing reputation as a movie-making hotbed, a program participant might even find himself working the boom mic during a Hollywood film shoot.
No matter what their eventual path or focus, the idea is for students to glean as much knowledge as possible in a relatively short time frame, says Kennedy. This lesson was recently put across to RAT students by Young Guru, a famed audio engineer and DJ who recently visited Tri-C in between mixing albums for the likes of Jay-Z and Rihanna. Though his focus is hip hop, Guru has reached across a stratosphere of genres with the chops to accomplish any task when called upon.
"That's the vision I have for my students," says Kennedy. "They need to admit their weaknesses and learn from someone who has their weaknesses as a strength."
There are so many ways to get into music, even if that means strumming a guitar in a garage somewhere. The RAT program teaches students to rise above the noise, setting no limits on how high they can go.
"The one common thread among our students is that they all love music," Kennedy says "It's a driving force in their lives."
Photos Bob Perkoski