Friday, May 11, 2012

Passion drives Music Production Technology program students

Contemporary Ensemble Instructor Bryan Bassett
helps Brian Andrews set up prior to the student's
One by one, Daytona State College Music Production Technology students gathered backstage on a sunny Saturday morning last month, guided by the breezy guitar intro of the 1975 billboard hit Dance with Me by legendary rock band Orleans. The sound meandered about the palms and live oaks of downtown Daytona Beach’s Manatee Island as the band methodically went about its sound check in preparation for its headlining performance during the third annual Halifax Oyster Festival.
Backstage, the students helped with the stage setup for the band, toting keyboard and guitar stands, powering up PA systems and plugging into soundboards. “Students in our program study sound reinforcement and staging for indoor and outdoor venues, so they are able to set things up as the professionals want them,” said Jake Niceley, assistant chair of the Music Production Technology program.
By high noon, the students would complete their backstage work, and the first of two groups from the college’s Contemporary Music Ensemble would take to the stage for their own live performance to open the Oyster Festival’s musical activities.
“These kids are living the dream,” said their instructor, Bryan Bassett, as the diverse group of student technicians took up their own instruments and transformed themselves into Collision, a name they spontaneously gave to their ensemble moments before they broke into their first song, a cover of Set Fire to Rain by Adele.
“For a lot of these students, this is their first time on stage,” said Bassett. “To do it in a professional environment with a national act is about as good a learning experience as you can get.”
Jessie Sweeney, left, and Kourtney Calvert powered the vocals.
Bassett should know. As a founding member of the iconic 1970s group Wild Cherry, his signature guitar riff can be heard on the band’s megahit Play that Funky Music. Bassett also was a member of southern rockers Molly Hatchet and still tours with a reconstructed version of gritty blues rockers Foghat. He is the winner of three gold records, two platinum records, an American Music Award and two Grammy nominations. In addition to his on-stage credentials, Bassett also has had a successful career as a recording engineer, music producer and, now, music teacher.
He is among a virtual who’s who in the recording industry who Niceley recruited to build the two-year Music Production Technology program in 2009. Since then, more than 390 students have enrolled in either Music Production Technology associate of science degree classes or its one-year Audio Recording Technology certificate subset classes.
Niceley, himself an internationally known recording engineer based out of Nashville, TN, was recruited by Daytona State to build the program from the ground up – transforming the college’s News-Journal Center in downtown Daytona Beach into one of the finest teaching laboratories for digital surround sound recording and music production in the southeastern United States.
Second-year student Zack Zinck is ready to rock.
It was Niceley’s background and his ability to attract quality faculty like Bassett that drew Zack Zinck to enroll in the Music Production Technology program. A dual enrolled student, Zinck joined the program after graduating from Spruce Creek High School. “I was pretty astounded by the faculty they brought in to teach the program,” he said. “I looked them up on the Internet and was pretty impressed with all the people they had worked with before coming here.” Zinck, who is in his final semester of the program, already is plying his skills at Cedar Top Studios in Ormond Beach. The studio, owned by Daniel Powell, provides production and sound engineering services to a variety of contemporary Christian, indy rock and bluegrass bands.
Like Zinck, Brian Andrews became hooked on the program the first time he met Niceley and toured the News-Journal Center recording studios. “I knew this was the line of work I was interested in, and I immediately knew that this was going to be a good program,” he said. “It has been a wonderful experience.”
Andrews said when he finishes his degree this summer, he will move to Nashville, where he hopes to gain experience in the city’s vibrant cultural scene. He is confident he has the skills to land a job either in a recording studio there or in one of the many playhouses that require front-of-house technicians or recording engineers. “The Music Production Technology degree leaves your options open,” he said.  “While its focus is on giving you specific skill sets that help you become employable, it doesn’t necessarily pigeonhole you. I found the program to be very comprehensive, and you’re trained by some of the best in the business.”
David Shadron sets up his skins.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were nearly 117,000 people employed nationally as broadcasting and sound engineers in 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available, with new positions expected to increase by 10 percent through 2020. In addition to performing arts venues, these professionals were employed in businesses, schools, and radio and televisions stations that require experts with audio and video skills.
But for some in the program, like Spruce Creek graduates and singers Jessie Sweeney and Kourtney Calvert, it’s all about the music and being immersed in a scholarly culture that fuels their most ambitious dreams of making it in show business. “I’ve been singing all my life,” Calvert said. “This is something that I’ve always wanted to do.” While the production side of the music business, she said, is less glamorous than being on stage, it is essential to learn the techniques taught in the program.
Jerry O'Sullivan gets is first live gig.
Jerry O’Sullivan, on the other hand, is taking classes in the program for a different reason – just to have fun. He is a 40-year-old contract worker for Bellcorp Technology, an international manufacturer of electronic devices, and already has an engineering degree from Cornell University. He’s been playing guitar as a hobby for 20 years. While tuning his instrument just before opening the Oyster Fest with his band mates, he said, “I’ve always been interested in audio engineering and sound reinforcement. A lot of the skills and concepts I’m learning in this program overlap with my electrical engineering background. But the real reason I’m here? I’ve never played in bands and I wanted to have that experience.”
“Today,” he added, “is the first time I’ve ever performed live.”