The day after a group of Southern rock legends wrapped up a recording session at Capricorn Sound Studios, five Mercer University students were in Historic Studio A mixing their own music.
In just over an hour, they recorded drum, piano, keyboard and vocal tracks as they learned to layer, mix and edit them into a short song using the studio’s state-of-the-art sound console.
The students created the rough recording as part of a music technology class taught by Rob Evans, chief engineer at Capricorn Sound Studios, which is part of the Mercer Music at Capricorn complex.
“We’re trying to teach the kids how to record, how to use software to record and how to set up a session,” said Evans, an adjunct professor in the Townsend School of Music. “If they’re home with their computer or their laptop and they’ve got a little keyboard interface, they can create music with a simple set up of technology.
“We teach both how to place microphones on acoustic instruments and how to record acoustic instruments. But then we also teach how to use virtual instruments and how to use MIDI.”
MIDI stands for musical instrument digital interface and is a technical standard for controlling sound.
“The goal of the class is for the kids to be able to demonstrate that they understand the signal chain of how something is miked all the way to the time it comes out of the speakers and to be able to set up a session and record it,” Evans said.
Because the class takes place in an active studio, the students get a lot of hands-on experience. Evans guides them, but it’s the students who are connecting the cables, sitting behind the board and using the Pro Tools software.
“It’s a lot of hands-on work, and we’re actually getting to use the program in class in order to create our own music, and we’re working together with other people to share musical ideas,” said Colby Pitts, a freshman majoring in music education.
Students said they enjoy the collaborative nature of the class.
“We typically will use one of the MIDI keyboards and will just start throwing around some sounds, and we just try to figure out a melody from those sounds, and if we don’t like it, we’ll fix it,” said Hannah McGarity, a sophomore music major.
One time, the class helped Evans set up Studio B for a recording session the next day.
“They helped run the mic cables, place the microphones, set up the headphone listening stations and talkback stations for the musicians,” Evans said.
The class, offered in the spring during even years, is available to students of all majors.
“Music is something that interests me, and learning about the technology and everything that goes into making music is something that interests me,” said Dani Garcia-Rodriguez, a senior majoring in computer engineering. “I never really realized how much of an overlap there is between music and some of the stuff I learned in my engineering classes.
“I feel like this class has combined two of my favorite things, which are music and engineering.”
Ryan Palmer, a junior majoring in media studies, has been making his own music for a couple years, and Luke Cochran, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, plays drums in Mercer’s jazz band. Both students said they’ve learned a lot in the class, especially when it comes to using Pro Tools and setting up instruments.
Few universities can offer students the opportunity to learn in an active recording studio.
“Capricorn is such a unique resource for Mercer to have,” Evans said. “It’s a world-class recording studio right here in Macon, and for the students to have access to this is a rare opportunity.”