Berklee Today

The Third Decade Begins

Music Production & Engineering at Berklee passes a milestone.

Audio Recording Chair Joe Hostetter circa 1974 in an early Berklee recording facility

In 1983, things were changing rapidly. By that time, the digital revolution that had been on the horizon for several years was ramping up to full speed, with strong repercussions in every field, including music production. It was becoming abundantly clear that technology would become an integral part of music making.

Against this backdrop, audio recording had grown from an elective class at Berklee College of Music in 1972 to an overwhelmingly popular major bursting at the seams with 267 students. Instructor Joe Hostetter had begun teaching the course in a two-track studio in the basement of the 1140 Boylston Street building. By the time it was upgraded to eight tracks, there was too much demand for one room to handle. Several years later, legendary engineer Tom Dowd was hired to design the college's second eight-track studio.

The department quickly outgrew these facilities too; they were never intended to accommodate such a large number of students. By the spring of 1982, the waiting times for access to the studios had become intolerable, and the college hired successful studio owner/producer/music and film location sound engineer Wayne Wadhams as a consultant. In addition to his engineering skills, Wadhams had a background in designing audio programs at Brown University, Dartmouth College, and the American Film Institute.

At that point, several questions had to be asked: how feasible was it to build new state-of-the-art studios, hire more specialized faculty and staff members, and expand the program at Berklee? Was there even a need for formally trained engineers in the industry?

After lots of careful analysis, extensive interviews and discussions with students, faculty, and an A list of industry professionals (including veteran CBS engineer Don Puluse and top producers Phil Ramone, Arif Mardin, and Quincy Jones), Wadhams submitted a 60-page proposal and Berklee decided to launch the Music Production & Engineering (MP&E) Department. Wadhams was asked to stay on to design the program and Don Puluse became the first MP&E Department chair.

Energy Surge

It took a major and intense burst of energy to get MP&E off the ground. The late Bob Share, Berklee's provost, received Wadhams's proposal in May of 1982. "They looked at it for no more than a couple of weeks and said, 'How fast can you put a program together?'" Wadhams recalled. "I'd never heard that from a college before!"

Bob Share had summoned all his powers of reason and persuasion to come up with what was then a whopping $1.5 million budget in just two weeks. Wadhams agreed to have the program set up with everything running by the following January-including the task of designing and building three additional studios.

To help with the new facilities, Wadhams recruited technical engineers Bill Gitt and Allen Smith, recording engineer Robin Coxe-Yeldham, and three colleagues from Studio B, Wadhams's commercial studio in Boston. The new rooms, two of them eight-track and one a complete 24-track studio, had to be isolated from radio frequency interference from the nearby Prudential Center, a formidable task among several other technical challenges.

After a Herculean effort, on January 17, 1983, Music Production & Engineering classes began.

And the Rest, as They Say...

MP&E quickly developed a reputation for producing highly competent graduates, becoming perhaps the most renowned program of its type in the world. The number of award-winning alumni at the top of their field is staggering. Berklee's MP&E Department was awarded Mix magazine's Technical Excellence and Creativity Award in the education category so many years in a row that it was eventually disqualified for winning too many times.

Engineer/producer Nathaniel Kunkel (James Taylor, Sting, Lyle Lovett) worked with students in the studio during his two-week residency at the college in November 2003.
Photo by Rob Jaczko

Puluse became the Dean of the entire Music Technology Division in 1985, a post he held until he retired in August of 2000. Wayne Wadhams continues to be an active member of the MP&E faculty. Bill Gitt remains chief engineer of the Berklee studios; but now he is responsible for 12 studios rather than three. Robin Coxe-Yeldham, whom Puluse referred to as "the heart and soul of the department," taught in the MP&E Department until shortly before her untimely death from cancer in 1999.

Production

The addition of "production" to the department's title and curriculum was hugely significant and continues to distinguish Berklee's MP&E program from those that treat engineering as an isolated set of skills. "After all, the point isn't to make a recording, it's all about making a piece of music that's going to last," says Associate Professor Andy Edelstein, who was teaching audio recording at Berklee before the MP&E Department was established.

Wadhams felt strongly that it was important for students to widen their perspective beyond the documentarian process of recording and become fully involved in the entire collaborative process. The "music is first and foremost" concept, as present MP&E Chair Rob Jaczko calls it, is the central tenet of the program. Everyone interviewed for this article noted this perspective as the program's greatest strength, from audio guru and former Department Chair Dave Moulton to Joel Someillan '93, Latin Grammy award-winning engineer for Gloria Estefan, Madonna, Ricky Martin, Cher, and others. "Music, not technology, is the currency we exchange," says Jaczko. The fact that the MP&E Department is set within the context of the premier institution of contemporary music affords students the chance to collaborate at the highest musical levels, utilizing a formidable technical facility, which contributes to their trajectory for success in the industry.

Rigor

MP&E is the only major at Berklee that must turn applicants away. Even with 12 recording studios operating 22 hours a day, seven days per week booking more than 15,000 student project hours per semester, the demand continues to outstrip the college's resources. Students may apply for admission to MP&E after a year of enrollment at Berklee, but only about 45 percent of the applicants are accepted. Clearly, the students who are accepted into the program are highly dedicated and uniquely qualified to participate in the major. Each one demonstrates the highest academic achievement in their musical studies, excellent communication skills as evidenced by their application essays, and frequently exhibit a visceral passion for the craft during their personal interviews.

The standards of the curriculum are upheld by the department's world-class faculty.
Andy Edelstein says, "The program can't be stronger than the quality of its faculty, and MP&E has had great faculty members over the years-journeymen like Carl Beatty, Bill Scheniman [chair until 2000], Wayne Wadhams, and others. What's more, they are all experienced professionals rather than people from a strictly academic background. They're all legitimate experts in their fields."

Tom Schick '95 is a successful independent engineer in New York who has worked with Don Byron, Rosanne Cash, Alex Chilton, Shawn Colvin, Sean Lennon, Maxwell, Dianne Schuur, Me'Shell Ndegéocello, and John Leventhal. He agrees with Edelstein. "It was the hands-on experience, but it was also the excellent faculty that prepared me for a career in music."

From the left: President Lee Eliot Berk, first MP&E Chair Don Puluse, and Professor Wayne Wadhams, key players in the development of the MP&E major at Berklee

MP&E today

We began by saying that 1983 was a time of great change due to the technological revolution then under way. That was no passing trend; the rate of change has accelerated ever since, with profound effects on the music industry, the way music is produced, and, in fact, on music itself.

It's important for a tech-centric program like MP&E to be proactive in reviewing its mission and approach to the process-"constantly taking the temperature of the industry," as Jaczko puts it. The balance must be struck between timeless traditional engineering and production values such as critical listening, microphone placement, and musical communication skills as well as embracing emerging technologies and observing current industry practices.

Accomplished industry veteran Stephen Croes, now in his second year as the Technology Division dean at Berklee, has a clear view of the challenge.

"Obviously, it's never going to be possible or even desirable to plan curriculum specifically around every piece of equipment or software that ever comes out," he explains. "So above all, our job is to teach students how to continue learning at a high level throughout their career. Our faculty teaches them the concepts they'll need to approach new challenges and how to listen above anything else."

Assistant MP&E Chair Dan Thompson cites one very obvious change since he began teaching at Berklee in 1995: the move to incorporate digital audio workstations (DAWs) into the production process. DAWs allow an entirely new approach to project workflow and introduce students to new levels of control, manipulation, and problem solving.

As of the fall of 2003, all entering freshman at Berklee were required to purchase an Apple G4 Laptop loaded with an impressive bundle of music software programs. MP&E students are issued an even more sophisticated bundle, including an audio interface that allows them to employ recording, editing, and production tasks both inside and outside the traditional classroom and studio.

A powerful example of curriculum and facilities reflecting industry standards is the fact that a large portion of professional music industry work is done on workstations in project studios, often in homes. For instance, the music for all but five current network television shows is produced in project studio environments. Now the borders between traditional recording studio roles blur in project studio environments. This is another instance in which the diverse training of Berklee's MP&E students offers a tremendous advantage. In addition to three impressive studios with large-format Solid State Logic (SSL) consoles, Berklee has nine smaller rooms with DAWs from Digidesign utilizing Pro Tools, as well as a variety of "native" recording platforms, and small-format digital mixers. These are representative of environments that professionals are likely to encounter today.

"The world needs the next generation of professionals to handle these projects, and we want to prepare them at Berklee," says Croes. "We understand and embrace the significance of the project studio, now a common and powerful professional environment with serious tools." The department is continually assessing the art, craft, and business realities of the music industry, working to ensure that MP&E remains vital and current while balancing a traditional knowledge base with exciting developments in the field. "We'll continue to focus on fundamentals and depth of technological understanding," says Croes, "combined with attuned aesthetic values and critical listening skills. This kind of experience will continue to populate the top positions in the industry with MP&E alumni whether the work happens on laptops or SSL consoles."

Curriculum

During the first year of MP&E training, Berklee students concentrate on their core musical studies in both theory and performance. After freshman year, students accepted into the MP&E program are required to take both concentration courses specific to MP&E, and courses that are part of Berklee's degree and diploma programs.

The path to degree and diploma programs travel through many academic categories: general education classes (world history, literature, art history, and science), core music (arranging, harmony, ear training), traditional music studies (conducting, traditional harmony, counterpoint, and composition), and performance studies requiring private lessons, labs and ensembles on the student's primary instrument. Concurrently, MP&E students take Music Technology Division concentration courses that include Business of Music Production, Principles of Audio Technology 1 and 2, MIDI Systems for Music Technology, Mix Techniques Lab, Creative Production Skills, Multitrack Recording Techniques, Digital Audio Basics and Systems, Music Production for Records, Hard-Disk Recording and Nonlinear Editing, and a topic of growing interest and importance: Music Production for Visual Media. The list of electives includes Advanced Mix Lab; Advanced Recording Techniques; Advanced Digital Mastering, Editing, and Delivery; Sound Reinforcement, Vocal Production, and Technical Characteristics of Audio Systems, among others. As students work through the concentration courses, the electives flesh out their particular interests and career objectives.

In their final semester in the program, students actually produce a three-song artist demo package, film score, or other large-scale senior project for their capstone experience. Drawing upon Berklee's rich pool of musicians to find an artist with whom to collaborate, this project encompasses every aspect of the production process from budgeting through final mastering, drawing on all of the student's MP&E training and experience.

The Future of MP&E

It's hardly a secret that the Internet allows people to communicate with one another across great distances in new ways. What is less apparent is the emergence of new methods and opportunities for artistic and educational collaboration. Croes believes that these areas are integral to understanding the future of music production. The impact of such collaborations on MP&E student projects is just beginning to be felt, but the college has begun to harness the new connectivity for educational purposes. First, the BIN (Berklee International Network) of music schools around the globe has hosted interactions between campuses in Greece, Los Angeles, and Boston.

Second, Berkleemusic.com offers interactive correspondence instruction designed and taught by Berklee faculty over the Internet. Other opportunities are beginning to appear with regularity. Veteran engineer and former MP&E faculty member Terry Becker, now working on alumni support in Los Angeles, produced live clinics and demonstrations that are beamed directly over ISDN to large groups of students in Berklee's Studio A or the David Friend Recital Hall. Among the notable recent events were sessions engineers/producers Tal Herzberg and Ethan Johns. Additional programs are being prepared for the near future. The network server infrastructure at Berklee is also evolving very quickly.

Faculty members now post downloadable audio examples and assignments for students to work on in studios or on laptops. As increasingly more information is prepared for online access, the department is revolutionizing the way it teaches production. In addition, the newly installed wireless network throughout the college supports new ways for faculty to enrich the six MP&E semesters, using and teaching new models of research and discovery. The role of the network will continue to expand as the amount of bandwidth increases Presently, the college is seriously exploring several next-generation options.

Outreach

Faculty member Professor Stephen Webber, whom Jaczko calls "one of the pillars of the production faculty," was on a cell phone while driving from Boston to Nashville. He was going to a recording session with guitarist Duane Eddy. Webber's former student Ben Strano '02 was the engineer.

"What makes this so rewarding," Webber says, "is seeing kids go out and start working on something they're so excited about." Webber organized one of the many programs Berklee has that tie in to the music world. It has become a Berklee spring break tradition for about 125 students from various majors to go on a junket to Nashville each March. They visit studios and alumni, meet with top industry personalities who work there, set up internships, and attend special educational sessions. "They start lining up at 4:30 a.m. to get on the bus in Boston, and the Nashville music-industry folks just roll out the red carpet when they get there," Webber explains.

One of the many ways in which the department keeps students in close contact with the industry is through its Visiting Artists Series. Icons such as Arif Mardin, Elliott Scheiner, Kyle Lehning, Eddie Kramer, Bob Clearmountain, Frank Filipetti, Chuck Ainlay, and Bob Ludwig present master classes and do residencies several times a year. Recent visits and presentations from red-hot producer/artist BT and a two-week residency with engineer/mixer/producer extraordinaire Nathaniel Kunkel created tremendous excitement on campus. The opportunity to absorb what these people have to offer and to create their own connections with these luminaries is an invaluable experience for MP&E students.

Networking

Producer Ken Lewis graduated from MP&E in 1991. Since then he's garnered 28 gold and platinum records, seven number one albums, and worked on five Grammy-nominated albums. Mariah Carey, Diana Ross, Soul Asylum, SWV, and Mary J. Blidge are among his clients.
"The Berklee MP&E program provided me with a solid foundation of knowledge to build my professional career," Lewis says. "More than that, the friendships and contacts I established while at Berklee helped open many doors of opportunity in the music industry that would have otherwise remained shut."

Pablo Munguia '97, an independent engineer/producer in Los Angeles, has worked with Carole King, C?line Dion, Barbra Streisand, 'N Sync, Britney Spears, Quincy Jones, and David Foster. He believes that the process of building working relationships at Berklee was one of the most important skills he's taken with him.

"As a producer, you establish relationships at Berklee the whole time you're there. One of the things I did was find out who the best electric bassists, the best acoustic bassists, the best Spanish guitar players were, and I wrote their names down in a book. Before long, I could pull together a session very quickly. Since I got to L.A., I've been doing the same thing for the past few years. MP&E really does create an environment similar to the one you work in in the music world when you leave."

That Pablo learned this lesson is no accident; it was always part of the design, according to Don Puluse. Further, MP&E has historically been a particularly close-knit department. "We actually liked each other!" Puluse says with a laugh. "And we worked hard together."

As in many places around the globe-Los Angeles, New York, London, Singapore - there's an MP&E alumni network in Nashville called the HUB program. It is part of the legacy of Robin Coxe-Yeldham, who was a role model for both men and women in the industry. The network enables a graduate new to an area to call upon fellow MP&E alumni for support-anything from finding work to crashing on their couch for a week while searching for a permanent place to stay.

Beyond HUB, Berklee is serious about assisting alumni in their career. In Los Angeles, for example, Peter Gordon, director of the Berklee Center in Los Angeles, works tirelessly to develop contacts for alumni job placement. He also sends out e-mail newsletters to inform alumni of all kinds of interesting opportunities. This kind of activity which takes place in many cities, is a tremendous benefit to alumni. This contact also preserves the invaluable link between faculty and alumni, promoting ongoing interaction that keeps the curriculum and connected to professional world challenges.

The concept of a production and engineering program thriving in the heart of a contemporary music college is still unique. That MP&E remains at the top of its field after 20 years of dramatic and accelerating changes is proof that Wayne Wadhams's original concept put forth in 1982 was right on track.

One only need look at the list of credits and awards garnered by graduates over the years (visit http://classes.berklee.edu/mpe/alumni/profiles.html) to see the fruits of the MP&E program and more. The success of MP&E at Berklee will continue to serve the students and graduates well as the department begins its third decade, filled to capacity with the producers and engineers of the next era.

Nick Batzdorf is a composer and freelance writer on music and audio technology. After a decade of editing Recording magazine, Batzdorf plans to launch his own magazine.