The very first recording facility at Berklee was a basic two-track studio built in two practice rooms in the basement of 1140 Boylston Street. It was in 1972 that the school offered its first course in Audio Recording, an elective taught by Joe Hostetter. Two years later, with the encouragement of producer Arif Mardin, the college built its first eight-track studio. Tom Dowd, who at the time was head engineer for Atlantic Records, designed the studio and supervised its construction. The studio was located in the space that is now occupied by Studio B, with Studio G as its control room.
Within a few years, as enrollment in recording courses increased, a second mini-studio was added in the area that is now occupied by the studio manager’s office. Interest in recording continued to grow and in 1977 the Department of Audio Recording was formed. Early faculty members included chairman Joe Hostetter and Bobby Owsinski. Over the next several years, additional faculty were hired, including Andy Edelstein, Steve Defuria, Doug Getschal, Dennis Rock, Rob Rosati, Jim Burt, and Richard Mendelson.
The popularity of the audio recording major grew rapidly, and with 180 students enrolled by the spring 1982 semester, the facilities and faculty began to feel the burden. Some students began to voice concern about the availability of studio time and facilities access. The original studios had never been intended to service such a large number of students. It was evident that this was an appropriate time to assess the current state and future of the program.
In March of 1982, Berklee provost Bob Share hired Wayne Wadhams of Film Associates (and owner of Studio B, a busy local recording studio) as a consultant. Wadhams was asked to advise whether the audio recording major should be eliminated altogether or whether the school should spend the vast amounts of money necessary to create a new program with new studios and additional faculty. Wadhams visited Berklee and listened to students, faculty, and chairs from other departments to discuss whether or how audio recording fit Berklee’s musical mission. After listening to final projects from students in the major, Wadhams concluded that there was a department to be conceived and built.
Interviews were conducted with faculty, department chairs, students, and industry professionals, including Don Puluse, recording engineer at CBS Records; Mickey Eichner, senior vice president for CBS; Quincy Jones; Herb Granith, president of ABC; and David Picker, president of United Artists Pictures. All agreed that a program designed to instruct students not only in recording, but also in production—including the collaborative process and business affairs of labels—was long overdue. Wadhams proceeded to write a 60-page proposal, complete with synopses of the required and elective curriculum, staffing requirements, preliminary studio designs, and a budget.
Share asked Wadhams if the project could be completed by January 1983. Wadhams said, “Yes,” cleared his schedule for a year, and the Music Production and Engineering Department was born. Bill Gitt, Robin Coxe-Yeldham, and Allen Smith, Wadhams’s colleagues at Film Associates and Studio B, were recruited to work full-time on building the new studios. With only six months to complete the first three studios, there was no time to coordinate with an architect. Acoustical and design details were provided directly to the contractor as construction was in progress. In addition to the enormous task of fully wiring three studios, two of them—Studios A and B—were wired with 36 tie lines and video lines running to the Berklee Performance Center, allowing live performances to be remotely recorded and monitored.
One of the greatest accomplishments was shielding the studios from massive amounts of radio frequency interference coming from the roof of the Prudential Center just two blocks away. Sound Workshop Series-40 consoles were chosen for installation in all three studios, as they were professional boards with a layout that clearly demonstrated signal flow. Studios B and C were capable of eight-track recording through MCI and Otari MX-7800 recorders. A Studer A-80 in Studio A provided the department with 24-track recording. Additionally, the department had several Otari MTR-10 and MX-5050B stereo recorders. New outboard gear included UREI and Ashly compressors and equalizers, Lexicon digital delays, and nearly 30 new microphones from AKG, Electo-Voice, Neumann, RCA, and Sennheiser. Studios B and C were completed in the fall of 1982 while Studio A was completed on January 17, 1983. The facilities enabled a new curriculum, providing a wide offering of courses covering all aspects of the production and recording fields. Word of Berklee’s achievement soon spread throughout the press and the industry.
In the spring of 1984, the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services (SPARS) held its annual meeting at Berklee. This provided the opportunity for many industry professionals to get a first-hand look at the program. In 1985, the department was voted best in the SPARS category of Outstanding Institutional Achievement in a Recording Program. MP&E was presented with a Technical Excellence and Creativity (TEC) award by Mix Magazine in the first year that the competition was held. Over the years, MP&E has won several more TEC Awards.
By April 1983, with 207 students, it was evident that expansion of the studio facilities would be necessary to accommodate the growth of the department. Studio D was born. The following year, producer and arranger Arif Mardin, who had worked with the Bee Gees, George Benson, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Carly Simon, visited the studios for a guest lecture and said he would have killed to have such good equipment at Atlantic Records just a few years earlier. At a later visit, Quincy Jones, having recently produced Michael Jackson’s Thriller, noted that he was also impressed by the quality of the studios.
Puluse, recording engineer at CBS Records for 17 years, was hired to chair the MP&E Department in August 1983. Up until this point, Wadhams had been performing the responsibilities of the chair. Puluse’s engineering credits include Chicago, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Joel, Al Kooper, and Sly & the Family Stone. Puluse and Wadhams worked closely to continue to develop the curriculum and to plan for future expansion. By the fall of 1984, the department had six fully functional studios, three 24-track studios and three eight-track studios. Studio A soon plunged into the era of digital recording with the purchase of a Sony PCM-F1 processor. Additional upgrades included three new two-track editing booths for student projects and instruction.
To complement the expanded facilities, six new faculty members were hired, joining Rich Mendelson and Andy Edelstein. Technical engineer Bill Gitt, who designed and supervised the installation of nearly all of the studio wiring and equipment, agreed to teach part-time while continuing his studio maintenance work. Robin-Coxe Yeldham and Allen Smith, who both assisted with early studio construction, also agreed to join the faculty. Wadhams also taught full-time, while Joe Hostetter continued teaching selected recording courses and also assumed the position of studio manager.
An array of talented music producers, engineers, and educators has taught and continues to teach with MP&E since these early days, working with students, who have gone on to many fulfilling paths in the music industry. The department continues to expand, as evidenced by the 2014 addition of new studios in 160 Massachusetts Avenue—yet another chapter in the ongoing story of this department, which carries with it a proud tradition of teaching the world how to record and produce music.
This history was compiled by Peter Wildermuth and Wayne Wadhams, with assistance from Bill Gitt and Andy Edelstein.