They’re All Ears

Loyola’s Electronic Music Studio class is packed with students who want to make their own records

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos by Cory Donovan

“Eyes closed. Ears open,” Jake Leckie says.

And class begins.

The affiliate instructor of music and his students are gathered in the Fine Arts Recital Room for Leckie’s Electronic Music Studio course, and they are learning the art—and science—of capturing music in recordings.

“You don’t have to be a composer. You don’t even have to play an instrument. Your instrument is this,” Leckie says, pointing to his ears.

The students go to work, stretching a thick black cable down the hallway to connect the recital room with the recording studio. They carefully set up several microphones, checking the positions and the angles, so they can listen to the ways different types of microphones record the music.

They work together. They check their notes. They listen to classmate Alex Saad, ’13, as she picks out chords on the piano in the recital room. Then they sit in the studio playing and replaying the different recordings of Saad’s performance.

The students—all juniors and seniors—are enjoying themselves, but they are also focused and serious. It’s an elective, after all, and one that is always popular. You can tell these students are happy to be here. The course always fills up quickly.

What’s the Frequency?

“I have to learn how to mix and master,” says James Pereira, ’14. A marketing major and an information systems minor, Pereira plays the trumpet and makes hip-hop music. He once paid $80 an hour for a studio to record his music and wasn’t happy with the results. Using Loyola’s studio—and the help of one of his classmates—he can make his own recordings for free. “I’ll spend three days on a song if I have to.”

After he graduates, Pereira will know how to navigate other studios. “When I go to a studio, I can say, ‘Move the mic right there.’”

Leckie and his students discuss vibrations and frequency, the strengths and origins of individual microphones, and the ratio of piano sound to reflected sound. Mainly, however, they are learning to work with the equipment.

“It’s hands-on from day one,” Leckie says. “I can talk about frequencies all day, but you’ve got to plug things in and have it not work.”

Leckie would know. He studied at Johns Hopkins University and then the Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Conservatory Recording Arts and Sciences Program, where he was responsible for 500 concert recordings. Then he made recordings for the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta.

As the students listen to Leckie in class, it’s obvious they appreciate that this is Leckie’s field—and that they have plenty to learn from him. After all, they want to write and record their own music, and they have varying levels of experience with recording.

By the end of the semester, Leckie says, “If they take it seriously and pay attention to what I’m telling them, they will probably be able to make a concert recording. At least they seem to be learning to appreciate professional recording.”

The class itself started in the 1980s, says Anthony Villa, DMA, professor of music. Along the way, the computer equipment has been updated every year, but microphone technology has not changed much in that time, Leckie says.

Somewhere to Start

With today’s technology, some of the students in the class have their own studios set up in their residence hall rooms. And when Leckie tells the students their assignment is to make their own recording within the next week, no one balks. They just jot it down as if it were any other assignment.

Leckie glances at the white board, where he has been delineating the differences between the different microphones. Then he looks back at his students.

“Those are the basic rules of stereo-micing,” he says. “You’re going to break them all to make great recordings, but you should know what they are so you have somewhere to start.”

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