Grammy-nominated grad checks out new MTSU recording studio

(MURFREESBORO) Just yards from the site where students at Middle Tennessee State University began learning 40 years ago how to make music sound right, a new set of recording studios is preparing them for recording careers.

Students in the Recording Industry Department now use Studios D and E – nearly 5,000 square feet of custom, expandable, “world-class” space, complete with control rooms, equipment rooms and an open assembly/reception area – moved from an aging dormitory, slated for demolition, to the former Parking and Transportation Services building on East Main Street.

These students range from freshmen getting their first chance to work on professional-grade analog and digital equipment to candidates for the program’s unique Master of Fine Arts degree in Recording Arts and Technologies with years of experience. on mixing desks.

“These are going to be extremely valuable,” department chairman John Merchant said of the nearly $2 million facility. “It’s a massive upgrade from where we were; previous studios were very modest.

“These new ones are remarkable, world-class spaces that will be game changers for us because it means our students are starting to work in these acoustically and electronically superior spaces. You can really hear what you’re doing clearly, and it makes such a difference in terms of the type of work you can produce. The fact that these are now our introductory studios means that students get this kind of experience right from the start, and it’s hugely beneficial.

BryTavious “Tay Keith” Chambers understands that kind of professional experience. A 2018 graduate of Integrated Studies from MTSU’s University College, the Memphis native, who started creating music at age 14, came to college for its recording industry program.

He accepted his bachelor’s degree, with a minor in media management, the same month a track he co-produced, Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE,” went double platinum and No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. and was nominated for two Grammy Awards.

Since then, Chambers, 25, has seen “Sicko Mode” achieve diamond-selling status of over 40 million units and 1.5 billion Spotify plays; worked with artists such as Drake, BlocBoy JB, Wiz Khalifa, Future, Beyonce, DJ Khaled, Miley Cyrus, Gucci Mane, Lil Nas X and Lil Baby; earned #1 on Billboard magazine’s rap producers chart in August; and was included in Billboard’s “50 Greatest Producers of the 21st Century” listing.

He returned to campus Sept. 29 for a preview tour of the new facilities with 2019 MTSU Concrete Industry Management graduate Nick Brownlow, who is in charge of public relations at his record label and production company based in Nashville, Drumatized; and longtime friends Cambrian Strong, business manager of Chambers and former advertising and public relations specialist at MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, and stylist Tyland Jackson, a major in Integrated Studies at University College.

I love these ceilings. The sound is going to be tight,” Chambers said after listening to recordings, inspecting equipment and answering a handful of questions from students in a studio control room, then stepping out and staring nearly 17 feet into the recording area.

The studios’ new location was originally a church gymnasium before the church moved out and the university purchased the property and turned it into offices.

Merchant and the college named Chambers and Brownlow “honorary professors” in the recording industry department during their visit, citing their dedication to completing their own education as well as educating prospective students with scholarships, internships, courses and other opportunities.

“We all graduated from MTSU and appreciate the university supporting us like this,” Chambers said. “We connect the dots of MTSU and education with culture.”

A video recap of Chambers’ visit is available at https://youtu.be/jNdp8ZrAsmk.

“Inspire students to do good work”

Providing students with the foundation for success like Chambers and Brownlow is the reason for new studios, recording industry professor Dan Pfeifer noted. Pfeifer co-chaired the committee that oversaw the studio project, which lasted nearly two years with the help of several recording industry departments and partners, including the former president of the recording industry department. concrete and professor Heather Brown.

Brown’s former department, now MTSU’s School of Concrete and Construction Management, has its own $40.1 million building currently under construction on the site of the former Ezell Hall dormitory, where Studios D and E had been located since 2013. By securing state and industry funding to this building, Brown also helped raise money for the studios. move.

“What this means for our program is huge,” Pfeifer said of the new studios. “We encourage our students to do a good job, and that’s the most important thing for me.

“I just listened to our first set of mixes, and they’re still better than what I’m used to hearing. I don’t know if it’s the room or the students or what exactly is at stake, and I really won’t know for a while, until we’ve done more projects and we hear more results .

Pfeifer and studio committee co-chairman Bill Crabtree are also graduates of the department where they teach. They learned to make music at the program’s first stand-alone facility, Haynes House, a renovated house on East Main Street converted into a recording studio.

It served students from 1980 until the department moved in 1991 to what is now called the Bragg Media and Entertainment Building, then expanded to Ezell Dormitory with Studios D and E and classrooms for the new commercial songwriting program. Haynes House was later demolished to make way for expansion.

The commercial songwriting program is now in its own new space at the Miller Education Center on nearby East Bell Street. The Record Industry Department also bolstered its audio production program in January when it opened the Chris Young Cafe, a 1960s cafeteria renovated into a student learning lab and live entertainment venue.

The Grammy-nominated youngster, an MTSU alumnus, has donated $50,000 to update the space for students to learn nearly every facet of the entertainment industry: The Music Industry , audio production, songwriting, venue management, sound, lighting and rigging, as well as radio shows, comedy shows and other events produced with the help of all the university colleges of MTSU.

Preparing professionals for success

MTSU grads and alumni have been part of countless projects that have achieved multiple gold and platinum sales statuses and top-notch broadcasts and streams, and they’ve also been on their peers’ radar for awards and industry recognition for years. At the annual Grammy Awards, for example, MTSU alumni, former or current students, and faculty from across the university have been among nearly 120 nominations over the past decade.

The number of Grammy winners connected to MTSU since 2001 now stands at 13 with a total of 33 Grammys, including eight repeat recipients, in categories ranging from classical to pop to country and gospel.

The Country Music Association, Association of Country Music, and Gospel Music Association awards lists also regularly include MTSU-related nominees and winners in the areas of writing, production, and performance. .

MTSU’s Recording Industry Department has been on Billboard’s annual list of America’s Top Music Business Schools for seven years, joining peers across the country as top professional producers. from the music industry ready to work. The magazine has yet to announce its 2021 slate.

MTSU established its Recording Industry Department in 1973 and introduced its first Bachelor of Science degree in 1974. It offers undergraduate degrees in audio production, commercial songwriting, and music business and a graduate program with the MFA degree and a new MBA degree with a music company. concentration.

Just over 1,100 students are currently registering industry majors at MTSU. About two-thirds are audio production majors and one-third are music business or commercial songwriting majors.

New courses in the department’s curriculum also prepare students for freelance contracting and running their own business.

“We teach them to go out, hang their shingles and do things,” Pfeifer said. “We are constantly looking for these types of opportunities for our students. That’s the most amazing thing about this program: it’s not “it works, let’s keep doing it”.

“There’s a constant grind and evolution, a ‘How can we do this better?’ approach. How can they be better prepared for entry into the professional world? That’s the goal, ultimately. »

For more information about MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment Recording Industry Department, visit https://mtsu.edu/recording-industry. The college, which also includes the School of Journalism and Strategic Media and the Department of Media Arts, has a website at https://mtsu.edu/media.

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