Sitting at a massive mixing board in front of a glass window separating him from a wood-paneled recording studio, Zach Karpinski did his homework.
He sat at two large computer monitors with a pair of large headphones and carefully sliced and spliced a song together. Every few minutes he took the headphones off and played the song — a cross of alternative, classic and punk rock influences — over the studio’s high-quality speakers.
Over his shoulder, Sister Mary Anne Nelson, head of the music industry program at The College of Saint Rose, offered her student some advice on fine-tuning the recording — a perspective free from hours of work deep inside that particular song.
“Just give me a little more definition, so people can understand your words,” Nelson said. “It won’t be a big difference; can you hear it yet?”
“Yeah, there it is,” Karpinski said.
But the final decision is always the artist’s. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it,” Nelson said.
She just brings the “fresh ears” every now and then.
“No, I do like it. It definitely helps,” Karpinski said.
Karpinski was working on an eight-track record, “The Attic,” for his senior capstone project, a 30-minute piece of original music — written, recorded, edited and produced by the student. He and his classmates in the music industry program are working long days, and early mornings, to finish their projects in time for May graduation.
During the mad dash of the final weeks of the semester, the recording studio, at the heart of the program and the center of many of the student projects, is open until 3 a.m.
“Sometimes by the time you get everything set up, you’ve lost two hours,” Nelson said.
The music industry program dates to the late 1970s, when the school started to develop the courses for what would become a degree program in the early 1980s when Nelson took over as program director. Ever since, the program has tried to adapt to the constantly changing technology and business models of the music industry. There are just over 100 students in the program this year.
“We used to use reel-to-reel tape recorders [and] razor blades to do editing,” Nelson said. “I’ve been through vinyl, eight-track, two-track, four-track … now we are in Pro Tools and everything is computer-based.”
And under the leadership of college President Carolyn Stefanco — who has stirred controversy at the school after rolling out plans to cut more than two dozen degree programs and eliminate faculty positions — music industry has been held up as an example of the type of programs the school plans to emphasize.
Stefanco has repeatedly pointed to the music industry program in interviews and at public forums as an example of a program students are demonstrating an interest in and one that provides the school a chance to market itself more broadly.
But Nelson emphasizes that it’s all about the students and their music.
The students form bands that jam in dorms and off-campus houses and play in local clubs. The program’s students run their own record label, producing an album each year that students record, produce and market. Last week, the music industry students worked alongside communications students to produce a live music television broadcast complete with performances and artist interviews. A bar-like venue on campus gives the students the chance to work on live shows.
Classes cover music law, entrepreneurship, recording, editing and much more. In a recent class, Nelson walked students through the process of collecting fractions of a penny for every time a song of theirs or a future client was streamed or downloaded on the Web.
“Music is ubiquitous,” Nelson said. “You find it everywhere, and the students who come into this program, more or less, want to find out how they can sustain themselves doing what they love passionately.”
As soon as Karpinski was ready to pack his things and head out of the studio earlier this month, a group of freshmen started to straggle in with guitars and basses slung over their shoulders. A drummer headed into the large recording space outfitted with a keyboard, piano, drum kit and floor-to-ceiling acoustic panels. He started to freestyle loud beats.
“That boy needs to settle down,” Tyler Schmidt said as he prepared to join in on the fun. “He has no gauge on his sound.”
“He’s, like, probably deaf; I think all drummers are,” Brian Lee said.
Soon, the guitarist and pianist and bassist joined, and the ad-hoc group formed for an ensemble music class started to jam. The group was tasked with recording covers off Steely Dan’s “Aja” album. Practicing “Josie” was the order of the day.
The students came from all over the region: The freshman on keys was from upper Manhattan; others were from Averill Park and near Boston. For the ensemble class, the group rehearses and records the covers, learning the ins and outs they will need as they move through the program.
“The recordings aren’t really the goal; it’s really more about practicing the recording process,” freshman Brad Monkell said. “The equipment is great: great drum sets, great amps, everything we need, really.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.