The modern cacophony of voice and music – staples of our media-centric society – is something crafted by professionals. Their seamless execution of audio and its auxiliary work gives the field an understated flavour, but that serves only to reinforce the importance of sound. Quality is assumed. Poorly executed visuals can be artistic, intentional even, but bad audio is always an assault on the ears. Professionals are necessary, but first they are taught and educated. Evidently, schools are important as the root of quality, but though they all aspire to maintain a standard of excellence, how they go about doing so is the test by which they determine their worth.
The Harris Institute goes about differentiating itself by the caliber of its staff. Teaching positions are filled with current industry leaders – people who still work and know what’s relevant. There’s no fossilized information here, just up-to-date insights funneled directly to students by passionate individuals scheduling business trips around classes. Considering this, it might be a good idea to take a brief look at some of the professors there, to illustrate a point and also because what they do is pretty cool.
Terry Brown is a record producer who cut his teeth in the United Kingdom at the dawn of British pop in the ’60s. Working with four different studios during this time, he educated himself via apprenticeship, the only route available to aspiring music professionals at the time. Within months he went from newbie to helping cut hit records. Later, he emigrated to Canada after falling in love with Toronto, and immediately set about establishing himself by building the first 16 and 24-track studio in town. As he says, “it filled a void in the biz and that was very good for us.”
From there, he established a long-term and celebrated relationship with legendary Canadian rock band, Rush. He would go on to work with them on a number of records, becoming a core part of their production. At the full maturation of his career, his resume of associated projects included work with The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Sonny and Cher, among others.
Ashley Sperling is younger, but no less qualified. A former Harris graduate, she now works as the interactive marketing manager at Luminato, one of Toronto’s largest public culture events. Her responsibilities stretch over anything that covers digital marketing and social media. Before finding herself at Luminato, she worked at Universal Music, running media campaigns for A-list artists such as Justin Bieber, Hedley, and Drake. The transition from Universal to Luminato was segued with a job at artist and brand management company, tanjola. Tasked with building a digital arm of their company from the ground up, she found herself with the agency to create something new armed with her own ideas and creativity.
She credits her success to ambition, earnestness, and luck. As she puts it, “I’m not a complacent person. I’m driven and motivated and will always try to go for that extra step. People eventually notice and that’s gotten me to a lot places.”
As owner and operator of Livewire Remote Records, Doug McClement specializes in mobile recording, bringing his studio-van to wherever it might be needed. That means doing concerts, television specials, or even odd location recording for artists who seek eccentric acoustics. One of his strangest jobs involved a rapper performing on a ski lift gondola. His specialization makes him the go-to guy in his line of work, something that he sees as a key ingredient in the formula for success.
Coming from quaint beginnings doing work for local bands in Kingston, he opened up a basement studio in Toronto and was one of the few people in town willing to lug his gear around to wherever it might be needed. See the trend? He eventually started renting an audio-van, though that ended when, on a cold winter day, he slipped on a patch of ice while driving and totaled it. From there he bought his own van, starting his current business in an adequately dramatic way.
Finally, Martin Pilchner designs and realizes acoustic architecture. Said architecture includes music, film, and television studios, theatres, and critical listening environments. He’s very good at it, with no lack of press and celebration for his work. His wide range of experience across many fields allows him to take a holistic approach to design. Though he has a degree in architecture, working for his father’s construction company in his youth imparted him with knowledge of masonry, concrete, and all of the gritty aspects of construction that made a building more than just an abstract concept. He says, “I do not design something that I don’t completely understand how to make.”
When he first got involved in production, he became fascinated with the studio environment. Though it was difficult to establish himself initially, given the challenge of securing big projects without a resume, he slowly moved his way up and onto successively larger projects. His carefulness in gleaning lessons from each project helped him reach the position of esteem he enjoys today.
Of these four professionals, each brings a set of skills and proven knowledge built on prior and current work. That’s important, because academia and curricula become boring mush in the hands of an uninspired professor, and at worst, a cynical exercise in time-wasting. In the hands of a good one, though, it becomes the foundation of tomorrow’s music industry.