March 9, 2016 · Hollywood, Calif. – The Musicians Institute was formed in the late 70s under the guidance of members of the Wrecking Crew, a collection of crack Los Angeles session musicians who played on countless hit records. Initially designed to train the next generation of session musicians, it focused exclusively on music performance until the mid 90s. But as the industry evolved into the digital age, the Musicians Institute added course offerings in audio engineering and other disciplines. Now, most of their students seek to acquire a diverse range of skills to achieve success in a rapidly evolving industry.
“Today’s student is very much an entrepreneur,” says Jonathan Newkirk, Chair of MI’s audio engineering department. “They want to be able to wear all of the hats, whether it’s learning how to play the guitar, self-branding, or familiarizing themselves with various aspects of production.” The Musicians Institute supplements its course offerings with seminars led by industry-recognized producers, engineers, and manufacturers. After visiting the BAE Audio booth at the Audio Engineering Society convention in 2013, Newkirk reached out to BAE’s Colin Liebich to present a unique seminar at the school on analog signal processing featuring BAE Audio products.
The Right Tool for the Job
For Newkirk and the Musicians Institute, BAE Audio’s range of preamplifiers and signal processors make for an ideal teaching tool. “BAE is the most authentic recreation of the classic console channels available,” Newkirk says. “Their history and reputation for quality make them exactly the right fit for the classroom.” Liebich, who does technical seminars as many as a dozen times a year, designs his presentations to demonstrate the versatility, sound quality, and workflow of vintage-designed hardware. “Colin brought in a wide range of BAE mic pres and we ran everything through the console so students could go up and hear a live mic through the different signal paths,” Newkirk says. “Colin is really engaging and the students loved the sound of the gear right away.”
A Feel for Analog
For Liebich, it’s part history lesson and part studio tips-and-tricks session. “There’s so much tradecraft to bring to them such as to how a recording was originally made through an analog desk and how they can recreate that with a few simple pieces of gear,” Liebich says. “We talk about everything that would be done in the recording studio in 1970 and how it still applies today.” For some students, Liebich’s seminars are their first extensive hands-on with analog gear. “Many of these students have grown up in a completely digital world where everything relating to music production is done on their laptop,” Newkirk says.
“We have to educate them on where audio came from and how these techniques and this gear remain important to creating great recordings.” Newkirk observes that the students react strongly to the sound of the BAE gear as well as the tactile nature of manipulating the knobs. “The whole thing really sinks in for them when they’ve got their hand on the EQ and they’re clicking through and hearing the results,” he says.
Musicians Institute has BAE gear installed in the racks of several of its on-campus recording studios, so students have the opportunity to apply their new knowledge to their next recording project. “I always encourage the students to drain the brain of the clinician and take it back to our rooms and start using it right away,” Newkirk says. One thing Liebich encourages students to experiment with is making decisions on input. “I’m often asked if I commit to an EQ setting when recording a vocal or something,” Liebich says. “Absolutely, I tell them! It gets them thinking in a more analog way than they’re used to when they’re working completely in the box.”
The Best of Both Worlds
Newkirk says his best students intuit how important analog gear is in the modern studio. “The students that really get it know they need a blend of analog and digital,” he explains. “They want high quality hardware to create a great signal chain combined with the flexibility of fine tuning in the box.” Liebich relishes his role in spreading the good word about analog and BAE Audio. “It’s really important to educate young people about analog,” Liebich says. “These are the future hit makers, and its crucial to teach them about how much they can benefit from having access to an awesome analog signal path in the studio.” Newkirk says many students mention after the seminar that they would like to own BAE Audio hardware in their future studios, but it’s another fact that makes it obvious to Liebich that the students love both the gear and his workshops: he can’t get rid of them. “They always stay after,” he says.