Elon family makes historic $1 million gift to music production and recording arts

The largest equipment gift in program history will take Elon’s nationally recognized program to the next level.   

A $1 million gift from an Elon family will provide significant equipment and studio upgrades to the university’s music production and recording arts program while also endowing a guest artist master class series that will provide students an opportunity to interact on campus with leading music and sound professionals working in the field.

The gift is the largest ever to the music production and recording arts program for equipment needs. Students will start seeing some of the additions this semester. The first guest artist appearance is already scheduled, said Todd Coleman, associate professor of music and coordinator of the program.

The donor prefers to remain anonymous.

This generous and unusual gift will enhance a program that is already nationally recognized as a leader in music production and recording arts education, said Gabie Smith, dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences. “Our faculty in music production and recording arts are highly skilled at sharing their expertise with the community of students in the major. This investment in the program will allow us to take an incredibly strong academic program to the next level.” 

Elon’s music production and recording arts program in 2017 was ranked No. 8 nationally by College Magazine, which surveyed music recording and technology and audio design programs at colleges and universities across the nation. This gift will provide for major technical improvements that will put Elon on more equal footing with collegiate programs at the top of the national list, including No. 1 Berklee College of Music in Boston, Indiana University, the University of Miami and Belmont University.

Coleman said when all of the equipment is installed, hopefully by fall 2018, students will have access to the kind of recording studio and music production environments used by music industry professionals in sites such as Nashville and Los Angeles. Access to real-world technology will provide not only invaluable experience for students but also help them reach their full potential as artists.

“The most profound music-making goes on inside us, in our minds and in our hearts,” Coleman said. “Having the right tools and environment helps stimulate creativity and facilitates the realization of artistic vision.”

Major gifts to university music programs can be rare. “We are very grateful for this gift and the teaching and learning improvements this makes possible,” Coleman added.

A digital mixing console like this one will be placed in the new Studio D in Arts West.
THE GIFT fills a variety of critical needs for music production and recording arts. First, it will substantially upgrade three studios now available in Arts West and create a fourth. For example, a 32-channel API analog mixing console similar to those used in major recording studios will be installed in Studio A, which will also be outfitted with premium microphones and top-of-line instruments.

Studio B will gain an SSL Matrix analog mixing console and an improved microphone, preamplifier, and compressor collection. Studio C will receive a live digital mixing console like those used by touring artists such as Radiohead and Elvis Costello.

A vacant office space in Arts West will become Studio D. This will be used primarily as a mixing, mastering and surround-sound studio used for video or film production and for electronic music production. The equipment list for this space also includes a large-format modular analog synthesizer similar to those created by Roberg Moog in the 1960s and ‘70s. The upgrades will allow Elon students to move more seamlessly from studio to studio with very little drop off in equipment quality.

“We will have more spaces for our students to collaborate and work,” Coleman said. “We have the space to avoid putting 18 students in one room with everybody waiting a turn. Now we can spread out and have our students more engaged.”

A portion of the gift would address structural sound and acoustic issues in the Arts West studios to improve the sound quality of the music recorded there and enhance the accuracy of audio playback in the studio control rooms.

“Students will see an impact in the spring semester with the expanded selection of microphones in Studio A, which will make a difference for their senior capstone projects. Studio B will get Studio A’s used microphones, which will be a major difference for students who use studio B,” Coleman said. “New consoles won’t be fully ready for use in the spring due to the significant time that the installation, set up, wiring, testing, and training for the three new recording and mixing consoles will require.”

Coleman said that while the impact should be immediate, the biggest difference for students will be noticed in the fall when all the equipment is available and renovations are complete. “We’re hoping the students can help install the equipment so they can see how a studio is put together. It helps them better understand how all the equipment works together,” he said.

THE GUEST ARTIST master class series will fund one to two appearances each semester by a nationally known figure in music production and recording arts. It will offer students the opportunity to engage with experts in the field who can share experiences from their work with top musicians inside the most prominent studios. Guest artists offer hands-on presentations in large groups or classrooms. Their expertise can be built into the curriculum by professors.

John Storyk will kick off the guest master series on April 17. He is an architect and acoustical expert who is a founding partner of WSDG, a design group responsible for more than 3,500 audio-video production facilities. He has worked on designing private studios for Whitney Houston, Bob Marley, Ace Frehley, Russ Freeman, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and others. His first major studio was for the late rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Coleman anticipates Storyk providing some advice concerning the studio acoustical renovations.

Coleman and Smith expect the majority of the new equipment and renovations to be ready for use in the 2018 fall semester and are excited about the opportunities ahead. “Our students will see what it means to be in a professional audio production environment. It puts us in the thick of our peer and aspirant institutions when it comes to the audio production equipment and studio environments our students will now have regular access to. That alone is wonderful,” Coleman said.

The gift will have an impact on Elon and its music production and recording arts students for years to come. “We are very thankful for the generosity of the family in making this significant gift. Current and future students will benefit greatly from their investment in state of the art equipment and funding toward master classes with professionals in the field,” Smith said.