944 - June 2006

"Mic Check, One, Two"



So you wanna rub elbows with Snoop Dogg, run sound checks for Chicago or mix Nickelback’s next big hit? Then the Valley’s Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, one of the top audio-arts schools in the world, will be music to your ears. Beats stocking shelves at the Virgin Megastore, right?

Conservatory students get a 30-week, 900-hour crash course in every facet of the music biz, preparing them for careers as recording engineers, live sound mixers, record producers and more. According to Kevin Becka, a Conservatory faculty member, the director of education and tech editor of Mix Magazine, the program offers the most concentrated yet comprehensive experience of any audio-arts school, with ample opportunities for post-graduation success. “We are strictly focused on audio, 30 weeks of audio, no extraneous stuff. You study only what you want to work on,” says Becka.

In addition, the Conservatory requires a 280-hour internship, a step Becka explains is crucial to students’ success. “It’s a tight business,” Becka says of the music industry. “You can’t just knock on doors without a reference.” The Conservatory employs a three-person team that does nothing but open doors for students, scheduling internships with big-name studios in the industry’s hottest cities, New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Nashville.

Becka, like all Conservatory staff, boasts an impressive resume, having worked with everyone from Michael Bolton to Gladys Knight to Billy Idol. When the devastating Northridge earthquake of 1994 sent him packing from LA, he made his way to Tempe to teach and work.

Conservatory students take courses in three-week cycles, learning the ropes in four identical studios on either the Gilbert or Tempe campus. As students approach the end of their tenure, they are required to produce and record a band they find themselves. “We’ve had everything from mariachi to orchestras to traditional bass, drums and guitar,” says Becka. “Or students will have a band from home and the kids will fly because they want to record an album.” Local up-and-comers, are you listening? “Bands love it because it’s free studio time.”

In addition to learning to conduct complete studio sessions, mixing sound and engineering records, Conservatory students are also schooled to be business-savvy in an industry that can chew up and spit out a rookie. Becka explains that the Conservatory stresses the professional attitude students must cultivate to be successful. “Attitude is 90 percent of the gig,” he says. “You’re not going to produce a million-dollar project right out of school. At first, it’s just getting used to how to work with people, being able to hang out long enough to show you have skill, and then people will recognize you.”

Patience and perseverance — the qualities Becka believes make for the most success — have paid off for numerous Conservatory alumni, including Darrell Thorp, who took home the 2004 Grammy for “Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical,” for Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief. Graduate Moka Nagatani also decorates her mantel with a golden gramophone; she won a Grammy for “Album of the Year” for Outkast’s smash-hit double disc, Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Other Conservatory standouts include Eddie Mapp, who has worked with Evanescence, Taking Back Sunday and POD; David Yeager, who is on a first-name basis with Snoop Dogg (“Snoop is a true professional,” Yeager says); and Nathan Lee, who was hired as a monitor engineer by Chicago just three weeks after graduation.

For every kid searching for his dream job, aching to work with the biggest names, in the hottest cities, enrolling at the Conservatory is as simple as applying online at www.cras.org. “Make the investment,” says Becka, who has watched many a graduate go on to stardom. “We give you the story behind the story.”"