For Dan Brodbeck, there's nothing like the thrill of making a great album. Unless it's the thrill of teaching someone else how to make a great album. "That's what surprised me when I started teaching," he says. "I got the same result and gratification from teaching as I did from making a record. I get the same feeling when I see students start applying what they learn using the techniques we've taught them. It's pretty amazing."
Brodbeck teaches ProTools and Music Production at OIART. He's also one of the school's earliest graduates. He attended the school shortly after it opened, studying all things music recording. "I've been playing guitar since I was 6 years old," he says. "And early on I was recording bands and musicians in my parents' basement. It was just on a 4-track machine. I really just wanted to get into it so I could make recordings of me playing all the instruments. But after doing it for a little while I realized that I liked it more than the performing."
By the time he was 17, Brodbeck was recording bands in his parent's basement for cash. A year later, he had graduated high school and was looking for career opportunities. OIART had just opened, and Brodbeck leapt at the chance to attend. "When I learned about OIART, I knew it would be the right place for me," he says.
A year at OIART transformed a basement tape-deck technician into a full-fledged recording engineer. "My education at OIART was pretty much invaluable," says Brodbeck. "You think you know what you're doing when you go into a place like OIART. A lot of people figure they're going in to just pick up some technical background because they're already doing it. But there was so much I didn't know. All the technical stuff—acoustics, studio maintenance, electronics. All the signal routing, the technical part of engineering. After OIART, I really knew what a recording studio was all about."
With his newfound knowledge, Brodbeck re-launched his studio. It was still in his parents' basement, but now it was equipped with proper gear and the guitarist had in-depth technical knowledge. "It quickly turned into a thriving business," he said. "In fact it got pretty crazy there for a while, for a basement studio. It was fantastic."
Tools of the Trade
Brodbeck ran his basement studio for three years, until 1990. Then he built his own studio in a rented commercial space. He called it dB Studios and it was a runaway success. The engineer ran the studio for 10 years, recording bands and musicians, as well as being a session player on multiple records. In 2000 dB Studios merged with EMAC Studios. "There was a lot of commercial work going on there, but not as much music work," he says. "I was doing all music work, so it was a perfect fit."
During his time at EMAC, the engineer landed a few teaching gigs. He enjoyed it so much that he left EMAC in 2008 to sign on as a teacher at OIART. ProTools is Brodbeck's main tool, so that's what he teaches.
"ProTools is huge," he says. It's the industry-standard recording software, but because it's available to anybody who has $300, there's a lot of misuse. If you don't know what you're doing, the computer can actually get in the way of making music, as opposed to helping it. If you're struggling, if you're looking and you're thinking, you might ignore the actual music. That's why it's very important to show students how to run it with the proficiency and speed that you need to work in the industry. The key is making the software basically invisible. That's what I teach here at OIART."
Brodbeck teaches the technical aspects of ProTools, and delves into the creative aspects. "I also try to teach students how to use the stuff musically," he says. "With very powerful editing tools you can inadvertently suck the life out of music. If you don't use your ears and your musical instincts, if you just focus on the technical aspects, you'll be sunk. At OIART, we focus on the music, not just the technical aspects."
Adapting to Change
Using technical tools creatively is key to surviving in an evolving music industry, says Brodbeck. "The music industry is really changing," he says. "The old model of selling CDs and filling stores with them is going away. There's a new music industry emerging, with new methods of making and distributing music. People are still figuring them out and the students we're teaching now are going to be part of making the new system."
The future, says Brodbeck, will have more DIY studios headed by talented and dynamic producers. "The big, conglomerate studios are disappearing and there will be fewer of them," he says. "People who are computer literate, people who can write, engineer, play an instrument, produce—multifaceted people—are going to keep working and create the new model. Today the industry is very different. People are purchasing tons of music for Rock Band and Guitar Hero. That's a new segment of music that our grads can take advantage of. And that's just one of many that are emerging."
Armed with the basics, OIART grads will have the skills they need to adapt to an ever-changing industry, says Brodbeck. "OIART prides itself on changing with the times," he says. "We're constantly looking at what's coming."
Brodbeck recently visited Harmonix Music to learn production for Rock Band. "I went there to learn how to author songs for the upcoming Rock Band Network," he says. "Now I can pass on that knowledge to our students. They can add that to the list of things they can offer their clients."
Adaptation is key to survival in the music industry, says Brodbeck. "You have to adapt," he says. "You just won't be working otherwise. You need to learn how to do everything you can to remain valuable in the market. And that all starts with a solid foundation of music recording knowledge. That's what you get here at OIART, and it's indispensable."
Building on Basics
Learning the basics—everything from signal flow to electronics—is an essential part of becoming a successful engineer in the industry, says Brodbeck. "Once you have the basics, what we have taught here at OIART, you'll be able to build upon them as new technologies and techniques emerge," he says. "And it's not like you'll have to go back to school to learn new tricks. When I went to OIART, we were using tape machines. I didn't learn any computer technology, but it was easy to understand computer recording because I knew a lot about analog recording. Once you have that base, you're set. Everything is built on it."