Band director Bob Ratcliff watches the Garage Band practice in the recording studio on Nov. 7. (Photo by Emma Boersma)

Recording studio well-used, but not to full extent

The Connor Burns Memorial Studio — it’s a complete recording facility next to the French room, yet some students don’t know it exists. 

The studio had its grand opening on Jan. 25, 2018, after two years of construction. Burns’ father, Steven Burns, donated the recording equipment as a tribute to the seventh grader, a big rock ’n’ roll fan who passed away in March 2015.

Steven Burns raised the money and received help from other parents, including Chuck Hansen, who owns a recording studio in Sacramento. Along with the maintenance department, they soundproofed the room and installed the equipment. 

The studio is well-used, although often not the way it was intended. It’s mostly used as a rehearsal space, according to band director Bob Ratcliff. Both the Garage Band and the A Cappella Club use it as such. 

Senior Larkin Barnard-Bahn, founder of the A Cappella Club, said she enjoys using the studio as a rehearsal space since the orchestra room and Multipurpose Room are often in use. 

“It’s soundproofed, which is great for A Cappella rehearsals — no one can hear us screech,” Barnard-Bahn said.

The band also uses the studio when instrument groups split up to practice, and it hosts private lessons, such as After School Enrichment’s (ASE) piano instruction.

But groups also use it to record.

The Garage Band has recorded several tracks, including “Teen Spirit,” “Pressure” and “Immigrant Song.”

The Garage Band’s cover of “Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, available along with its recordings of
“Pressure” by Muse and “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin on the Country Day Vimeo account.

Some of the Garage Band’s recordings have been posted on the school Vimeo site, Ratcliff said.

Ratcliff also helped the A Cappella Club record “Time After Time” in May, using a high-quality microphone connected to GarageBand (the default recording program included with all Macs) on his laptop.

“We recorded a song in order to have a permanent record of what we’d done,” Barnard-Bahn said. 

An excerpt from the A Cappella Club’s recording of “Time After Time,” arranged by Kirby Shaw. (Recording courtesy of Larkin Barnard-Bahn)

However, for maximum sound quality, a recording engineer is needed — and no one on campus is trained to use the board that adjusts sound before it is fed into a computer.

“I can operate the board to a certain extent — I can get sound through the board,” Ratcliff said. “But when you’re actually recording something, there is a lot more involved than just getting sound through the board.”

For the recording to be high quality, the sound needs to be equalized through the board, keeping the high, low and mid frequencies balanced. If not, the sound of the instruments isn’t full, Ratcliff said. There is also the matter of controlling the left and right audio inputs, so the sound varies directionally when you hear it. 

Recording engineering is a four-year degree and involves not only using the board, but also the advanced software to mix and master the raw tracks. 

The Garage Band hired a recording engineer student, Sarah Joy Sy, from California State University, Sacramento. With her help, the group recorded “Immigrant Song” on the weekend of Nov. 18, 2018, “Teen Spirit” on the weekend of Dec. 1, 2018, and “Pressure” on the weekend of May 19, 2019. 

Because no one on campus is trained to use the soundboard in the Connor Burns Memorial Studio, the Garage Band hired a recording engineer student, Sarah Joy Sy, from California State University, Sacramento. (Photo by Emma Boersma)

“It was a long, arduous process because you record tracks individually,” junior Elijah Azar said. “You have the rhythm section record their part for the song first, and then the backgrounds and then the melody or vice versa.”

Azar said he admired the advanced capabilities of the studio. “The soundboard was very impressive; the microphones were very good. The recording engineer was also extremely kind and very experienced.”

Sy, the recording engineer, used the same equipment that the school owns when she studied recording engineering, according to Ratcliff. 

“She was willing to work with us, and we actually offered her a job here, to maybe teach a class on it or work with our band. She hasn’t taken us up on it yet,” he said.

Even after the tracks are recorded, the songs are not quite done. Ratcliff and the students still have to mix and master them at Ringgerstudios (4917 Concordia Dr., Elk Grove), which can take almost twice as long as recording them, Ratcliff said.

When the A Cappella Club recorded, however, it didn’t use a recording engineer.

“It was difficult because we would have had to record on a date that was good for every single member in the group, as well as (Sy), so we decided it would be much simpler if we didn’t fully use the equipment,” Barnard-Bahn said.

According to Barnard-Bahn, the audio came out well.

Senior David Situ also uses the recording studio for his Octagon podcasts, which feature various topics such as astrology. 

“It’s the easiest way to get good audio in a controlled setting,” he said. “Everything’s already set up; I can just use the microphones that are there, the cables and the board to get nice clean audio. A lot of other places will have background noise, or the mics won’t be in the right setting.”

While Situ does not use the soundboard, musicians do, and the school has no personnel trained to use the equipment. Additionally, Ratcliff said having a recording engineer at the school could significantly help music students through classes on how to remix and enhance sound.

“The slot of recording engineer is a hard one to fill because of the expertise and degree of training required,” head of school Lee Thomsen said. “As future hires are made, the school will be keeping an eye out for people who can fill this position.”

—By Nihal Gulati

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