Settled in Webster Groves, Webster University is making big noise in the sound recording field. For 24 years, the University's Department of Audio Aesthetics and Technology has been offering professional quality recordings to international and local musicians.
Webster's classes take a hand on approach to music production, bringing in performers for each class. Webster has recorded an array of musicians from international to local status. Jorge Morel, a classical Hispanic guitarist, appeared at the studio. Local musicians the Union Electric, Kim Massey, Illphonics and the Orbz have also been a part of the class sessions. After 24 years, the list of recording artists is extremely extensive.
Inspired by their course work, Students take on projects outside of their requirements. One group worked with Camp Quality, a camp for terminally ill children. Campers were encouraged to write their own songs, for example one child's "Booger Song." Webster students then used remote recording gear to capture the campers' creativity.
The recording studio boasts top quality technology. Students learn on a Solid State Logic Duality audio console. The $300,000 piece of equipment is the largest single piece of equipment the University has ever purchased. It is designed for both digital and analog recording. In addition to the modern technologies that make up the multiple studios, classic gear like a Neve audio console is also available. Students design and make gear like speakers to add to the space as part of their course work, as well.
While some performers are approached by professors, the students are also encouraged to seek out bands they wish to record. Current student Andrew Witthaus says he frequents local shows in search of music he finds interesting. "It's just a matter of networking to find bands. I don't care if I get paid. It's just a joy to do this stuff," says Witthaus.
However, Webster is not a commercial recording facility. Studio time is mainly invitation only and retains a heavy emphasis on the educational aim of the institution. "Some people just come to [us] in order to get a feel for being in the studio. It's very symbiotic in that way because the musicians are new to the studio and the engineers are learning about music recording," says Barry Hufker, professor of Audio Production and creator of the program. Bill Porter, who passed away in 2010, was an expert recording engineer who taught with the program for several years. Porter is best known for his work with Elvis, Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers. In one week, fifteen songs engineered by Porter sat on the Billboard "Top 100". "Bill Porter was probably the greatest sound recording engineer ever. You don't expect to come to the Midwest has have a legend record you," says Hufker.
The program tackles more than just musical recording. "We teach audio wherever you find it," says Hufker. Anything from video and film audio, computer applications, sound reinforcement, management and acoustics are also taught.
The Audio Aesthetics and Technology program is one of the largest educational tracks at the University and one of the biggest audio recording programs in the world. "We don't promote ourselves much," says Hufker. "In 24 years, the program has grown mostly through word of mouth."