A red-haired sophomore tapped his foot and nodded his head to grasp his rhythm. At a piano connected to recording equipment in a studio high above a band room in the Hvidsten Hall of Music, he reached to a computer keyboard and pressed the space bar to begin recording. The sophomore, Jason Bell, then allowed the rhythm to engross him as he placed his hands on the piano keyboard. Sound filled the recording studio with every keystroke.
Bell’s song, along with around 10 other musicians’ pieces, will soon be accessible for the campus through Concordia’s Beat, a CD compilation of student talent, and the latest volume is in the recording and editing process for release in the spring.
Concordia’s Beat is a student-run organization that began in 2004 with assistance from Russ Peterson, assistant professor of saxophone, bassoon and jazz studies, to introduce Concordia students to the recording process of producing music.
Peterson said Minnesota State University Moorhead had created a student compilation CD before Concordia’s Beat existed, and he knew Concordia students had the ability to assemble their own CD.
“One of the first times I read this, I thought, ‘why don’t we have something like this for music?’” Peterson said, as he held up a copy of AfterWork, Concordia’s student literary publication.
For the last six years, Peterson said, the Beat has been carried out with very little faculty supervision.
“The students do everything,” he said. “Students audition students and they are the ones who really produce this CD.”
Chelsea Spanier, a senior, is the head engineer responsible for setting up the recording equipment in time for a musician to record their piece.
“We [the engineers] are heavily involved with each musician,” Spanier said.
After a piece is recorded, the engineers sit down with each musician and listen to the recorded selections multiple times to make sure all the elements necessary for the recording are present.
“We have to be sure that when the final recording is done that we have a balance of voice and instrument,” Spanier said.
Students working on the Beat use a recording software called ProTools, which is the equivalent to the PhotoShop picture editor for photographers. This software allows the engineer to adjust the pitch of the piano or the individual notes sung by the artists, correcting a flat or making a note an octave higher.
Before the advances of technology, recording was done with cassette tapes and reels, Spanier said.
“If a musician were to make a mistake, or if there was a mistake in the volume of the instrument, the musician would have to come back in and redo the entire session,” Spanier said. “Now, everything is digital.”
The Beat’s musicians record more than one session. In order to ensure the best track will be put on the final CD, the musicians record a couple tracks, and the best one will be on the CD, Spanier said.
The recordings have to be completed by the end of January, and the decision of which recording will make the final cut has to be made by the middle of February.
Bell said he was concerned he would make a mistake on a pitch or hit the wrong key when he came in for this recording session on January 11.
After Bell had finished recording, he watched as Spanier scrolled through the digital recording, found a mistake and adjusted it to the correct note.
“In the digital age, what you hear is never the real musician’s real voice,” Spanier added. “It is always tweaked.”
The simplicity of the correction surprised Bell.
“So this is how they make musicians sound so good,” he said.
This year there are five students—one student leader, one head engineer, two assisting engineers and a photographer—doing the work that makes the 2011 Beat possible, although many new students indicated interest in helping produce the CD at the Cobber Expo last fall.
Theresa Munson, a sophomore and the Beat’s photographer, is one of the new members this year.
She said when she was touring Concordia, she took a free Beat CD from campus. Although she chose to attend St. Thomas and later transferred to Concordia, she kept the CD in her car and still listens to it on a regular basis.
“The Beat is so good,” she said. “I don’t understand why [more] people are not interested in how it is created.”
The Beat project is a great undertaking for anyone, Spanier said, which is why they try to involve students in the project early in their college career.
Eric Brown, the student leader of the Beat, has been involved with the CD since his freshman year as a graphic designer for the CD case. Now, with the help of Spanier, he was able to recruit new members to assist them with the project.
Freshmen Isaac Frantz and Jeffery Osvold round out the five-member Beat team and are learning how to be engineers from Spanier and Brown, because both Spanier and Brown are graduating in May and it is up to the new members to continue the project.
While Concordia’s Beat is a professional-style CD, it is a project run by students, not professionals, and the process does not always run as smoothly the team hopes it will.
“It is hard to schedule a [recording] time that is conducive for the musician and for us,” Spanier said.
Spanier dedicates a lot of time to getting everything set up for the session.
“I usually come in five or six hours before so I can set up the equipment and the software to make sure it is running smoothly,” she said.
While a session may be three hours long, Spanier usually anticipates a musician will request a second recording time.
The Beat’s final product will have different appearance this year. Brown was approached at the beginning of the school year by the Student Government Association to find a way to make the Beat more environmentally friendly.
This year, Brown said, the Beat will not be made in the usual plastic CD case, but instead will be in a cardboard case.
“When you open it, there will be a sleeve on the side where the CD will sit,” Brown said as he opened his hands like a book to demonstrate the new case’s layout.
Brown also said that he is trying to get the Beat on iTunes, so there will also be a decrease in the number of hard copies for students to pick up around campus.
Even if people aren’t physically involved with the Beat, Peterson said, everyone on campus is technically involved.
“The Beat is well supported,” he said. “I have received many letters and e-mails from faculty and students about the incredible work that goes into the Beat. Bruce Vieweg helps with the financial support of the project. The IT guys are of great help as well. If something happens with the computers and we need IT guys to help us out, [they] fix it the next day. This is a campus-wide organization.”
The Beat gives students a diverse music selection from their peers. This year, there are quite a few original pieces and a high number of male vocalists.
As for what is prepared for next year, it is all up in the air, Peterson said.
“Each year, it is a different CD,” Peterson said. “I mean, each year there are different students recording and different students performing. I just hope that we can keep it happening at a higher level as the years go on.”