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Music Resources Home > Articles > The New Producers

The New Producers

Noah Simon talks about NYU's innovative Music Production Program

By Laura B. Whitmore

Years behind a mixing console and a passion for music technology are what prepared Noah Simon for his current career. Formally a staff engineer at Shelter Island Sound and head engineer at Jarvis Studio, Noah has engineered for artists such as Eric Andersen, Susan Tedeschi, Shawn Colvin, Greta Gentler and a Grammy-winning album with Bill Frisell. With a Masters degree in Music Technology under his belt, he's now an Adjunct Instructor of Recorded Music and the Recorded Music Technician at the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.

All of that is a very long name for a very cool place to work. The Clive Davis Department was founded in 2003 with a gift from Mr. Davis himself. The program, the first of its kind in the country, trains students as music entrepreneurs, all the while recognizing the creative record producer as an artist in his or her own right and musical recording itself as a creative medium.

Noah's passion is clear when he talks about what sets this program apart. "The Clive Davis Department is basically designed to teach students about various aspects of recorded music, both in terms of the art and also the business involved," he explains. "So we encourage our students to not only acquire the technical skills to record music, but also to have an entrepreneurial and businesslike approach to what they're doing."

The general goal of the program is to broaden students' minds to the many possible career paths that someone involved in music production can take. But that's not the only goal. Noah explains a reality check is what helps this program generate a new kind of music graduate that knows how to operate in today's business world. He shares:

Students here are not existing in an artistic vacuum. They're going out into a harsh environment, not only because of the economy now; it has been tough in the music business for several years. It would be irresponsible of us to disregard that. We encourage everyone to be business savvy and get a little bit beyond the creative side.

Of course, the creative side is certainly not neglected in the Clive Davis Department. In addition to business courses, students spend their first year really learning how to work with industry standard tools and developing recording techniques. They learn on a large format mixing console and work with the most important and industry-relevant pieces of software that professionals are using out in the field.

But it's what happens aside from that which makes this program even more unique. As Noah explains, "Students take courses that we call Topics, which cover music history from the perspective of recorded music. When you hear of a program that has a class about punk rock or a course that has a class on Aretha Franklin, that's us! We're that college."

In the second year, the students go beyond technique and start to learn more about how to approach musical material artistically and about how to construct an entire album project. They start to think in terms of what they are going to do through the rest of the program, because in the third and fourth years students must decide which branch of the program to pursue. Noah expands:

The idea of what a record producer is that's a very vague concept. I don't think that anybody can definitively tell you, "This is what a record producer does." But I think there is a little bit of consensus that there are different types of producers. There is the engineer-producer who is very technically minded. There is your Diddy type, more of a businessperson who checks in on the project, maybe isn't there every moment, but view things as an investor concerned with picking the right people to work on the project so it turns out the way they want. There is the musician-producer, who may not be as concerned with the technical side of things, but is interested in arranging the music or giving direction to an engineer. As students make their way through this program, they have the opportunity to sit in all these chairs. To play the roll of the producer, to be the engineer, to be the musician, to be the music critic. Through that experience they come out pretty well rounded.

The Clive Davis Department was formed to fill a gap in the chain of learning that used to be covered by a more traditional apprentice approach. As Noah tells us:

In the past, getting into music production was a very different track than it is today. Maybe you would get an internship at a recording studio and would progress from ordering lunch, to becoming the assistant, to setting up microphones and then you get to engineer. With the explosion of technology and the way the industry is now, those opportunities are few and far between. This program is really filling in the gap and giving people the background to go out into the music business. Otherwise what you get are people who are reinventing the wheel. You can go out to a music store and buy all the tools you need to make a professional recording at home, but if you don't know some of the tips and techniques, you're really going to be going in circles. If you did work in a studio you'd have a chance to work with great engineers and producers, to learn their secrets and see how they do things.

Students at the Clive Davis Department have the opportunity to work alongside icons of the industry. The faculty at the Clive Davis Department includes some heavy hitters, like Grammy Award winner Jim Anderson, an internationally recognized recording engineer and producer for acoustic music in the recording, radio, television, and film industries; Nick Sansano, who recorded and mixed for a variety of iconic Hip Hop artists including Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Rob Base and Run DMC; and Vivien Goldman, a writer who worked at Island Records and knew Bob Marley and Johnny Rotten. Noah comments:

Our instructors have first hand experiences and are teaching these students about the history and what it was like to be there, and that's really invaluable. If you want to communicate with musicians who have deep knowledge about the music that inspired them, it really helps to have a strong foundation of knowledge of that music and its history. It's a really wonderful place to be, because everyone is so enthusiastic and loves what they're doing. I'm amazed by our students creativity and how bright and energetic they are.

Aside from the assets of amazingly diverse and experienced faculty, The Clive Davis Department stocks its many studios and facilities with state-of-the-art music hardware and software. "We use Pro Tools, which is the industry standard," Noah reveals. "We have a class that is dedicated to Pro Tools. We also started teaching Logic. We are also using Ableton Live and Propellerhead's Reason. Most of our students also have a Digidesign Mbox. Different classes teach and rely on these various pieces of software. As students move further into the program, they are more free to choose what they want to use to create their projects."

Noah is instrumental in suggesting and integrating new technologies into the program. He comments on the selection of Ableton Live:

The concept of Live is very cool and very different from what the other software is doing. You're not just creating music as a static thing. It's very dynamic and interactive. The way you can change things, and interact with it on the fly and perform with it, is very clever. One student group in particular, called Menya, has been using Live during their performances.

Although he perceives the music business as a bit uncertain right now, Noah is positive about the future and attributes much of that to the enthusiasm and intelligence he sees in students every day. "I would not be surprised if the next great music business model came from some young gun like someone from this program," he says. "They're smart, they are creative and they are very tuned in to the technology."

Find out more about Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU at http://clivedavisdept.tisch.nyu.edu.


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