WMU News

WMU student wins international recording competition

Nov. 17, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- A Western Michigan University student has won the top prize in what many consider to be the most prestigious competition for student audio engineers.

Rachel Flanigan, a senior music major from Smiths Creek, Mich., near Port Huron, was named First Finalist (first place winner) in the Audio Engineering Society Student Recording Competition during the AES convention in Los Angeles in September. The annual competition is open to all students in recording programs worldwide and is judged by an international panel of studio owners, producers and engineers. Her award is in the Pop/Rock category.

"It was very exciting," Flanigan says of the experience. "I was very happy to win. Everybody that entered had some wonderful recordings. This was a great honor."

Flanigan's award-winning effort was gleaned from a two-song demo she put together for a local non-profit organization that had sought out the services of the WMU Sound Studios. The recording consisted of music from a motivational presentation the non-profit organization stages for children and will be used to secure additional funding.

In a series of about four recording sessions, Flanigan recorded musicians on guitar, keyboards, bass and drums with overdubs for guitar. She then added the voices of four singers doing a total of six singing parts. Another three sessions were required to mix all the elements together, with sessions running six to eight hours each over a period of about six weeks.

Flanigan edited the music using a sophisticated digital computer software program known as Pro Tools. She submitted one of the songs for the competition.

The project, which was time consuming and complicated from a technical standpoint, won praise from WMU instructor, John Campos, who lauded Flanigan's ability to negotiate the complex world of computerized audio engineering and come up with some top-notch recorded music.

"It was a very challenging project technically because a lot of it was done with our computer system," says Campos, WMU Sound Studios director. "Rachel is very adept at that, as much as anyone, including me."

Flanigan, who plays clarinet, came to WMU as a transfer student majoring in music composition. She says her roommate was taking audio recording classes at WMU and encouraged her to do the same. She's glad she did and now is planning on a career in audio engineering and writing and performing music on the side.

"I like the amount of creativity involved," says Flanigan, who hopes to relocate to the West Coast after her graduation in December. "You can have a group of musicians come in, record them and mix it two different ways and make it sound completely different. And I like knowing what each button does."

Flanigan says she now can have a certain sound in mind for a recording and knows how to achieve that sound in the studio.

But she wasn't always so sure of herself in the studio. Audio recording can be overwhelming at first, with the vast banks of knobs and buttons difficult to decipher. The uncertainty can lead to some uncomfortable moments at the controls.

"The very first session, you can't even think straight," she says. "All these musicians are coming in and waiting around and you've just learned things from a textbook and now have to put it all into use. Something may not be working right and you don't know why. It took me a good year to actually be comfortable during a recording session."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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