On the College of Saint Rose campus, within the walls of a building bearing the name of an iconic media mogul, lies a music industry program with the might and will to surpass the expectations of those in larger cities.
Last September, Billboard magazine featured Saint Rose with ten other schools that offer a music business degree, an impressive enough distinction when considering the metropolises in which the other schools call home: Boston, Toronto, Nashville, New York City, Denver, Miami.
Maybe a David versus Goliath analogy would be in order too, when noting the names associated with those other programs. SONY/ATV Music Publishing chairman/CEO Martin Bandier has a music program at Syracuse University named after him. There’s blues artist Bruce Hornsby partnering the Creative American Music Program in Miami. Oh, and New York University has none other than Rock and Roll Hall of Fame music executive Clive Davis.
Saint Rose has Sister Mary Anne Nelson. And, Madison Avenue is happy to have her.
“We were one of the first schools to start a program like this,” said Nelson, who took over the program in 1981. She was first involved with the plans to restructure the curriculum in 1978, changing the focus from educating music instructors on vocals and keyboard, to branching out into the music industry. “We saw a need for other occupations in the music field that wasn’t necessarily teaching, and of using a variety of instruments.”
The number of students enrolled in the music industry program has blossomed in recent years. Sean McClowry, assistant music industry professor, credits some of that success to the school’s facilities. In the past five years enrollment has nearly doubled from 56 students to 106. Within that same timeline, the Hearst Center opened.
In January 2010, the private school opened The William Randolph Heart Center for Communications and Interactive Media, an impressive state-of-the-art facility that houses the music program, as well as the print and broadcast journalism programs. The old elementary school that once stood is now a 20,400 square foot, all-digital facility with a high definition studio and control room, Internet radio station and production lab, journalism media lab, two recording studios, a 1,200 square-foot live performance venue and computer labs used by the school newspaper, graphics and media writing classes.
Before becoming the newspaper giant that inspired Hollywood, William Randolph Hearst traveled to New York City to make a name for himself, and in doing so, threw his punches against the likes of another journalistic icon, Joseph Pulitzer. The storyline follows a common enough theme for Gotham later crooned in a Frank Sinatra song. Saint Rose grad Jimmy Fallon would follow the same path, leaving the Albany college a semester short of a degree to “make it there” too.
Conversely, prospective students now fly in from across the globe to audition for the music program. Within the past few years, high school grads from as far as Alaska, Mexico and Northern Ireland have come to visit Madison Avenue.
“I think what differentiates us from the big cities, it’s not just the smallness of Albany, but the smallness of this college,” said McClowry, now in his fourth year with the school. “The program is designed to have small classes. Also, access to these spaces; bigger colleges that do have spaces like this, it’s very difficult for students to really use them.” McClowry added, despite the “smallness” of the student body, the schedule for each recording studio is often full from the early morning, to when the building closes.
Another unique aspect to the program involves a student run record label.
On Friday the 13th, the Rose Record Label Group hosted 300 attendees for a launch party at the Hearst Center. The group, a conglomerate of various companies each involved with publishing, production and legal responsibilities, was on display as much as the artists playing on stage. Senior Ellie Decker is credited for the idea for Rose Record Label Group, an idea she said is one that was born through the hard work of her peers and faculty. Decker said she recognized flaws in the logistics of the Recording Ensemble class and worked with her classmates to improve upon it. “We try to create as authentic an experience as we can,” said Decker. “We research, read material and find tips from professionals.” Last year, she interned with Warner Music Group’s Atlantic Records in New York City. Relationships built there helped provide more insight to improve upon the school’s record label. “I’m sorry I have to leave the label behind,” said Decker, who will graduate at the end of this semester. “But, I leave it in good and capable hands.”
Before students graduate, they will create a music CD. Everything, from writing, performing, producing, engineering, and final production, falls into something of a senior thesis. Artists and sound engineers work together in the Saints and Sinners Recording Studio, equipped with Avid Pro Tools, the industry standard in recording software.
“I love that our program here is extremely hands-on,” said junior Amelia Rossettie, vice president of Sman Publishing,. “Even our classes, like record engineering and record production classes, we have smaller lab groups. Outside of the classroom, a few of the students can get together and do the actual projects themselves. I’m definitely learning instead of just listening to lectures or watching a PowerPoint. I actually get to handle the equipment… It’s just a really good experience.”
The growth of the program, one of the best in the nation, leaves Nelson humbled.
“Oh, we’ve come a long way, absolutely,” said Nelson. “We’ve had tremendous support from the college, from the administration. They gave us the resources, the time and the space with the creativity that we needed.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.