Eleven years ago, audio engineer Ron Gordon left his post as soundman at the Walnut Room to start the audio and music production program at Warren Tech in Arvada, one of two campuses that make up Jefferson County Public Schools' career and technical education program. Since then, Randall Frazier, a soundman at the Walnut Room for a decade before moving to Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox five years ago, has been on the advisory committee for Gordon’s program, guest lecturing and also mentoring students. Frazier has also run sound at Levitt Pavilion and worked with the TV series Sounds on 29th.
Gordon is now creating a live sound and event production curriculum. It will debut in the fall of 2021 at the new Warren Tech South campus in Littleton, along with a 250-person venue and recording studio. Frazier is taking over Gordon's audio and music production classes. The audio, music production and video production programs will also relocate to the new campus next fall.
While Frazier has been involved in the audio and music production program since its inception and has 22 years of experience running sound at various venues around the city, he still had to interview for the position at Warren Tech. He also had to get certified as a technical expert by the Colorado Department of Education.
Frazier teaches four classes of six to eleven students each. He teaches music theory online and audio production in person to high school juniors and seniors. He says the students get hands-on experience using various equipment, from microphones and pre-amps to MIDI controllers, and learn how different gear choices impact production.
Although some of the students play instruments, not all do, so Frazier starts off by teaching MIDI production first, since it allows everyone to jump in at the same time.
“Some of these guys never get out of MIDI; they just stay in electronic music, and that's all they want to do. That's fine,” Frazier says. “Some of them get the basics of MIDI and move on to guitar and drums and microphone techniques and more.”
Frazier goes over the technical side of production, showing student how equalizers and compressors work and in what situations to use them. During the three-hour classes, students have ample time to work on their own projects using the techniques they've learned.
For their first project, students created their own productions. More recently, Frazier has had them collaborate online, sending files back and forth to students from other classes. Frazier, who has a long history of working with the Amsterdam-based Legendary Pink Dots, including mastering the band's albums and managing its tours, is well versed in online collaboration.
Aside from the technical side of audio production, one of the first lessons Frazier imparts to his students is the importance of being positive.
“You have to be nice to everybody,” Frazier says, “whether or not you like the music that they're making, or maybe you had a weird interaction with them when you first started soundcheck or whatever. You can’t be a dick. You have to say, “I'm going do my best no matter what, whether it's a show or an album we're talking about. As a producer and engineer, you're a big part of that. And the success of the project or the success of the show, a lot of times, rests pretty heavily on your shoulders.
“You have to be professional," he continues. "You have to be positive, and you have to be accepting of everybody. Even if it's not your type of show or your type of album or whatever, it still demands your full attention and your full effort. That's number one. I stress that from the very beginning.”
Over the past decade or so, Frazier has taken some of the top students from Warren Tech’s audio and music production classes and had them intern with him, both during his stint at the Walnut Room and more recently at Ophelia’s. They’d shadow him through a year’s worth of concerts, and eventually he would give them their own gigs. Frazier says most of the sound crew at Ophelia’s has interned with him.
“One of my main guys started interning with me when he was seventeen years old at the Walnut Room,” Frazier says. “He's now in his mid-twenties and working at Ophelia’s. There's a track record of success coming out of this program. It's amazing how much they learn in a year, coming in every day and doing this stuff.”
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