Together, Rob Jaczko and Daniel M. Thompson oversee the Music Production and Engineering Department at Boston's Berklee College of Music. Both are alumni of the iconic institution and own enviable industry backgrounds. After graduation, Jaczko spent some time at MIT, engineered at Los Angeles’ A&M Studios and returned, ultimately, to Berklee, where he was offered a teaching gig. He became chair of the program in 2000.
A veteran of Harvard, Thompson was drawn to Berklee initially to study jazz, but soon segued into production. Later he launched a production company at which he created tracks for music and film. In 1998 the audio entrepreneur returned to visit his alma mater, was tapped to teach some classes and went on to become the department Assistant Chair. In 2005 Thompson published Understanding Audio: Getting the Most Out of Your Project or Professional Recording Studio.
Many in the industry advocate studio experience over a formal production or engineering education. Jaczko, however, maintains that Berklee offers much that assistant gigs or internships can’t. “The principal distinction is that students are hand-selected, world-class musicians to begin with,” he says. “We audition about seven thousand people a year to seat a freshman class of eleven hundred. There are other programs that teach sound recording arts, but many of those are set within small music programs in large universities. Our metric is different. We have five thousand musicians on campus.
“The program is predicated on collaboration,” Thompson adds. “Many of our successful alumni began their partnerships while here. They graduate as cohorts and those relationships continue to be fruitful. Other alums look to us to send them the next wave of aspiring producers and engineers. We have a built-in network and support system.”
Indeed, beyond Berklee’s formal offerings, Jaczko observes, collaboration is a critical piece of what it delivers. “[At Berklee] you’re part of a team and your ability to work with others is going to help spell your success,” he says. “If people don’t gravitate towards you, then it’s really difficult to succeed.
“From the knowledge side, tools change rapidly,” he continues. “We emphasize the fundamentals; we put students in front of many different consoles. If you only learn a particular DAW, then your currency is limited. You learn how to learn so that you can apply that to technology as it changes.” Although a number of recording tools are employed across the college’s curriculum, Pro Tools tends to be emphasized.
Berklee maintains relationships with many of the well-known studios and is often viewed as a staff source. “Routinely, we’re called from all of the major studios in all of the entertainment centers when they need people for entry-level positions,” Jaczko explains. “Additionally, many of our staff are studio masters. There’s Tina Morris at The Village Recorder and Jaime Sickora at Henson, for example. These women are alumnae of the program and are in hiring positions.”
Between the pair, Jaczko and Thompson have more than 50 years of production and engineering experience. What, then, do they feel should be a producer’s guiding philosophy? “Humility,” Jaczko asserts. “Listen more than you talk. Our objective is to highlight the vision of the artist so check your ego at the door.”
“Keep the goal at the forefront,” Thompson adds. “You’re trying to create an emotional moment. Ultimately, you tell a story and try to move an audience. When you start from that point, everything else is in service of that.”
Berklee boasts an impressive alumni roster, among which are artist and producer Charlie Puth who’s earned billions of YouTube views, Latin Grammy-winner Tony Maserati and Steve Vai. Recently the college acquired New York’s Power Station, formerly known as Avatar Studios. The aim is to offer students the opportunity to cap their formal education in a storied space in a legendary city. This May, 10 students will be brought to London’s Abbey Road Studios to work with several audio luminaries, including famed Beatles’ engineer Ken Scott.