Knowing the what and the how of things is good, but understanding the why is what makes you an audio engineer. Tim Hall , Audio Instructor , The Art Institute of Tennessee — Nashville, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta
Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?
I knew I was hooked on audio when I was 13 and I got my first SM57 and recorded my first song. Ever since, I've done nothing but try to perfect my craft, striving for the best live sound experience and recording experience. Growing up a piano player and guitar player made it easy for me to realize that my future was in creative work. And although I sit on the other side of the glass than I originally intended (I wanted to be a musician), I couldn't imagine doing anything else.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?
In my live sound classes, I often use multi-track recordings of live performances I've captured on the road with Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum...I do his sound for concerts when I'm not teaching. Students see what it’s like to be mixing for a show with those talented musicians. I do whatever I can to bring the real world into class—even bringing a full band of musicians into my studio classes for six hours and treating it exactly how a session would be run here in Nashville.
What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring, and how do you inspire students to push themselves beyond their perceived limits?
A couple of class assignments have pushed some students to really showcase their talents. One of my favorites in my Listening and Analysis class was the “pink noise” project. Using Garageband, Pro Tools, Logic, or Ableton, students created a minute-long song or soundscape using only pink noise. Obviously, they had to get really creative with effects, EQ, modulation, and automation. Some of the results were amazing—they turned pink noise into dub-step, hip hop, World War II scenes, rainstorms, TV theme songs, and video game music. Those students went above and beyond and really impressed me with their creative approach to a very difficult task.
How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?
Collaboration is key in this industry. When putting on a live concert or show, many disciplines work together to solve common problems. Everyone thinks the sound engineer just sits in a room listening to music all day. In reality, they work with many creative people and musicians. It takes a strong personality to keep them on task—not to mention collaborating with a lighting crew, video crew, studio musicians, system technicians, installation engineers, producers, and managers.
What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?
I see so many students focused on getting that “A” that they only practice what they need to pass the written test. The motivation shouldn't be for a grade, but for knowledge. The grade will usually follow—so calm down. Knowing the what and the how of things is good, but understanding the why is what makes you an audio engineer.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I got the nickname “Audio Batman” in grad school because someone was struggling with the A/V during their presentation, and I just got up and fixed it.