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Tuff Sound apprentice program teaches fundamentals of music production

| Sunday, March 27, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, back center, of Wilkinsburg, and apprenticeship co-director Amos Levy, far left, of Regent Square, talk with music production apprentices at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016. The studio is hosting a new mentorship program that works with youth to teach them how to be music producers and work in a studio. Also pictured in the photo are young musicians Jordan 'Livefromthecity' Howard, back right, 21, of Wilkinsburg, Zach Stadtlander, front center, 20, of Fox Chapel, and Lyndon Shelton, far right, 18, of Hazelwood.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, back center, of Wilkinsburg, and apprenticeship co-director Amos Levy, far left, of Regent Square, talk with music production apprentices at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016. The studio is hosting a new mentorship program that works with youth to teach them how to be music producers and work in a studio. Also pictured in the photo are young musicians Jordan 'Livefromthecity' Howard, back right, 21, of Wilkinsburg, Zach Stadtlander, front center, 20, of Fox Chapel, and Lyndon Shelton, far right, 18, of Hazelwood.
Music production apprentices Jordan 'Livefromthecity' Howard, center, 21, of Wilkinsburg, and Lyndon Shelton, left, 18, of Hazelwood, listen to Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, right, of Wilkinsburg, as he explains elements of sound recording at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Music production apprentices Jordan 'Livefromthecity' Howard, center, 21, of Wilkinsburg, and Lyndon Shelton, left, 18, of Hazelwood, listen to Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, right, of Wilkinsburg, as he explains elements of sound recording at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016.
Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, front right, of Wilkinsburg, explains micing the guitar amp to sound recording apprentices Zach Stadtlander, back center, 20, of Fox Chapel, and Lyndon Shelton, back right, 18, of Hazelwood as apprenticeship co-director Amos Levy, far left, of Regent Square, stands by at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, front right, of Wilkinsburg, explains micing the guitar amp to sound recording apprentices Zach Stadtlander, back center, 20, of Fox Chapel, and Lyndon Shelton, back right, 18, of Hazelwood as apprenticeship co-director Amos Levy, far left, of Regent Square, stands by at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016.
Zach Stadtlander, 20, of Fox Chapel, lays down a guitar track in the live room at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016. 'It's a big opportunity,' says Stadtlander of the music production apprenticeship and getting to learn in a professional studio.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Zach Stadtlander, 20, of Fox Chapel, lays down a guitar track in the live room at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016. 'It's a big opportunity,' says Stadtlander of the music production apprenticeship and getting to learn in a professional studio.
Zach Stadtlander, 20, of Fox Chapel, prepares to lay down a guitar track in the live room at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016. On the other side of the glass, Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl explains his thoughts to the other music production apprentices. 'It's a big opportunity,' says Stadtlander of the music production apprenticeship and getting to learn in a professional studio.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Zach Stadtlander, 20, of Fox Chapel, prepares to lay down a guitar track in the live room at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016. On the other side of the glass, Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl explains his thoughts to the other music production apprentices. 'It's a big opportunity,' says Stadtlander of the music production apprenticeship and getting to learn in a professional studio.
Music production apprentice Lyndon Shelton, left, 18, of Hazelwood, listens to Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, right, of Wilkinsburg, as he explains elements of sound recording at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Music production apprentice Lyndon Shelton, left, 18, of Hazelwood, listens to Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, right, of Wilkinsburg, as he explains elements of sound recording at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016.
Music production apprentices Jordan 'Livefromthecity' Howard, far left, 21, of Wilkinsburg, and Zach Stadtlander, 20, of Fox Chapel, listen to apprenticeship program co-director Amos Levy, back, of Regent Square and Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, right, of Wilkinsburg, explain sound compression at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Music production apprentices Jordan 'Livefromthecity' Howard, far left, 21, of Wilkinsburg, and Zach Stadtlander, 20, of Fox Chapel, listen to apprenticeship program co-director Amos Levy, back, of Regent Square and Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, right, of Wilkinsburg, explain sound compression at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016.
Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, right, of Wilkinsburg, and apprenticeship co-director Amos Levy, back, of Regent Square, talk with music production apprentices Jordan 'Livefromthecity' Howard, back left, 21, of Wilkinsburg, and Lyndon Shelton, front, 18, of Hazelwood at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016. 'When we go back to an amateur setting, we can go back to the amateur setting with professional knowledge, said Howard.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Owner and Head Engineer of Tuff Sound Recording Herman 'Soy Sos' Pearl, right, of Wilkinsburg, and apprenticeship co-director Amos Levy, back, of Regent Square, talk with music production apprentices Jordan 'Livefromthecity' Howard, back left, 21, of Wilkinsburg, and Lyndon Shelton, front, 18, of Hazelwood at the Tuff Sound recording studios in Homewood on Sunday, March 6, 2016. 'When we go back to an amateur setting, we can go back to the amateur setting with professional knowledge, said Howard.

Musicians have to overcome many obstacles before they record music or perform for live audiences.

But aspiring singers or guitarists have relatively straightforward paths compared to neophyte sound engineers and producers.

Not so long ago, recording interns at major studios had to do menial tasks such as “cleaning toilets and emptying ash trays,” according to Herman Pearl, head engineer and founder of Tuff Sound Recording in North Point Breeze.

“Then you might graduate to tape operator,” Pearl says. “Then you might graduate to assistant engineer. Then you might get a break.”

The Tuff Sound Apprenticeship Program, which debuted Feb. 8, wants to streamline the process. Supported in part by the Hive Fund for Connected Learning at The Sprout Fund, Pearl and resident artist Amos Levy are mentoring six apprentices between the ages of 16 and 22 in the fundamentals of audio production. Each apprenticeship includes one month of general instruction and three months of project-oriented work.

The current apprentices were selected, after submitting samples of their work, from six partnering arts organizations: Dreams of Hope, Alumni Theater Company, 1Hood Media, YMCA Lighthouse, Hope Academy and The Arts Greenhouse.

“The people in the program are also artists and performers,” says Pearl, who records and performs as DJ Soy Sos. “They all have an interest in recording their own music, so this gives them the tools to do that. It also gives them the mindset, or maybe the temperament, to sort of understand how to train and work with other people.”

The apprentices are trained in both practical applications (optimal placement of microphones, cleanness of signal changes) and the execution of creative ideas. One goal is to demystify the technical aspects of audio production so talents naturally emerge.

“You find out what the specific interest of each apprentice is and center the instruction around that,” Levy says.

Jordan Howard, 21, of Wilkinsburg, a DJ who goes by the name the Livefromthecity, performed at mostly small venues before starting his apprenticeship. Three weeks into it, he noticed a vast improvement of his skills.

“Learning the technical things just opens up the door for more creative and artistic things,” Howard says. “Because learning so much about the technical side, now that I know this piece (of equipment), I can bring it to the creative side and open up a whole new world.”

A central goal of the Tuff Sound program is to serve communities that are under-represented in audio engineering and music production. Levy and Pearl have identified people of color, women, and the LGBT community as groups they want to include.

“That doesn't mean we're excluding people,” Levy says, “but we're giving added weight to nominations of young people representing those communities.”

“All the nominees are the type of people who want to nerd out about the technology, the technique and the work,” Pearl says. “Even though some of the people are performers, they are all people who are very interested in the technical side.”

A little under a month into the program, the apprentices, despite initially being a bit intimidated by the array of equipment available to them, had already increased their expertise. Lyndon Shelton, 18, of Hazelwood, was using “a bad program” on his home computer before starting his training.

“After coming here, I learned how to get better sounds from my laptop at home,” Shelton says.

The apprentices will perform at an open house on June 1, showcasing their work for artists, media, musicians and family. Current plans include semesters in the spring and fall, with a summer semester possible.

“This first round is the time to assess the process, assess the results, get all the data in,” Pearl says. “What we need to do right now is figure out what works, what's best, and what needs to change, and what can be added. I can foresee doing this year-round.”

Details: tuffsoundrecording.com

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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