Brenda Francis at Modesto Sound Studio’s control center
I don't know which would be more nerve-wracking for a high school student: auditioning in front of a group of stern music instructors or performing your work in a studio, knowing that every note, every breath is being recorded in the next room by some strange engineer. Thankfully, teenagers in the Modesto, Calif., area don't have to stress out while working at Modesto Sound Studio (www.modestosound.com), a new home-based operation launched by engineer Brenda Francis. A former Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra manager and familiar face around Modesto High School, Francis caters specifically to youth ages six to 18 and offers them a ridiculously low rate ($15 an hour). Students gain invaluable studio experience and walk away with a CD that they can either use for auditions or just keep for themselves and play for their friends.
A Digi 002 system equipped with Pro Tools LE software, an iMac G5 with a 20-inch screen and a Focusrite Octo Pre comprise the basis of Francis' studio setup. She also owns an AKG C414 for vocals, Octava MC012s for overheads and “a whole bunch of 57s” for everything else. A drum set, keyboards and bass guitar are on-hand for impromptu overdubs.
A Modesto High student records her audition
Francis recently recorded a Modesto High student's violin performance for her Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra audition. “It only took an hour,” says Francis, “and she left with two CDs: one for the school and one for herself. And it only cost her $15.”
As part of the Stanislaus Arts Council, Francis can run the studio as a non-profit organization. She also participates in the council's after-school “Stars” program, giving lectures to junior high and high school classes on the difference between analog and digital, what an MP3 is, how to legally download music and the various careers available in the music business.
Francis notes that her previous experience working with young adults not only helps on a “calming nervous students” level, but also on a more technical level. “Being the manager of the youth orchestra gave me a chance to hear all of the band and orchestra instruments many times, so I know what each one should sound like when I am mixing. I am also a drummer, which is beneficial when I'm mixing those.”