Tempe, Ariz., May 24, 2016 - Nik Karpen’s mother got him interested in music at a young age. The desire to learn more about music and how it’s made led Karpen to the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS), based in Tempe & Gilbert, Ariz., and a successful career as an engineer with award-winning mixer Chris Lord-Alge at MIX LA and a freelance mixer.
The early piano lessons gave him a musical foundation upon which his current career is built on. As Karpen grew up, he experimented with other instruments, including being a drummer in school bands all through school.
“I did a lot from concert bands to jazz drumming in school,” Karpen recalled. “Later, when I was in high school, I picked up the guitar for fun. I always enjoyed playing music and I’ve learned to appreciate music, as well.
“When I got to college is when I learned that engineering existed and I started doing little bits here and there for the bands. I knew I wanted to do more but I finished college because I’d made the investment in time and money. I did a lot of research, though, and found CRAS. It seemed like a great place because it was a focused, efficient program of study, especially after four years of college.”
Karpen also appreciated the importance and success that CRAS had on placing interns in actual work.
“I’d dabbled in recording before but I realized on the first day at CRAS that I didn’t know anything,” he said. “That was really exciting because there was a lot to learn. I really appreciated the hands-on training with the equipment: learning how it works and how to interface it all together, the technical background, the fact that in less than a year I’m in an internship where I walk into a studio and feel confident with the equipment.”
Karpen added that the other thing that was valuable was the people side. “In addition to the intern placement that first drew me to CRAS, they were also big on educating us about the large studio system, putting a lot of perspective on starting out, learning your place, what they are looking for, the proper attitude, and the menial tasks that the intern will do.”
That coaching set Karpen up well on his internship. He accepted a weekend internship with Conway Studios in Los Angeles. Within a month he found another internship working at Cello, which later became EastWest, during the weekdays.
“CRAS sets up the expectations well and gives the students an accurate real-world portrait of what it’s like when you take the job,” he said. “But there were a couple things I had to find out for myself. CRAS does a good job talking about the hours, but the reality can take some getting used to depending on your work situation. A lot of the recording business is built on long days at work and they’re not too worried about weekends and holidays if that’s when a recording needs to be done.”
Karpen said there is a difference with a CRAS education that he felt when he was worked a dual internship with Conway Studios on weekends and EastWest on weekdays. He still sees that difference at one of the leading studios in the nation.
“I hear stories from studio staff all the time about interns – I’m not going to name their schools – asking when they’re going to get the opportunity to become producers,” he said. “Even now, 10 years later, we still seek out CRAS students for internships – and not because I went there – but because we see consistent quality of students from the program.”
Working with Lord-Alge has pushed Karpen into other music circles where his name now comes up regularly, but he still remains true to his craft and focus on the music.
“I’ve never been a ‘hanger-on’ but some of the perks working with Chris and his clients are pretty good,” he said. “I go to a lot of concerts. I have the right passes. I get to see the band outside of the studio and interact with them socially. That was something I never thought of until it happened.”
Karpen concluded, “But it still blows me away that when I’m mixing, when I sit down and get to work, that it’s full immersion and time just passes by. It’s not that it’s sitting there for 16 hours staring at a computer screen doing work; it’s something I enjoy. There’s also nothing better than the band’s reaction after they get the final product, and that’s something fantastic to be a part of.”
The Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences is composed of two nearby campuses in Gilbert and Tempe, Ariz. A CRAS education includes broadcast audio, live sound, film and TV audio, music, and video game audio, all taught by award-winning instructors who have all excelled in their individual fields, including sound reinforcement, audio recording and production, digital recording, troubleshooting/maintenance, and music business.
The 11-month program is designed to allow every student access to learn and train in all of the Conservatory’s studios which are comprised with state-of-the-art audio recording and mixing gear, the same equipment used in today’s finest studios and remote broadcast facilities, including Pro Tools 11, API Legacy consoles, SSL AWS consoles, Studer Vista consoles, and much more. All students must complete a 280-hour industry internship to graduate from the Master Recording Program II that may ultimately lead to industry employment.