Making Music at Tulsa Tech

By: Emma Zeller

In our age of education, there are more opportunities offered to students in the classroom than ever before. Countless schools are creating specialized programs in order to hone the talents of students. Tulsa Tech is a great place to find these courses. Sarah N’genda, 11, is a talented singer and aspiring musician who attends both Tulsa Tech and Jenks High School. She joined Tulsa Tech’s Sound Engineering program to learn more about making music.

“I recommend this class so much, honestly, it’s so important,” N’genda explains. “If you want to be a musician, you need to know these things, even if it’s not your specialty. Everyone in the music industry is going to know this stuff, so you’ll need to know it too.” 

In N’genda’s class, students attend the campus from 8 a.m. to 10:50 a.m. every school day. This gives students time to be back at Jenks High School by the third class period. 

One great opportunity that this course provides is giving students hands-on experience in a real recording studio.

“It’s nice to work in a professional studio, to get that experience. Tech has a huge studio, to be trusted with it is kind of crazy to me. Not a lot of people who want to do music get to go to a studio like that, which is why I recommend this to anyone that asks,” says N’genda.

The Riverside Campus Sound Engineering course is taught by Walt Bowers, an experienced instructor for the video and audio class. 

“Mr. Bowers is a great teacher, he’s done so many things with sound engineering,” N’genda remarks. “He once helped solve a crime with audio, he had to separate the audio from security camera footage to hear the crime. He also has a huge home studio and mixes albums for bands. He’s very professional.”

N’genda excitedly shows off her home studio.

Students receive college credit for completing the Sound Engineering program. N’genda is able to learn recording techniques using professional equipment like ProTools music software. 

“I learned how to be professional in the studio. We really focused on how to do things faster and more efficiently when mixing and mastering,” N’genda says. “When students pass the class they get a ProTools certification, which is insane to me. It’s amazing to get that knocked out in high school, it shows dedication. It’s crazy to go to a studio after high school and be like ‘Hey! I know what I’m doing here, I know this software!’”.

N’genda mixes different tracks for her songs.

A lot of what students are taught in this class is how to conduct themselves professionally in the studio. N’genda is able to work both in the Tulsa Tech studio, and her at-home studio.

“Once I got to learn the little tips and tricks for Pro Tools, I realized it’s all really simple,” N’genda comments.

Throughout the year, students like Sarah are given a range of assignments to test what they have learned in a hands-on way, such as recording commercials. They mix all the audio together with the same software and technique that they use for music, but they orient it to work for video and dialogue.

“One time he gave us a clip from a movie and all the sound was taken off of it, so we had to replace it,” N’genda mentions. “Every footstep and door closing, even the music and the wind.”

N’genda records the vocals for her track.

At this point in the year, students are currently working on their final projects. Mr. Bowers gave students two options for their final, they can create a video or audio project. If they choose to do a video, they make a short movie. If they decide to do an audio final, they create an EP of four to five songs. N’genda chose to do an audio final, she is tasked with writing music and lyrics, recording the tracks, and mixing everything for each one of the songs.

“My favorite part of this project is the freedom, Mr. Bowers tells us to ‘go to the studio and make what you want’. Of course there are requirements that you need to meet, but other than that you can pretty much make any music you like,” N’genda describes. “A lot of the recording part of it is you using what you know (like drums, guitar, piano), and applying it to your music. You can really make what you want out of this class.”

N’genda lays down piano tracks for her final.

The final is six hundred points, and students have options as to how they get them. They are given options on what types of songs they record, points for those range from fifty to eighty points per song and can require up to sixteen different tracks. The students are directed to master all songs in a different session, and then they turn the project in on one mastered CD. 

“We can have up to 3 covers on the final project, but we need to make them into a different genre,” claims N’genda. “So, if all else fails, I could use my little brother’s ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ trap remix” she jokes.

In the future, N’genda plans to attend The Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma (ACM@UCO). She joined this class to get the basic information of audio recording and mixing so that she will be able to apply it to her studies at UCO.

N’genda strums her guitar to practice her track.

“Above everything, I just want to make music,” N’genda smiles and explains. “I love it because I can relate to it, feel it. Music can bring back so many memories, and it’s the one thing that is universal. I just want to make music that makes other people feel the same way I do when I listen to it.”

** Words to know:

DAW – digital audio workstation

Equalizing – adjusting the volume of a track when it reaches certain frequencies

Compressing – reducing how dynamic the volume ranges are on a track

Mastering – preparing audio for distribution

Alternative Instruments – making sounds for a track that are not made by instruments, such as 

making a beat by hitting a door

To get more information about the Tulsa Tech Sound Engineering Program, you can visit this site: https://tulsatech.edu/full-time-programs/arts-a-v-technology-and-communications/sound-engineering/

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