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Sten Isachsen

Between Classes With...

Sten Isachsen working with a guitar student in SUNY Schenectady's recording studio. Other students working in the background.

Sten Isachsen, School of Music

Sten Isachsen, Associate Professor in the School of Music, is not only a national touring musician and frequent Capital Region performer, he is also an educator and music engineer who owns a local recording studio with his wife musician Caroline (Mother Judge). Despite a packed schedule this summer, he took time out to discuss trends in the recording industry, his evolution as a musician and the Music Audio Technology program.

What's new and exciting in the recording industry?

The part that's the most interesting, and it's been happening for a while, is that everything is going digital. Everything is moving toward touch screen technology. All old analog mixing boards are being phased out and everything is digital.

Is that a good thing?

It's great for live music. Your gear doesn't weight anything anymore. Now everything is on your i-Pad. Over the past five years big sound companies have been selling their boards. In the fall, we're moving to a digital console in the auditorium. The board in our Vianna-Brignola Recording Studio is digital. It's a great piece of equipment and it makes the workload a lot easier when you're tracking and mixing.

What's important for musicians to know when they enter the recording studio?

Musicians should come in as prepared as they possibly can be, then they're not paying to practice. They should come in with a plan, but studios are also a creative environment. It's okay to have the musical direction change a little bit. It is a creative space, an artistic space.

You've been serious about music since you were in high school and are a well-known guitarist/mandolin player in the Capital Region and beyond. When did you start recording/engineering as well?

I started recording with a four-track and cassettes in high school. I recorded my own groups that I played in. I made the transition to full-time engineer when the recording industry went into the digital age mostly because it wasn't so expensive to buy your own gear. In the 1990s I jumped in with both feet into the digital recording scene. My wife and I started our own studio/rehearsal facility in Albany. I've done a lot of studio work as a musician which prepared me to start recording as well. I've played all different styles of music which helps me be a good engineer because I understand every genre that comes in the door.

What do you appreciate about the recording process?

The part I love is how precise everything needs to be once you're in the studio. When you're playing live you go for it, whatever happens you make it work. In the studio you can go back and refine it.

What makes a good recording engineer?

The technical elements really emphasize how important it is to be a good musician first in order to be a good engineer. If someone only understands the technical aspect of recording, if they don't understand the musical aspect of it, they probably won't be that good of an engineer. You need to know what every instrument really sounds like. All good engineers have always been musicians first. That's what makes our program at SUNY Schenectady so strong. All of the students have to pass an audition to be Music Audio Technology majors. They need to take theory, aural skills, and music history, play in ensembles and take private lessons. They develop as musicians at the same time they're learning about the audio recording world.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring musicians/ and engineers?

Develop your skills as a musician to the highest level that you can. As far as recording goes, buy some equipment so you can start recording, even apps for your i-Phone and mics that attach to your i-Phone. Start getting into it as soon as possible. And learn to play the piano. Most instruments are melody only. But it's easier to understand theory and to work with different instruments in the studio when you can play a harmony instrument.

About Sten Isachsen

Sten Isachsen, Associate Professor, is the lead faculty member in SUNY Schenectady's Music Audio Technology degree program. Soloist with Ithaca College String Quartet, SUNY Albany Orchestra. Current member of the string trio Musicians of Ma'alwyck and guitarist for Albany-based singer, Motherjudge, and Nashville recording artist Bob Bates. Performance producer/recording engineer at Bender Studios. Former faculty member, College of St. Rose, SUNY Albany. M.M., B.M.A., Ithaca College; A.S., SUNY Schenectady County Community College