I wanted to write an article about the River Music Experience and their audio engineering classes. I talked with Lars Rehnberg who teaches the program. First I want to give you a little background information about Rehnberg. The article below is from the RME web site and the interview follows.
Head Instructor Lars Rehnberg is an award-winning composer, an avid classical guitarist, and Creative Director of River Drive Records. The fledgling record label received national press on BMI.com and other sites recently when a recording they produced for singer/songwriter Kyle Ferguson won the John Lennon Songwriting competition. Other recent project include audio and video recordings for the Bix Jazz Festival, Circa ’21, West Music, and Chamber Music Quad Cities.
Mr. Rehnberg has studied education for 12 years, audio engineering and acoustics for 13 years, and music theory for 15 years. He loves to teach, and is fortunate to have had over a decade of classroom experience, from academic tutoring in his hometown of Rockford, Illinois, to High School-level Special Education in Easton, Massachusetts, to Freshman English Composition at the University of Alabama. He currently sings and plays guitar for the local rock/flamenco/jazz band Ragaman. Mr. Rehnberg designed the recording curricula for the Sound Lab program with a strong emphasis on real-world production skills. Students finish their first recording after only 4 hours of class time. The program, which is the only one of its kind in the Quad Cities, consists of three 8-week courses taken in a sequence.
Billy Rose: Can you talk a little bit about how this all began. Tell us about how the whole concept started and evolved into what the River Music Experience has today.
Lars Rehnberg: Oh, originally I was gonna form my own non-profit. I was gonna do an educational recording studio model, so I could teach. I was gonna actually teach both music lessons and how to record.
Every student would learn an instrument and audio technology and how to do music in the real world. And a little bit of music business as well. I was trying to think holistically in music about how we train people in one side of it and not the other. Here’s how to play the guitar but how do you actually go out and play guitar.
So any way I found out it’s horribly difficult to form a non-profit, I came pretty close to doing it but instead what I ended up doing, which I think was wiser, was to work through the River Music Experience.
RME is really in line with that mission anyway. They wanted educational programming like this. And they were ready to go. I talked to them about it, and they said we are applying for a grant, help us write the grant and be involved. So I’ve been able to write all the curricula for this from the ground up.
That’s been really cool. To design a program completely. In the past I’ve always been given a curriculum. This is what you have to teach, ya know. So it’s been really liberating to do it the other way (laughs).
Billy Rose: Did you start out right from the beginning knowing what you wanted or do you adjust as you go?
Lars Rehnberg: I think a little of both. I had a really well defined vision for it, because I gone through the process of writing articles of incorporation for a non-profit. I had to get very specific about how the courses were gonna be conducted and even what the cash flow was gonna look like. I had to do a three year projection. I was really serious about it. But at the same time in practice and with the equipment in hand some things have been different. I have been able to do more in some areas and less in others.
Some things were just more difficult than I thought. Like the very first soldering lab…we build a microphone cable…um that’s hard. I didn’t expect it to take as long as it took and I didn’t expect people to be so emotional about it (laughs). They were like “this is really hard”. It was good that we had several soldering labs because the next time they said “it is so much easier this time”. It’s always harder the first time but I didn’t think it was gonna be that hard. That was interesting.
Billy Rose: What about the equipment you are using? Did you request this specific equipment?
Lars Rehnberg: The original grant…a lot of the equipment was selected and purchased by Justin Farley, who runs the sound in the Redstone Room. He set up the basics. He got us a recording desk and he got us a really nice pair of monitors and the Pro Tools interface. Then they bought the student desks and all that stuff. It was basically all purchased by the RME team before I even got here.
The stuff since then I have been able to work with them…based on the curricula and what the students needs are. What do we need to expand into…the Yamaha O2R mixing desk is new…before that we were just using a live mixer that I brought in. Which is perfectly fine! It’s a great little mixer. But it is really nice to have the digital mixer; it just brings us into the Twenty First century. It has fully automated faders…you can recall different setting on the board. It’s a really nice piece of hardware.
Billy Rose: So right now you have two classes going through your program?
Lars Rehnberg: Yeah, we have two sets of students working their way through the classes right now.
Billy Rose: The first group is about ready to graduate. Do they get a diploma?
Lars Rehnberg: Yeah, they’ll get a certificate. We’re not accredited right now. We’re looking into accreditation. It’s a very slow process. Both the research that goes into preparing for accreditation and actually getting it. They are both slow processes. It’s very technical. There are a lot of things you have to pass.
The main thing is in the knowledge. Like knowing how to do it. I’m sure if you went and asked any of my students who are in Audio Engineering 103, “Do you know how to make a recording”, they would say like yeah absolutely. Yes they know how to do it.
You get a certificate for each of the classes 101, 102 and 103.
We are not a diploma granting body, but we very well could be in the near future.
Billy Rose: So you are teaching anybody how to go through the process of the first recording all the way to promoting, is that right?
Lars Rehnberg: Yep! Promoting, distributing and things like how to set up an electronic press kit. How to do graphic design for a flyer. How to take a good photo. All of those things that you need to know. My approach is “What do you need to know to make music in the real world?”, that is what we’re gonna teach.
We have students actually lay out and design a flyer with Adobe Illustrator.
We learn a little about the legal side of it, about copyright law, how to protect yourself if you’re a singer/songwriter, if you have a band how to protect your songs. What if somebody comes to you with a record deal…what are some things you have to watch out for. Of course in that instance you have get representation and get a lawyer, but we do talk about the basics of that kind of thing.
Billy Rose: When you first started, what was your ultimate goal? Was it to set people up to create their own little network?
Lars Rehnberg: Part of the thinking was to help build the music industry in the Quad Cities. To raise the bar for the quality of live production that’s happening and the quality of studio recordings that are coming out of the area. Just like a lot of other people I want to see the Quad Cities on the map. Places like daytrotter.com have done an awesome job of putting us on the map. I was thinking along similar lines as they were when they first started.
We have so many musicians here. Really good entertainers and I’d love to see more recordings made of all these musicians.
It ties in too with the fact that audio recording equipment is now crazy affordable! Just about everybody can have access to it. So there are more people than ever who need to learn this stuff. I’ve been doing it forever and I love to teach so it was a really good fit. It just seemed to be the right time and the right place. And with full classes it must have been right for others too.
Billy Rose: So you have two classes going through now and a third just getting ready to start. What does someone who is interested need to do to get the ball rolling?
Lars Rehnberg: The first way to get information is always the web site, rivermusicexperience.org. If you scroll down the home page you’ll see a link to the Sound Lab. There is a sound lab logo and a link to the page. It describes all the classes in more detail, there’s a registration form there you can print out. And that has all the contact information. The point man is Ellis Kell. You can also call the phone number 563-326-1333 and ask to talk to Ellis Kell, to get more information about the program and to register.