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Grammy Award-winning professor inspires students
by Kathryn Letellier, USM Public Affairs intern
When you think of the University of Southern Maine School of Music, you probably think of performances you've heard from the chorale or jazz band, however, the School also offers cutting-edge courses in the digital production side of music.
An established mastering engineer at Gateway Mastering Studios in Portland, Adam Ayan has also shared his knowledge with students at the University’s School of Music for 18 years, teaching courses on the recording and editing process of digital audio.
His work as a mastering engineer has garnered Ayan a total of 42 Grammy Award-winning projects, six Grammy Awards, and many nominations beyond that. Most recently, in 2017 several of his projects were nominated for Grammys (listed below) for artists such as Shakira, Reba McEntire, Lady Antebellum and Lana Del Rey.
Ayan worked on Shakira’s album “El Dorado,” which won Best Latin Pop Album, and Reba McEntire’s album “Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope" which won Best Roots Gospel Album at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
In addition to these artists, Ayan has worked with popular musicians such as Paul McCartney, Carrie Underwood, Katy Perry, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, the Foo Fighters and the Rolling Stones.
“As a mastering engineer, what I love most is that I have a creative hand in improving the sonics of an entire recording. I am the last creative step in the process of making a recording, and get to hear the recording as a whole, and improve upon it as a whole. That is very satisfying to me creatively,” Ayan said.
Though not all artists attend the mastering sessions of their work, Ayan recounted a time when he worked with one of his industry favorites. “As a young musician I was a huge Rush fan, and in fact, my very first concert experience as a teenager was a Rush show at the Worcester Centrum. Approximately 10 years after that experience I was not only mastering a project for them, but Alex Lifeson himself was in the room with me [mastering]. It was a very gratifying experience!” he said.
Ayan’s enthusiasm carries into the classroom, “I truly learn a lot from my students and gain a perspective from them that often opens my mind and ears in ways that differ from what I do daily in my mastering studio,” he said.
Bobby Dall, a fourth year Media Studies major said he was surprised to hear Ayan on one of his favorite podcasts over the summer (@unstoppablerecordingmachine.) “I actually heard him on a producing podcast and I thought he was so cool and then he started talking about teaching at USM and I was like, hey I’m taking that class.”
A frequent speaker at national industry events, Ayan says it was his interest in engaging with like-minded people that made him interested in teaching at a university.
His Intro to Digital Audio and Music Production course is open to students of all majors, though a musical background is strongly encouraged. Throughout the course, Ayan inspires students by sharing stories of his work as a mastering engineer and takes students on a tour of his professional workspace at Gateway Mastering Studios.
Of his intro class, Ayan said, “The goal is to not only teach students how to record, but also to provide a solid foundation of the principles of audio. I firmly believe that learning those principles will make my students better recordists all around, and allow them to grow their recording skill set over time”.
For students like Dall, Ayan’s class is a step towards a successful career in music.
“I can think of a few students that have gone on to work professionally in audio and recording. They are Ian Cushman, Katie Gilchrest and Jordan Dube. Many, many more of my students have gone on to be professional musicians” Ayan said.
As someone who has taken the class, I can say that it is not one to miss. The stories Adam tells are fascinating, and the class trip to Gateway Mastering Studios where we got to see Adam’s awards, is a day that I won’t forget.
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
Sarah McLachlan – “Wintersong”
Best Pop Vocal Album
Lana Del Rey – “Lust For Life”
Best Latin Pop Album
Shakira – “El Dorado”
Best Country Solo Performance
Maren Morris – “I Could Use A Love Song”
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
Lady Antebellum – “You Look Good”
Midland – “Drinkin’ Problem”
Best Country Song
Midland – “Drinkin’ Problem”
Best Country Album
Lady Antebellum – “Heart Break”
Thomas Rhett – “Life Changes”
Best Roots Gospel Album
Reba McEntire – “Sing It Now: Songs Of Faith & Hope”
Article by Kathryn Letellier, intern, USM Office of Public Affairs and student in Political Science and Media Studies
Color photo of Adam Ayan by Gail Ludwig, and B/W photo of Adam Ayan taken by Hannah Tarkinson