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Tuned In

April 4, 2017

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

It was a familiar walk through the halls of Stewarts Creek High School.

Lockers.

Banners.

Event advertisements.

Then a left turn and one step through the solid wood door into room 416, and the experiences Jon Decious and Steevie Steeves remember from their respective high schools are no longer similar to Stewarts Creek.

Not even a vague resemblance.

Stewarts Creek, the newest high school in Rutherford County, opened in Fall 2013, and offers students a three- and four-year audio production program that includes a fully operational recording studio.

“My high school was not equipped with audio engineering or any of this,” said Steeves, one half of the duo Towne. “This is insane and I love it. I absolutely love it and I wish we would have had something like that.”

Decious agreed.

“It’s incredible,” he added. “Everybody else has to move to Nashville to do this and these cats are growing up with it.”

The cats Decious is referring to are the juniors and seniors he and Steeves spoke with when they were guests in Josh Hoevelmann’s third-year audio production class.

Decious, who previously played with The Pink Spiders, and Steeves met and formed a Nashville-based duo whose passion and harmonies mix country, rock, pop and folk. They were the latest in a growing list of recording artists, who call nearby Nashville home, to make the 25-mile trip from Music Row to the studio.

Stephen-Charles Stoner, 18, a senior at Stewarts Creek, stayed behind after class to glean more from Decious and Steeve’s experiences in the music industry.

Towne spent about an hour with the entire class, while Stoner and his best friend Brent Liles lingered afterward with more questions for the duo.

“I learned a lot about overall connections and networking and going out there and putting yourself out there,” said Stoner, a drummer for Mile 24.

Stoner said his long term goal is to be on the road traveling with his band “doing our own thing.”

The recording program at Stewart Creeks is a minimum of three years with an option for a fourth.

Students spend much of their freshmen year learning terminology so they know what Hoevelmann is talking about when they go in the studio as sophomores. They also spend part of their first year looking at potential career paths.

Hoevelmann introduces students to everything from forensic audio and live sound to popular career choices like studio engineers and record producers. A recent graduate is now pursuing a career as an acoustic engineer.

As sophomores, students work in the recording studio that culminates with a recording competition where the winning song is mastered and made available on iTunes. Hoevelmann works with professors from the MTSU recording program to help judge and expose students to some of their first professional contacts outside of the classroom.

Juniors spend the year learning about live audio.

They work pep rallies and help with the school musical as well as concerts and press conferences. Students develop an understanding for “what the equipment is capable of” said Hoevelmann.

“I learned so much the past four years being here,” said Stoner, who took advantage of the optional year to refocus on audio recording. “Not just as a student, but even as an artist … it’s made me better.”

Stoner said having guests like Towne has made his own aspirations “feel attainable.”

The audio program is also where he met his bandmates.

However, Stoner and his classmates learned about the importance of networking from Decious and Steeves.

Decious said a school visit like the one they made before Stewarts Creek enjoyed a week of spring break is “less about teaching one thing,” especially songwriting, and more about sharing their overall experience. He told students interested in pursuing a career in the music industry they need to be relentless and determined.

He and Steeves also stressed no one, including themselves, can do it alone. Decious told them they “need to constantly meet strangers” and new people.

In fact, networking through social media is how Towne met Hoevelmann, who saw the duo perform at a car dealership in nearby Franklin in early January. Hoevelmann sent a Tweet and Tweeted back and forth a few times. Two months later, Decious and Steeves were guests in his audio recording class.

It proved to be a great lesson for Hoevelmann’s class.

“I don’t think this program works this way in too many other places,” said Hoevelmann, with regard to the school’s proximity to the Nashville music scene. “They talk to the guest speakers, like Towne, and they hear them. They know how lucky they are.”

PHOTO / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Alam Gonzalez and Stephen-Charles Stoner sit together at the mixing board while listening back to a recent recording. Joshua Sullivan (standing) observes the session. 

PHOTO / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
John Howell, Devin Lester and Jackson Smith check the levels for a live audio production.