Western Junior Erik Wallace takes control of the soundboard during the lab portion of Audio Recording 1 in the Fairhaven Recording Studio. Photo by Joe Rudko/The AS Review.

Matt Crowley/The AS Review

Nestled in the Fairhaven Commons, an unassuming set of doors sits on the east wall. There is no sign and no indication of what lies behind it, but the hundreds of artists that have passed through it over the past three decades know the capabilities that lie just beyond the thick wood and metal hinges.

The Fairhaven Recording Studio is quite possibly one of the most valuable resources at Western, but students outside of the music department and Fairhaven College may not even know about it. For those that do, the high-end equipment and recording software present capabilities and potential not found in many other locations in Whatcom County.

The studio itself is fairly inconspicuous. A wall and large pane of glass separate it into two small rooms, one used for actually playing and recording and the other for monitoring and later mixing the final product.

Russ Fish, the Fairhaven Recording Studio coordinator, took steps to clean up the studio a bit, adding couches and artwork to give the studio and its collection of high-end equipment an intimate, cozy feel. The mixing room includes a giant mixing board and an Apple desktop computer that is used to run ProTools, an industry-standard music software program used by the audio program.

Fish also teaches classes that use the studio, including Audio I and II, Intro to ProTools, and ProTools HD. Many of the hands-on lab portions of these classes are taught by students, and those who help out with the labs can do so to receive independent study credit or just do it for fun. This hands-on approach is practiced in classes throughout Fairhaven College.

“Fairhaven is great in some respects because some of the responsibility is put on the students to teach themselves,” he said.

All Western students, even those not enrolled at Fairhaven, can schedule time in the studio as long as those who sign up know how to use the equipment. According to Fish, a typical recording session takes 8 to 10 hours, followed by a 2 to 3-hour mixing session. All scheduling is done on a calendar posted just outside the studio doors, where students can reserve time by writing their name in the time blocks they wish to use.

One of Fish’s goals this year is to create more interplay between the studio and Western’s music department. Fish said that like all students, musicians in the music department aren’t always sure if they can use the studio. In fact, the majority of students taking the audio classes are not even Fairhaven students. To help eliminate this misconception, Fish hopes to bring ProTools software to computer labs across campus, including the Music Instructional Technology Lab in the Performing Arts Center. He recently applied for a second tech fee grant to help make it happen.

“It would be really beneficial to a lot of people,” said Fish.

The bulk of studio time is used for independent or class-related student projects, sometimes involving local musicians. Austin Jenckes, Rooftops and Palisades have all recorded at Fairhaven, and the free studio time is a valuable resource for recording artists. Students have even brought in out-of-town bands to record as well.

“For the type of people that don’t want to take the classes, there’s always a ton of studio time through student projects you can use,” said Fish.

Western student Toby Reif, who has used the studio numerous times and has helped out with some of the audio labs, said the studio provides opportunities for students and musicians alike.

“It gives a really unique opportunity for bands because it’s hard for local bands to get professional-sounding recordings,” said Reif. “Plus, it’s cool for aspiring engineers to get their hands on really high-end equipment.”

Western student and Palisades member Noah Megn echoed Reif’s sentiment. “I think it’s a neat resource for students,” Megn said. “It’s really sweet to not only see all of the cool equipment you can use, but to see how much time people put into it.”