- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

CLEVELAND, Miss. (AP) - Delta State student Starlin Browning checked the time on his phone again.

“They’ll be here in about 30 minutes,” Browning said while waiting for campus police to open the door to a rehearsal room at the Delta Music Institute for entertainment industry studies.

While the majority of the university’s other 4,500 students were getting a head start on a weekend of partying at 9 p.m., Browning was more concerned about getting a chance to practice with his The Tallahatchies bandmates Ethan Vaughan and Taylor Whyte on some new songs in advance of their show in Oxford the next day.

Another 15 minutes ticked off the clock, and the band was still locked out of one of the facilities’ rehearsal spaces that is available 24 hours a day.

“The campus police hate DMI students because we’re always calling them at all hours of the day,” Browning said.

When the campus police finally arrived just shy of 9:30 p.m., the officer right on cue mentioned that she “can’t wait to get off work,” noting her next shift begins at 5:45 in the morning.

Located on the second floor of a renovated gymnasium, the rehearsal spaces are across the hall from two classroom-studios and overlook the cavernous Studio A, which houses one of the country’s only 60-track Neve analog recording consoles.

Started under the music department in 2003, the DMI was the brainchild of former Elvis Presley bass player Norbert Putnam, and the money to turn the university’s old gym into a state-of-the-art music facility came primarily through a donation from Viking Range’s Fred Carl Jr., instructor Charly Abraham says.

The students pumping out of the institute, along with local nonprofit Keep Cleveland Boring, have helped transform this town over the last decade. The 100,000 tourists expected to arrive each year after the opening of the $18 million Mississippi Grammy Museum this November will find a town that is both in the middle of the Delta’s blues tradition and forging its own sound.

“Our program wants to establish Cleveland as the music industry part of the state,” said DMI Director Tricia Walker. “If you really want to learn about the business of recording, come here and put your roots down for a while.”

The business of music

In Studio A is the program’s crown jewel, the giant Neve console. Instructor Miles Fulwider uses the console to teach signal flow, a process that cannot be practically understood on a digital board. The institute is the state’s only program accredited to teach Avid Pro Tools, which is considered the music industry’s standard for recording and mastering software.

“There is something about real transistors and electronics that impart some sort of harmonic distortion to it,” said Fulwider, who recorded music for Ken Burns’ upcoming Jackie Robinson documentary, and like all the DMI staff is actively working in the entertainment industry.

DMI junior Horace Willis, of Arcola, originally thought he would attend Ole Miss to study music or art in a classical setting until his older sister, who also attended Delta State, told him about the DMI.

“When I was younger I always listened to music and always liked it, but I never knew what went into the business of it,” Willis said. “You see the settings for EQ (equalization) on your car and I wouldn’t touch it. Now I can tell you about any type of EQ.”

Each student is required to work in an internship and must complete a senior project such as producing an album or running the logistics of an event.

“The end result is the star on stage, but everything that it takes to get them there is how a lot of these students will make a living,” Walker said. “We talk about it all the time with our students. ‘Do you want to be great or do you want to be famous?’ We can help you be great, but I can’t help you be famous.”

The DMI, which has been independent of the music department four years, now features 76 majors that will graduate either with a degree focused on sound engineering or talent management. The average incoming freshman class has increased to 27 students, more than double the size when Walker took over in 2004.

Support for the program from the university administration is strong, Walker said. President Bill LaForge announced last August the closure of five degree programs: athletic training, theater and communication studies, modern foreign languages, journalism and real estate/insurance, in attempt to save $1 million in expenses.

“We spend our hard budget frugally,” Walker said. “I knew coming in that the program was going to need external funding.”

Grant programs have allowed the DMI to renovate an old school bus and turn it into a mobile recording studio that is used by students and taken around the state as a recruiting tool. The program helped Cleveland secure a $25,000 grant to host a summer series of 10 concerts through Levitt AMP.


Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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