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A Conversation with Blaise Barton, President of E.A.R.S.

I had a chance to talk with Blaise Barton, President of EARS (Engineering And Recording Society) of Chicago about their organization. Blaise was elected President in November 2009. It seems fitting that Blaise got his first break when he was hired at Chicago’s ACME Recording as an assistant engineer for EARS founder, Mike Rasfeld in 1988. He attended some of the earliest EARS meetings. Over the years his career grew from being assistant engineer, to chief engineer at ACME Recording, to owning and operating his own studio business, JoyRide Studio. This year, Blaise won his first Grammy along with Chicago producer / engineer (and EARS co-founder) Michael Freeman for work on the Pine Top Perkins / Willie Smith album Joined At the Hip in the “Best Traditional Blues Album” category.

EARS was founded in 1986 as an independent non-profit group dedicated to the advancement of excellence in audio production. A handful of Chicago engineers gathered at an AES show in New York in 1985 realizing that they met more away from home than they did back at home. The idea of EARS was born – a monthly social get-together where competitors could meet in an atmosphere of friendship, talk about gear, business, and music. The creed or motto on their logo says, “Deaf Before Dishonor.” (Another logo has the additional saying, “Don’t Shed On Me”.) EARS is a 501(c)3 organization.

As the music industry changed, so did EARS. The organization evolved to become truly music-centric and has opened their doors to all members of the community to create a group that encompasses every aspect of the music industry.

In a nutshell, the focus of EARS can be summed up as “fun, industry, and education” – that is have fun, discuss issues regarding the business, attend educational events, visit other studios and bring in high-profile guest speakers. In 2010, EARS guest speakers included Eddie Kramer, Bob Clearmountain, and Jim Gaines. At the February 2011 meeting, Russ Berger was the guest speaker.

There are approximately 180 members with 4-5 new members joining every month. Members consist of recording engineers, studio owners, musicians, students, manufacturers and pro-audio representatives. The Chicago market is diversified with post production work (for ad agencies such as Opus and Leo Burnett), a thriving music community and of course blues. Many new members are students from local audio programs. In Chicago, the main schools that offer programs are Columbia College, Flash Point Academy, DePaul University and more recently Northwestern University.

EARS meets monthly to discuss techniques and issues facing the recording industry. EARS meetings are held on the last Tuesday of every month (unless otherwise noted) at various studios and establishments around Chicago. Last November, Genelec’s Paul Stewart along with distributor Spoiled By Technology demonstrated setup and fine tuning of Genelec’s advanced 8260A monitors configured in a 5.1 arrangement at Chicago’s world class studio Chicago Recording Company. Using Genelec’s finely tuned system, EARS then conducted a master class on mixing in 5.1 Surround led by CRC’s Chris Steinmetz and American Mobile founder, CRC manager, and EARS member Chris Shepard. Besides the monthly meetings, activities include an annual holiday party, an annual summer BBQ and the occasional EARS Roast. EARS puts out a very well edited newsletter called EARDRUM.

One of the issues EARS has been discussing is the proliferation of studios started by recent graduates who were unable to find sustaining work – an issue not unique to Chicago and a common thread seen throughout the country.

EARS is well organized and is a very active organization. Please visit the EARS Web site to find out how you can join their group. You can also find more information about them on their facebook page or LinkedIn Groups.

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