The Sounds of Success | Webster University

The Sounds of Success

Audio at Webster University As the audio production program celebrates 25 years at Webster University, professors and students look at the program's strengths and focus on the future

ST. LOUIS (MARCH 26, 2015) - Loud sounds, glaringly bright red doors, a leopard skin lamp and a Spinal Tap action figure are just a few of the signs that the audio labs at Webster University’s School of Communications offer a slightly different learning experience from what you’d find in the more traditional classrooms down the hall.

“We’ve worked really hard to create a positive and fun atmosphere,” said Barry Hufker, professor and chair of the Department of Audio Aesthetics and Technology. “We try to make it so that from the moment you enter, you feel like this is an exciting, different and creative place to be.”

The program began with only seven students and two small studios in Webster Hall and within two years the number of students had increased to 60. Today, with 125 students, the program is the largest in the School of Communications, offering online courses, a focus in international education and an audio recording summer camp for high school students. 

“Webster had the foresight to know that they wanted to have an audio program,” said Hufker. “I knew that we didn’t want just 1980s Audio classa music recording program – everyone else was trying to produce music recording engineers and we were the first school anywhere to teach audio for media in all of its forms. If it has to do with entertainment media – we’ve got it covered.”

Audio for entertainment media includes music recording but also embraces sound reinforcement for concerts and other live events, audio maintenance, audio facility management and sound design for theater, film, video and gaming. Despite the strong foundation, the department continues to add new offerings to respond to the changing industry.

“We’ve been creating new classes as we go. We’ve been really progressive trying to have a large impact in many aspects of the industry,” said Hufker. “In recent years we’ve added Technical Ear Training and we’re one of just a handful of schools in the world teaching this type of critical listening skill. We’ve also added business entrepreneur tracks in audio so students can learn to manage a business.”

In addition to Technical Ear Training, the program has been able to utilize Webster University’s global network of campuses by enabling students from the United States to travel to Geneva to learn location recording, and loudspeaker design and construction. An Emphasis in International Audio Production was also added about eight years ago to incorporate an international internship outside of the student’s native country.

Jessica Kasström graduated from Webster University in 2011 with the Emphasis in International Audio Production.

“I am a native of Sweden so adding the international emphasis gave me that extra ‘oomph’ when applying for jobs in Sweden and abroad,” said Jessica Kasström, a 2011 graduate.  “Since English is my second language, my international internship was actually done in St. Louis. I was an intern at KDHX Community Media, where I recorded bands touring through St. Louis.”

In addition to the unique class offerings, the School of Communications plans to improve the studio spaces within the next few years as a part of Sverdrup Hall's renovation.

“We are going to have state-of-the-art studios,” said Hufker. “What we’ve had for the past 20 years is really good but it’s time for a major leap forward. There are going to be a variety of new studios and we’re really excited about that.

While the classes and future studio improvements are a huge draw for new students, Hufker believes that the department's success can be attributed to the people involved in the program.

“For the audio industry being as competitive as it is, the students here are very supportive of each other and are very friendly,” he said. “You come here and find friends and you learn to express yourself creatively.”

Students agree and say the small class sizes help build camaraderie and also build hands-on experience.

“The audio program’s strengths are definitely the classroom setting – small classes with professionals from the industry teaching you,” Kasström said. “With professionals as teachers, you know you are learning what you need to know to work out in the field in the best way possible. The teachers gladly share their experience and give pointers. I felt very prepared for not only the technical aspects of the job but also how to deal with other situations that can occur.”

Dylan Voss, a current student in the audio department agrees with Kasström.

“All of the adjunct faculty are involved in other outside jobs,” said Voss. “Paul Hennerich works every week at the St. Louis Symphony so he has a lot of examples and experience that he relates to things we learn in class, such as how the symphony's digital audio signal makes it to the NPR radio broadcasts and how that relates to the digital audio we work with in class.”

Barry Hufker teaching and audio classThe department currently has three full-time faculty and 13 adjunct faculty members. Hufker is the only faculty member in the Department of Audio Aesthetics and Technology who has been with Webster University for all 25 years of the program’s history.

“I’m proud of what’s been built and I’m really proud of the students,” said Hufker. “Everybody who comes here is pretty much like I was at their age. I just remember how I wanted to succeed and I wanted to do something important in audio. Being able to be in a position where you can help students realize that dream is a really cool place to be.”

For more information on the Bachelor of Arts degree in Audio Production, visit the School of Communications website.