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Keeping Gus Dudgeon’s memory alive

Chris Hook highlights the Gus Dudgeon Foundation for Recording Arts and its unique graduate music production course.

Chris Hook writes…

When we lost Gus Dudgeon and his amazing talents in 2002, I felt something should be done to preserve his heritage and remind the music industry of his importance. Apart from his charm and charisma, his great talent was production, and his ability to work with artists of various genres gave the world some of the greatest musical productions it has ever heard.

Thanks to a number of people, including his sound engineer, Stuart Epps, and his friend and fellow producer, Adam Francis, Gus’s vintage MCI console was preserved and still in fine working order, which led to the suggestion that we create a studio and training course for young engineers which would give them an insight into the traditional music recording processes of which Gus was a master. Together with a few of Gus’s industry friends, we set about founding a charity in his name – the Gus Dudgeon Foundation for Recording Arts – and Sir Elton John kindly agreed to be a patron.

However, the road to creating a worthwhile charitable operation was paved with difficulties and, after several false starts due to unavailable premises, institutions changing their minds, etc., the University of Glamorgan (now the University of South Wales) stepped in and bought the MCI console and created a space for it, which they called the Gus Dudgeon Suite, in their new arts facility in Cardiff, the ATRiuM. The opening of the studio in 2010, led by music producer and guest lecturer Katia Isakoff, was very well attended by top music artists, industry professionals and members of the APRS and MPG. One of Gus’s closest friends, Joan Armatrading, performed the opening ceremony, and Sir Elton John gave a heartfelt speech.

In July 2011, after six years and many false dawns, an executive committee was formed and we ran the first course in the studio for eight of the UK’s best graduating music technology students. The students were selected by their tutors from courses accredited by the recording industry’s educational organisation, JAMES (Joint Audio Media Education Support), which also added some financial muscle to the operation.

The Gus Dudgeon Foundation provided most of the funding for the course, including accommodation, tutoring, musicians’ fees and staff costs. Sponsors Focusrite RedNet, Michael Simkins LLP, PMI Audio, Sonic Distribution, Source Distribution and Unity Audio also contributed to the cost, and their equipment was used and demonstrated on the course. Their logos and branding appeared on the course literature, website and social network feeds.

The one-week course, entitled the GDF/JAMES Graduate Music Production Course, involved working with a notable record producer to produce a single song with a chosen artiste consisting of a backing track, vocals, and orchestral arrangement using strings and brass instruments. The equipment and techniques were essentially as used over the last 30 years of record production, with the course equipment dating from the 1970s onwards. Each student was required to show an understanding of the techniques involved and to demonstrate that understanding when called on during the production. The first course was led and produced by top record producer Phil Harding (pictured demonstrating how to mic a piano), and was last year helmed by veteran hitmaker Greg Haver.

The students gained experience of working at the highest level in a traditional recording studio using the techniques perfected during the history of record production. They were granted an insight into the origins of these techniques and how they apply to the music industry today.

Around 30 students have completed the course to date, and they have justified their inclusion as some of the best graduating music technology students in the country by going on to make their marks in an industry that is notoriously difficult to break into. These students represent the future of the recording industry and are already carving a niche for themselves. Here are some of their comments:

“After gaining a great insight into how professional recordings are run, I’ve now come along in leaps and bounds as an engineer and producer and have found the standard of my work to have increased dramatically. I now have bands seeking me out rather than the other way around.”
—Adam-James Laveaux, class of 2013

“Since finishing the course I was accepted as a full member of the Music Producers Guild, and I’m currently building a client base as a freelance engineer and producer. GDF 2013 gave me confidence and a framework for … how [studio] sessions should run.”
— Phil Stuttard, class of 2013

“Soon after the Gus Dudgeon course, I moved to London and undertook a work experience placement with the Miloco group. It was through working at Miloco that I met producer and mixer Craig Silvey, with whom I’ve been working as engineer and mix assistant for the good part of the past two years. Recently I’ve worked as engineer and/or mix assistant for Arcade Fire, Paolo Nutini, The National, The Horrors, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Goldfrapp.”
— Eduardo de la Paz, class of 2011

“After the course ended, I went on to do sound design for STV and live engineering for a BrewDog festival and, at present, am about to start work as a stage tech for the Royal Caribbean cruise line, which is an entry-level position that has a high possibility of leading on to a full sound technician role. The Gus Dudgeon award gave my CV the edge it needed to get the job.”
— Ross Watson, class of 2012

We have recently announced the fourth Gus Dudgeon graduate course, which will take place in July. It will take the same format as previous years, with the exception that this year’s students will need to pay a small fee towards their accommodation. With funds running low, the foundation has to tighten its belt – and without further funding, this will be the last course. Of course, nothing could be further from our minds, and we are gearing up to raise the necessary funds for 2015 and beyond. We are reaching out to the recording and artist community that Gus served so well and hope that a very special event will be staged early next year to ensure the Gus Dudgeon Foundation’s survival for the next few years. Watch this space!

There are also lots of sponsorship opportunities starting at just £350 for companies which would like these future producers and engineers to familiarise themselves with their products or services. Please contact me on [email protected] any time.