The Blackbird Academy Flies High with Soundcraft Digital Consoles


Studio and live sound engineer John McBride and his wife, country artist Martina McBride are the owners of Blackbird Studio in Nashville, which since its founding in 2002 has grown to be a major facility for artists like The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Kid Rock, Tim McGraw and many others. In running the studio, John McBride came to realize that most of the younger people seeking internships or employment had little or no hands-on knowledge—even those who were graduates of college-level audio programs.

As a result, John and Martina are opening The Blackbird Academy Studio Engineering Program on September 30, and beginning January 2014 the Academy will launch its Live Sound Engineering Program, which will incorporate HARMAN’s Soundcraft Si Expression and Si Performer mixing consoles connected via MADI to the Soundcraft Compact Stagebox into their curriculum.

“There’s a serious need to provide practical experience to people who want to build careers in this industry,” said John McBride. “Our emphasis will be on hands-on learning, in a professional environment.”

Because The Blackbird Academy is located in Nashville, the community is enthusiastically supporting the school. “We make hit records here and the students will benefit from learning not only in our classrooms and studios but also from the artists, producers and engineers that make Nashville one of the country’s great musical centers,” McBride said.


“There are a million ways to record and mix audio and I don’t want students learning from just one person,” McBride continued. “I want them learning from several people who have been successful in the industry and we’re going to focus on giving them as much time with the gear as possible.”


Tony Cottrill will be the Director of the Live Sound Engineering Program at The Blackbird Academy. Cottrill is the front of house (FOH) engineer for Exile, Ronnie Milsap and Juice Newton and uses Soundcraft Si Performer and Si Expression live sound consoles. “The Soundcraft consoles are so powerful that we can have them up and running for a professional live show in 15 minutes,” Cottrill said. “So we decided I need to teach with these consoles, because if you’re out touring with a band and you want a self-contained system with front of house and monitor consoles, a digital stagebox, cable runs and Cat5 lines, the Soundcraft consoles can do that.”

Within the Live Sound Engineering Program, Cottrill will teach students how to integrate the Soundcraft front of house and monitor consoles with the Soundcraft Compact Stagebo. Next, students will learn how to mix FOH and monitors on both consoles. “We’ll bring the consoles in and learn theory on different types of processing, using crossovers, gain structure and other essential points,” Cottrill said.


Soundcraft’s Si Performer and Si Expression consoles will also be used in the school’s main live sound area, where a full sound reinforcement system will be set up to teach students how to mix live FOH and monitor sound and learn system networking. In addition to spending time behind the mixing boards, students will learn to work with the Soundcraft ViSi app, which enables remote control of Soundcraft consoles from an iPad.

The Live Sound Engineering Program will also feature a maintenance lab with soldering stations and Cottrill and his staff will teach everything from wiring XLR and RG59 connectors to building crossovers and bench-testing components with test instruments. In addition, the course work will cover acoustics, sound system installation and other areas.


“In reality, you’re going to come across every conceivable situation, from a best-case scenario like a perfectly equipped studio to a gig where the studio hasn’t been maintained or a gig where half the PA doesn’t work,” McBride said. “At The Blackbird Academy, you’re going to learn how to get good sound under any circumstances.”

“The first thing you’re going to hear at The Blackbird Academy is that attitude is 99 percent of the gig,” McBride concluded. “We’re looking for passionate, creative, professional people.”