A self-described “living textbook” on music producing, engineering, and mixing, Purchase College Professor Peter Denenberg has professionally prevailed through the conversion from analog to digital and the industry upheaval that’s ensued. He brings a lifetime of experience and industry connections to his role as chair of both the studio production and studio composition programs in the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College.
Denenberg opened his own recording studio in 1979, well before digital was even a bleep on the music industry’s radar. As the digital revolution arrived, Denenberg’s Studio— ACME Recording Studios in Mamaroneck, NY—fully embraced the new technology, recognizing the imperative to keep up with industry demands.
ACME continues to reign among the region’s hottest studios. Denenberg has worked on Grammy- and Academy-award winning projects, and the list of artists whose music he’s produced, engineered, is vast—Joan Osborne, Martin Sexton, Boz Scaggs, and Sloan Wainwright, to name just a few. He produced the first four Spin Doctors albums, including Pocket Full of Kryptonite, which sold 10 million copies globally.
At ACME, Denenberg also records and mixes “Peak Performances,” a series presented by regional radio station 107.1 The Peak that draws both breakthrough and long-standing artists into the studio for exclusive shows.
Following several years of teaching master classes for Purchase, Denenberg joined the Conservatory of Music faculty full-time in 2011. When he teaches The History of Recorded Music II, which begins in the 50s and 60s, he draws largely on personal experience. “I was born, and then they made Sgt. Pepper, and then the process of recording music changed from a documentary process to all of this stuff [recording equipment] becoming an instrument also,” Denenberg explains. “Of course the Internet is a wonderful resource and there’s a bunch of writing on this, but when you’ve lived through it, a class can go anywhere because you remember all of this.”
He maintains an extensive network of industry professionals who enthusiastically share their wisdom in the classrooms and studios at Purchase. Legendary guitar maker Paul Reed Smith has lectured, as well as Deep Purple’s bassist Roger Glover, who went further beyond by donating equipment to the studios.
“It’s important that me and all of the other people who teach are still practicing professionals and not just old farts who went to teach college,” he remarks. This reflects Denenberg’s plan for the curriculum. “We want exciting people that will inspire these students. We want stars.” One “talented and exciting” person Denenberg has brought to campus has decided to stay. Chris Barron, the lead singer of the Spin Doctors, taught for the first time last semester, and next fall he’ll be teaching master classes, an ensemble class, and in the spring he’ll teach Lyric Writing.
Given the paradigm shift in the music business, teaching students about navigating the music business has changed considerably in recent years. Success may come in any number of ways, including via music licensing for commercials. “Twenty years ago, it was not cool to align yourself with a corporate entity. It’s a different situation now. So rather than trying to get a record deal and sell records, it’s kind of about getting your music out there and doing some clever licensing with it,” he explains.
Talent and discipline are now more important than ever, because the threshold has just been crossed where limitations no longer exist. “We do not run out of tracks, we do not run out space. We pick up terra byte hard drives along with eggs, milk, and orange juice on the way out of Costco, whereas five years ago that would be unthinkable. If you don’t develop an ability to keep on a path and work your way through to the finish, you’ll never finish.”
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