Conversation with a Creative
Recording Industry Professor Cosette Collier teaches in the undergraduate and M.F.A. programs, including courses in recording techniques, video production, soundtrack design, studio production and mastering. She received her B.F.A. degree in commercial music/ recording engineering and M.A. degree in communication/film and video production from the University of Memphis. She has worked in the recording industry as a studio engineer for Media General Broadcasting Inc. in Memphis.
Her recording credits include first engineer and mix engineer for Highwater Records on the album Feelin' Good by Jesse Mae Hemphill, winner of the Handy Award for best country blues album. She recorded all the music tracks for the award-winning children's film Frog Pond. Her film/video credits also include production assistant on the PBS documentary At the River I Stand, which commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Strike. Her project Through A Woman's Voice was a four-part NPR radio series and winner of the 1998 Communicator Awards, Crystal Award of Excellence for audio production. She won MTSU’s 1999 Outstanding Creative Activity Award for her work on this project.
She has recently become more active in music mastering, audio restoration and audio forensics. She was dialogue editor for an “indie” film, Make-Out with Violence, directed by the Deagol Brothers and winner of the Grand Jury Prize from the 2008 Atlanta Film Festival. Her latest film credits include sound designer and mixer for The New, True Charlie Wu, directed by Bob Pondillo. She was also mastering engineer on the latest album release from Ten 21 Records called Fall on Me, by gospel music artist Loren Mulraine.
She spoke to Beverly Keel about recording 23 songs for a musical, performing in a faculty band and being a female in the male-dominated world of audio production.
How did you discover audio production? When did you decide you wanted to do it for a living?
Well I was a band geek. I played flute and saxophone in high school band and taught myself to play piano by ear. I started playing electric piano in a rock band in high school and later played synthesizer in a couple bands in the eighties. I quickly realized I could never make a living as a musician, but working with the synthesizer led me to study audio engineering at the University of Memphis. I quickly fell in love with the technical and creative aspects of audio engineering.
I was delighted to see that you've been busy recording 23 songs that will be featured in a new musical called A Vote of Her Own, which is about Tennessee's role in ratifying the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. What can you tell us about this project? How did working on the project inspire you?
The musical A Vote of Her Own will be performed at the Bijoux Theater in Knoxville on June 20. We’re still working to secure performances in Nashville and maybe even MTSU. The principal artist and producer of this project is Candace Corrigan. I’ve worked on various projects with her since the early nineties and they are all historically based musical projects. Documenting Tennessee’s role in women gaining the right to vote has been something that she has been working on for a very long time. I don’t think I was completely aware of the 100-year anniversary of this event until she approached me to work on this project with her. It’s amazing to me to think that it has only been 100 years since women were allowed to vote and even more interesting to consider what life for women was like before the 19th Amendment.
It seems like 23 songs would be a massive undertaking. How have you organized and tackled this project?
Well, it sounds like a lot of songs, but many of these songs are very short and simple piano vocal suffrage songs that were popular during that era. The recordings right now are for rehearsal, marketing and fundraising. The project is being funded through a non-profit organization that I work with called American Entertainment Works, Inc. We have one more song to record before rehearsals begin. Other musicians have been cast as actors and performers, and ultimately we will produce the songs further with upright bass, guitars, violin, etc. We know that these musicians are going to add something to these songs as they perform them live and we’ll want the musical CD release to reflect the songs as they were performed in the musical.
What does it mean to you to be featured in the upcoming Leslie Gaston-Bird book called Women in Audio?
What does it mean to you to be featured in the upcoming Leslie Gaston-Bird book called Women in Audio?
The book focuses on your work with Women in Audio: Project 2000, which explored the potential reasons for the lack of women in audio production. What can you tell us about that project? Have things improved in 20 years?
When I began participating in the Audio Engineering Society conferences and conventions in the early nineties, the lack of women engineers was very apparent. I often attended workshops at conferences where I was the only female in attendance. So Project 2000 was a working group that was started within the Audio Engineering Society in 1995. It was formed to investigate the reasons for a lack of women in the audio industry. There was a bit of a backlash from some of the male membership that we were trying to point the finger and blame them, but what we really discovered was that the lack of women in the industry at that time was primarily due to the trend of young girls choosing to pursue careers that they saw other women doing. As a result, we began working within the education system to try to change that dynamic. I have seen an improvement in the number of women choosing to pursue audio as a career and they are out there working in the trenches in live sound and music production. However, it still somewhat challenging for them to rise to the upper levels of music production and postproduction sound for film. Women seem to be quite successful when they work outside the mainstream music industry and pursue the independent music and media production route.
Who are some of your female role models or influences in music and/or audio production?
When I started studying audio engineering in the 1980s, I could only find one notable female working in the industry, Leslie Ann Jones, who is a multiple Grammy Award-winning recording engineer currently working as director of music recording and scoring at Skywalker Sound. I was so excited to actually meet her when she and her mentor Fred Catero came to our college to give a talk to all of the audio engineering majors.
Why are there still so few women in audio production? Do you see that changing anytime soon?
I really don’t know other than it still seems that girls choose to do what they see other women doing. Unfortunately, they still don’t see many women in these roles. That’s why I think that Leslie Gaston-Bird’s book is so significant. She features a number of successful women in all facets of audio production.
How can we make our audio production program more enticing for prospective female students and more appealing to current female students?
That’s a tough question. If I really knew the answer to that question, I imagine I’d be already pursuing that. One thought that has worked in the past is to have an organized social group for the women in the audio production program to get to know each other and mentor each other. I think a group like that could also do some community outreach. I’ve attempted to organize that in the past and it would last for a few years and then fizzle out when our enrollment in audio production would drop. It’s probably time to try that again. It’s just super-challenging to find the time.
You continue to find time to work on music, including mastering a Christmas album called Carols at the Brownstone by solo pianist Jim Holthouser. What attracted you to this project? What were the challenges of mastering this album?
This project was also produced through American Entertainment Works, Inc. Jim Holthouser was the executive vice president of Hilton Worldwide and I think he’s now CEO of Focus Brands. He’s also an amazing pianist. I think this project was recorded on his Steinway piano in his house, which meant I got to use some of my skills at noise reduction and artifact removal, but overall it was just fun to work on a Christmas CD in August.
You are also writing a textbook for the RIM 3010 Audio Fundamentals class. What has this process been like for you? What have been the most challenging and satisfying parts of it?
I love teaching audio fundamentals. Just ask any of my students in RIM 3010. I’m a true audio geek who wants to know how everything works and then explain it to anyone who will listen. The text that we’ve been using is out of print and we’ve been lucky through the rental process to keep using it. I’m really trying to make an audio textbook that focuses on more than just audio production in recording studios. I want it to be about “all things audio” or “audio for everyone.” Really, I am hoping that this book will be an audio basics book that prepares folks for working with audio in live sound applications, broadcast, sound for picture and video games and of course, recording studios.
In your spare time, you play in a cover band with Professor Bill Crabtree and your husband, Steve Holeman. What do you play?
: Our cover band is called 2nd & Vine and when it started it was mostly faculty. We had all performed in the past before our teaching careers and it was really fun getting together and learning cover songs. In the past we’ve expanded to 10 members and played Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon from beginning to end. Our last performance of Dark Side was at Mayday Brewery for the last eclipse in Middle Tennessee. I play keyboards and I think I’m still a nerdy audio geek behind the keyboard. Bill Crabtree plays drums and my husband Steve is on guitar and sings. We’ve recently added a female singer, Berkely Clements, and bass player, Greg Givens. We hope to start playing around town with the new lineup very soon.
What advice do you have for the rest of us on time management and/or building an environment that nurtures creativity?
I’m not sure I’m the one to ask about time management. I’m still trying to figure that one out for myself. I do believe creativity is important part of everyday life. There are creative projects that I’d like to tackle but I haven’t found the time in my day-to-day work life to make them happen. I keep saying that I’ll do those things in my second career after I retire from teaching. The problem is that I really love teaching, so I’m not sure when that will be.
What albums/songs are you listening to now?
When I’m not listening to songs that I need to learn for our band, I usually tune in to The Spectrum channel on SiriusXM. When I recently heard the song “Light On” by Maggie Rogers, it reminded me of one of my favorite albums by Kim Richey, Glimmer, which was produced by Hugh Padgham around 20 years ago. So dug my old CD out and that’s been in my playlist recently. Turns out Kim Richey is about to release a new album called A Long Way Back featuring the songs from Glimmer. I’m looking forward to that one.