Southwestern College’s State-of-the-Art Recording Arts and Technology Program

Alvin Gomez, a Recording Arts and Technology major, and James Henry, Recording Arts and Technology program director and professor, inside Southwestern College's $6 million state-of-the-art recording studio.
Alvin Gomez, a Recording Arts and Technology major, and James Henry, Recording Arts and Technology program director and professor, inside Southwestern College’s $6 million state-of-the-art recording studio.

On the outside, building 850 at Southwestern College’s Chula Vista campus seems like any other building filled with regular classrooms. But inside, students won’t find classrooms with rows of desks leading to a whiteboard. They’ll enter Southwestern College’s $6 million Center for Recording Arts & Technology.

Inside students will find four different state-of-the-art, professional recording studios. The main studio includes a motherboard inside Control Room A with more than 45 channels that can track a whole orchestra. The studio space and tracking room is more than 1,600 square feet and can be converted to two separate isolation rooms. On the opposite side of the main studio are smaller, mini-studios used to record professional voice-overs or movie sound effects. The program’s extensive equipment list would make any audio pro’s mouth drop.

“This is a world-class facility, but to our students it’s home,” said James Henry, program director and professor.

For Alvin Gomez, a Recording Arts and Technology major, this is also where his dreams of becoming a producer and an audio engineer come to life. He’s been a part of more than 30 recording sessions, recording everything from classical ensembles to three-piece grunge bands, and has been involved in virtually every aspect of production.

“We do something very unique here,” Gomez said. “We basically get taught how to do real-world stuff, the real-world way. Through this program, we’ve visited recording studios at Walt Disney Animation and Sony Pictures and the flow there is the same here.”

The Recording Arts and Technology program, the classes and the day-to-day productions are led by Henry, a Grammy-nominated audio producer and engineer. The program offers a one-year certificate of achievement and a two-year associate of science degree in Recording Arts & Technology.

Today Henry spends his days teaching his students hands-on skills, but in the past, he’d spend his days as a producer and engineer working with artists like Prince, Living Colour and Public Enemy. In his more than 40 years of working with major recording artists and labels, Henry has seen his work top of the charts of Billboard Magazine, including being a part of more than 90 Gold and Platinum records.

“It’s a complete honor to work with Professor Henry,” Gomez said. “You hear other people’s stories about how they became successful in this industry, and it’s because they had a mentor like Professor Henry.”

Henry has overseen student-run recordings of more than 800 bands and musicians inside the Southwestern College’s recording arts studios – many local to San Diego area. But artists have also have driven down from Los Angeles because of the reputation of the college’s studio and the dedicated students who run it.

“It’s like I’m teaching people how to fly,” Henry said. “I put them in a 787 and we take off. I’m just there to make sure everything is cool. They have the confidence in knowing they’re not going to crash because I’m in the cockpit with them, so they can try things. They can hit buttons, they can make different turns and see how it feels.”

Students leave the program with open career paths in front of them (some even get hired before they’ve even graduated). Professor Henry’s students run almost every single performance stage at the San Diego County Fair. They’ve moved to major markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco or Austin, Texas to work for big mixing and production companies. They’ve been called up by bands they’ve recorded at Southwestern College to join them on tour to run their sound. Some have even started their own businesses and built recording studios from scratch in Tijuana.

“People and musicians are amazed that my students, in five hours, can meet a band, set the band up, record the band, mix the band, break them down and get them out the door,” Henry said. “That is unbelievable to them. I don’t even believe it sometimes.”