Meet the Expert: Barry Blair

When Asbury University alumni return to campus for Reunion, one of the things they say goes something like, “When I came to class, I knew I wasn’t just another student to my professor. He knew me, he challenged me, and I’m better at what I do now because he knew what he was talking about.” In an ongoing Web series this fall, Asbury is featuring just a few of the faculty who are making a difference in both their subject areas and their classrooms.

Kentucky native Barry Blair spent 20 years in Nashville, Tenn., and has numerous credits as a record producer, guitarist and songwriter. In addition to performing in more than 500 live appearances with Audio Adrenaline, he has worked as a session guitarist for various other artists and has completed his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Recording Arts and Technologies at Middle Tennessee State University. He has a total of three Dove Awards, four Dove nominations, one Grammy nomination, one RIAA-certified gold album and six No. 1 Christian radio singles.

Asbury University Assistant Professor Barry Blair is a good listener... a very, very good listener.

Asbury Professor Barry Blair
Asbury Professor Barry Blair

“A lot of it is having nice equipment,” he said, looking around the fully equipped audio suite in Asbury’s new, $12.6-million, state-of-the-art Miller Center for Communication Arts. The Miller Center is home to Asbury’s undergraduate journalism, film, theatre and communications students as well as a new Master’s degree in Digital Storytelling, and University supporters have invested deeply in providing top-of-the-line facilities. “But there’s still a lot that depends on practice and having a good ear.”

Blair is developing both in a group of students engaged in Asbury’s newest undergraduate Communication Arts emphasis, Audio Production.

The “lab” for the listeners-in-training is the Miller Audio Suite, a studio outfitted to yield professional-quality recordings for both music production and film. Equipped with some of the best recording equipment in the industry, including the industry standard Pro Tools HD recording software and a Solid State AWS900 recording console, the studio is open for students to practice audio production and recording skills for class projects as well as personal projects.

Leading the program is Blair, a musician-turned-producer-turned-professor whose own career began as a college student at Kentucky Christian University. As the guitarist and a founding member of the Christian rock band Audio Adrenaline, Blair has plenty of experience on the performance side of music production. As a music producer since 1996, he has experience on the other side of the mic, as well.

Now a full-time professor with a MFA in Recording Arts and Technologies under his belt, Blair is venturing into film work. Two of several recent projects include the score for the short film “My Brother, My Brother,” produced by one of Asbury’s film production classes,” and sound effects and mixing for colleague Joshua Overbay’s new feature film “As it is in Heaven.”

As a professor who desires for film students to call on audio students when they make their films, the first-hand experience is essential for teaching what really works.

“The equipment and the operation of the equipment is essentially the same. The fundamental ideas — such as having an ear for balance, and knowing when something is too loud or not loud enough — carry over,” Blair said. “But there are big differences between music production and film, as well. After doing music for as long as I have done it, you can find the ‘newness’ wearing off a little. Getting involved in films has gotten me interested in a new area of audio I hadn’t done much in before. “

With a style that is more “come and see,” rather than “listen up,” Blair brings his students along for the ride as he walks them through audio production from the perspective of a 20-year veteran. For example, a summer class on commercial music production had real stakes; the students served as engineers on a project for Asbury alumnus Abe Parker ’11, a singer/songwriter. The class was predominately hands-on observation and participation in the studio, with the finished product making its debut at the 2012 Ichthus Music Festival.

Students played a role in the recording process for Overbay’s film, as well as helping to finish the mixes for a worship project featuring Asbury Worship Arts students performing original material. The cross-disciplinary orientation in which audio students collaborate with their peers in departments throughout the University is intentional; the more practice they get, the better equipped they will be to make a meaningful contribution to the industry after they graduate.

“Any of these creative Communication Arts fields are hard to break into, and I try to give my students a realistic picture,” he said. “It’s very competitive. Success takes persistence. You just have to be better than your competition. It’s about more than getting a piece of paper — they’re here to get really good at this.”