In Your Ear Studios is a slice of Hollywood nestled in Shockoe Bottom. The sound production studio is a powerhouse of mixers, consoles and inputs, flanked by recording spaces for musicians and actors. It’s the birthplace of Grammy Award-winning albums, commercial spots for major brands like Coca-Cola, and dialogue production for films such as The Help and Gladiator.
In between, the studio is a state-of-the-art classroom with expert instructors—and the home of VCUarts’ Advanced Media Production Technology program. As a living, breathing workplace, In Your Ear is the best hands-on experience media production students can get, allowing them to work with industry-standard equipment and sought-after professionals.
In the AMPT program, intensive hands-on coursework is the fulcrum by which graduates leverage a major career change. Co-managed by the Center for the Creative Economy and In Your Ear Studios, the one-year post-baccalaureate certificate program takes graduates from any discipline who are seeking employment in the vast and growing field of digital media.
The strength of the program rests in the interconnected nature of its curriculum. Students practice their skills in several facets of digital media concurrently, moving from lighting and sound design to production and post-production to script writing, all within the course of a week.
“AMPT was the ideal program for someone like myself,” says AMPT student Arlen Kerndt, who earned his BA in communication studies from Christopher Newport University. After graduating, he wanted to be a filmmaker, but wasn’t sure how to break into the industry without much formal training. The AMPT program helped him find a career path, teaching him specialized and transferable skills in editing and production.
“It’s given me a leg up,” he says. “I’ve learned so much about audio and post-production and pre-production. It’s really been a crash course in the industry.”
Some graduates joined the program to augment their recent degrees and hone the trajectory of their career paths. Kahlil Shepard, who graduated from VCU’s broadcast journalism program, enrolled in AMPT to better understand the production side of documentary filmmaking. “It’s really unique to VCU and to most universities, because you don’t always get a chance to work in an environment with technology and professors from various parts of the industry. I think just being in this environment gives you an advantage.”
Students can choose to focus on various specializations within media, from editorial storytelling to music production, but they’re all required to collaborate as a crew on major projects—a crucial skill in the world of media production. Even when they work on something individually, their tasks are part of a production chain.
“One of the greatest challenges and blessings of this program is that you learn how to work with other people,” says Kerndt.
“Something that I’ve learned to do,” says AMPT student Daniel Davis, “is to not just know what everyone on my team is capable of, but to take note of what people don’t know. I think that actually goes with the creative entrepreneurship—being able to know what my skills are and bring that to a team that doesn’t have them.”
Davis joined the AMPT program while seeking studio work in Richmond.
“It was a huge opportunity for me to just get in this studio and work hands-on with all this type of equipment,” says Davis, who was swayed by the one-year length of the program. “Working full-time and being able to do this at the same time has worked out very well.”
Austin Schnarrs joined AMPT for a similar reason. Though his undergraduate degree is in international business management, he used to volunteer with the Richmond International Film Festival, which got him interested in the world of media production. Through the film festival, he met Carlos Chafin, president of In Your Ear, and attended some of the studio’s Shockoe Sessions.
The program at In Your Ear has helped Schnarrs understand the complex moving parts of sound recording, video producing, scriptwriting and pre-production planning. He soon discovered that he enjoyed doing foley recording and additional dialogue recording, or ADR.
“It’s crazy how fast it is, how fast you learn” says Schnarrs, “and how fast you realize, ‘I really know what I’m doing.’”