16 Oct 2019

Klarman Studios Celebrates 1-Year Anniversary: Q+A with Studio Manager/Audio Engineer Craig McDonald


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by Shona Simkin

Klarman Hall opened on October 1, 2018, with a dedication ceremony and daylong symposium. With its soaring atrium and state-of-the-art auditorium, Klarman Hall is a remarkable, world-class convening space. What might not be immediately obvious is the equally remarkable capabilities of the lower-level concourse, which houses the Klarman Studios—two studios for recording podcasts and webinars and a black box film studio. “We wanted to capture the thought leadership that was happening on stage, package it and then send to the world through podcasts, video and all the different ways that people consume information,” explains Chief Marketing Officer Brian Kenny.

Below we’re featuring a Q+A with Studio Manager/Audio Engineer Craig McDonald, who tells us a bit about how he got into the field, what his day-to-day life is like at work, and what he likes to do when he’s not at HBS.

What did you do before you were studio manager?
I was in Media Services in IT for about four years, starting out with live-event classroom support and then moving on to the audio-visual engineering side. I knew about plans for Klarman and the studios, and Ben Frey, my manager at the time, asked if I could weigh in on the build-out of the studio space, since he knew I really loved audio. I went to the planning meetings, and applied as soon as the job was posted. I had worked with Robin Passias, Brian Kenny, and Amelia Kunhardt in Marketing & Communications (M&C) on a previous recording project, and I knew that they would be great to work with as a team. I was thrilled to get the job.

How did you get interested in the field?
I’ve wanted to be in audio since I was about 15. I got into it at home as a hobby with friends, then got my degree in radio TV and broadcast. I worked in the field in various places, then went to recording school to specialize. I ended up in Washington, DC, working at a hotel on larger events, before moving to Zambia for my (now ex) wife’s work. Funny enough, this tiny town had a recording studio, Mission Press, which was run by Franciscan monks. I went to visit one day, and asked if I could help out a few times a week. I ended up working there full time—six days a week, 11 hours a day. It was one of those moments of ‘Oh! This is what I love doing!’ When I returned to Boston, I was at BU for a while, and then ended up here. When I was doing A/V work, I was always trying to get behind the mixing board, to work on the microphones—it’s just always what I’ve wanted to do.

How would you describe this past year in the studios?
It’s been really fun and exciting. I’ve always felt very fortunate to work in the field I love, and am honestly happy to come to work each day. I worked with great people in Media Services, who I’m still friends with, and now have a great time with M&C. When I graduated from recording school, it looked like big studios were going away forever—everyone was doing laptop recording and personal studios—so the fact that I now get to record, edit, and distribute all of these products is mind-blowing.

What would be unexpected for someone walking through the studios?
The scope of the studio. I do a fair amount of tours, and I like to start with the smallest podcast studio, then the larger studio, and then open the door to the soundstage and people's jaws just drop. No one expects that in the basement of the Klarman auditorium, there's a 1701 square foot black box sound stage. I'll show them photos of sets and explain that there are crews of 20 people here for 2-3 weeks filming, and the day after they're done, it's all empty again. Even for me, it's still astonishing seeing it all happen with makeup, wardrobe, and camera tests—everything you think is behind the scenes in broadcast TV shows happens here. When you walk by it just says ‘HBS Studios’ on two glass doors. It feels like a secret, but we don't want it to be a secret. We want people to come in and ask questions about what they can do here.

What’s next?
We’re launching a new podcast, Staff Stories, which we’re really excited about. It’s modeled after NPR’s StoryCorps, but aimed for an internal audience. We like to describe it as “for staff, by staff.” Alan Grazioso, the multimedia producer for IT, came up with the idea and we all thought it was great. Everyone has some sort of story, and it’s a great way to get to know the people you see every day. They’re quick 5-7 minute conversations between 2-4 people, about all sorts of different things. We’ve piloted a few, and they came out really well. We’re eager to have more volunteers!

What’s an average day for you?
The doors open at nine, so I get in at eight and get ready for the day—check the schedule, prep the rooms and set up the studios. Usually it’s either a session day, an edit day, or a hybrid of both. Session days are either audio sessions, webinars, or helping a crew in the soundstage to make sure everything is in order. The audio studio takes up most of my time—when you book a studio you’re also booking me, the audio engineer. I finished a ColdCall edit today, tomorrow I’ll do a SkyDeck edit, and after that I start a Managing the Future of Work edit, and then it'll probably be time to do another Cold Call. We're really doing a lot, and I'm so happy doing it. I feel like my signature is on each of the pieces.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
My hobbies are very related to what I do at work. I have a studio in my basement where I play my collection of synthesizers. I like electronic music, so a lot of times when I'm not in the studio here, I'm in the studio at home, playing around with sound and getting emotions out, making noise and having fun. I also love walking my dogs (Gus, an 8-pound toy fox terrier and Bailey, a 45-pound boxer), going out to eat, and spending time with my girlfriend.

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