History of the CD Project

by David Roitstein

When Charlie Haden and I began teaching at CalArts in 1982-83, one of the goals that we hoped to accomplish was to record some of the wonderful music that was being made there. We didn't get an opportunity to do that until 1989-90, when Joe Smith joined the CalArts Board of Trustees.

The idea was simple - Capitol/EMI would support an annual recording project of new, original music from CalArts students. This project would be a way for Capitol/EMI to have a tremendous impact on the lives of many young, talented musicians.

Since then, we've recorded twenty four CDs at Capitol Studios, and the annual recording has become an anticipated event and an established model for other projects like it around the world.

After twenty four years of CDs recorded at Capitol, there are now hundreds of talented CalArts graduates who have gone on to successful careers in music. We've had our students touring and recording with a long list of jazz masters such as Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, Roy Hargrove, Steve Coleman, Elvin Jones, Geri Allen, Jim Hall, John Scofield, Dianne Reeves, John McLaughlin, Arturo Sandoval, and Brad Mehldau. CalArts students have used this experience at Capitol to go on to be part of some wildly successful pop bands, including Beck, No Doubt, Macy Gray, The Calling, the Wallflowers, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, Ozomatli, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Brian Setzer, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Airborne Toxic Event, Belle Brigade, and many others.

Over 450 young musicians, composers, and graphic designers from CalArts have had their best work documented and widely distributed. This is the way the process has worked:

All of the composers and performers at CalArts are invited to submit demo recordings of their best work to a faculty committee. This first round produces 70 - 80 submissions and includes an indescribably broad range of musical styles and instrumentations. The committee chooses 20 compositions, and there are intensive rehearsal sessions. In March, we have a marathon concert (it feels more like a party!) and listen to all 20 "finalist" groups - the whole place buzzes in anticipation. We then select the 10 groups that will get to record at Capitol.

Each year, we have followed a budget of 2 days recording, which works out to about 2 hours in the studio per group including the set-up time (an incredible challenge by today's standards!). Thanks to the professionalism and talent of the staff at Capitol Studios, we've been able to complete the project within the budget every year.

These hours in the studio are an extraordinary and unforgettable experience for all of the students. They can see, feel, and hear the result of their hard work and intensive preparation, and many have told me that it was a defining moment in their lives.

Another important part of the project is the cover art and design. The graphic design program at CalArts has a similar process where students submit finished products and we choose the design for the CD. The designer that is chosen then works closely with us to complete camera-ready artwork.

The next step is mixing (2 days), mastering (1 day), and manufacturing. We have followed a production deadline every year that would allow a release date in the second week of May, so that the finished CD would be available for graduation. If you could see the excitement, pride, and satisfaction of everyone at the Institute when the CDs are released, you would understand how important this project has become. It is a wonderful moment to watch people as they see and hear it for the first time, and reminds me every year that it is well worth all of the effort and expense to produce this project.

Once it is released, the CD is then distributed to reviewers (Jazz Times, Downbeat, etc.) and to college, NPR, and other interested radio stations. This exposure is a key part of what we wanted to accomplish with the CD, and has helped tremendously to establish CalArts as a leader among music schools, jazz programs, and creative music communities around the world.

The CD is also distributed at music and educational conferences around the country, and to prospective students when they apply to CalArts. When we first began going to these annual conferences (where attendance is 6000 - 8000) and giving out the CDs, we were the only one to professionally produce such a wide range of original student compositions and performances, and people were quite surprised. Now, there are many schools and organizations that are emulating our CD.

Capitol funded the project from 1990 - 93 under Joe Smith, then continued with Gary Gersh in 1994 and 95. In 1996 however, Capitol did not approve funds for the 1996 recording. We didn't find this out until very late in the school year, but it was decided that the continuity of the annual CD meant so much that CalArts President Steven Lavine was able to raise emergency replacement money to pay Capitol Studios for recording time, materials, and manufacturing.

For the 1997 and 98 CDs, after the involvement of several people (including Gary Gersh, Bruce Lundvall, CalArts faculty member Charlie Haden, and others), EMI Music renewed the funding for our project. From 2001 through 2010, EMI Music Vice President Jeanne Meyer was an enthusiastic partner, and continued the annual project. For the 2012 CD project, we welcomed the support of Barak Moffitt, EMI Executive Vice President. In 2013, Universal Music Group merged with EMI.

In 2004, CalArts held a special concert and presentation at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater, part of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles) celebrating fifteen years of the CD project. A plaque with a letter of appreciation was presented to Paula Salvatore, the Capitol Studios Director, who has played a significant role in the production of the CD project every year since the very beginning.

We have increased our publicity efforts for the project in the last several years, so that EMI Music and Capitol would be recognized for their important contribution. Feature articles and stories in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, Downbeat magazine, and JazzTimes magazine have appeared, with prominent mention of EMI's generosity.

Our hope is that you will see how many young and talented people benefit from this annual project and understand that it could not continue without EMI or Capitol's support. As you can see from the music and artwork displayed on this website, this deeply affects the lives of a great many people.

David Roitstein
Jazz Program Director
Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts

Matty Harris & Ryan Parrish. Photo by Scott Groller
Tina Raymond. Photo by Scott Groller
Andrew Conrad. Photo by Scott Groller
Brandon Schmidt. Photo by Scott Groller
Joe Santa Maria, Andrew Conrad, Michael Mull, Morgan Fitch. Photo by Scott Groller
Charlie Paakkari. Photo by Scott Groller