Sawyer’s hidden gem: Students record, produce music in Studio 275

Bellamy Richardson

Patrick Gray sets up a microphone for a student to record vocals. (Bellamy Richardson/The Williams Record)

Hidden in a secluded hallway of Sawyer Library’s second floor is a high-tech recording studio run by Events, Classroom, and Studio Support Specialist Patrick Gray Jr. 

While some student musicians frequent this studio on a regular basis, many at the College have never been. “It’s a very underground kind of operation,” said Joel Nicholas ’23, who works in Studio 275. “Not many people even know the studio exists.”

Because Studio 275 has been such an important part of my time at the College as a student musician, I wanted to share information about the opportunities it provides for audio-visual recording with the community. At the studio, songwriters and composers — including local artists and students — have recorded albums; students have recorded podcasts and videos for classes; and a cappella groups have recorded arrangements of songs.

Gray, who has been a professional sound engineer for over 30 years, came to the College in 2016 and completely revamped the studio with a new layout andnew hardware. Gray knew he wanted to be a sound engineer when he was a kid — his father was a singer-songwriter, and Gray often accompanied him to various recording studios and watched the engineers produce his father’s music. Gray is also a musician himself; he played guitar and sang lead vocals in his high school rock band and now plays in venues across the Northeast with his Irish folk band, JP Murphy Band.

He studied recording and sound engineering at Full Sail University in Florida, which launched his career in the recording industry. Shortly after getting his associate degree in 1992, he worked at Disney, where he got to run studio sessions for musicians from bands such as Blue Oyster Cult and Pink Floyd. In the late ’90s, he started his own recording studio and recorded music by local artists in the Berkshires. 

Gray now runs Studio 275 and mentors students who are interested in recording and sound engineering. “I never really pictured myself as being in a college environment — I always just kind of pictured myself in the professional environment with studios,” he said. “But working with students has been probably the biggest benefit, because not only can I share all the knowledge that I’ve received over the past 30 years, but so many of you come into the studio, and you’re kind of awestruck by all the buttons, and that reminds me of me when I was a little kid in the studio.”

Along with helping students produce their own music, Gray has taught students who have gone on to have careers in the recording industry after graduating. Nicholas, who intends to pursue a career in music, has been writing and producing his own music since he was in high school, but through his campus job at Studio 275, he has learned more about the process.

“Running a studio session takes a lot of skill and practice,” Nicholas said. “You have to make your client comfortable.”

Students can record music, podcasts, and videos in Studio 275. (Bellamy Richardson/The Williams Record)

Lour Yasin ’23 said she had a very narrow understanding of music production before she too started working at Studio 275. “I didn’t really understand the concepts [of recording]… When I came to work at the studio, it all just made sense,” she said. “I really grew a lot as a musician and as a music producer, which was really helpful because, in the future, I do want to work in that business.”

Yasin said having access to a free studio has been helpful in recording her own music while at the College and preparing for a future career in music. “I can save a lot of money, which is a very [big] thing in this industry,” she said. “Rather than asking somebody to make a master for me, I can do it myself.”

Like Yasin, Nicholas also said he hopes to pursue a career in recording along with being a performing musician. Recording and playing music go hand in hand for Nicholas, who said making music is much easier with the understanding of how to produce it. “If you really understand the equipment you’re working with, it becomes a lot easier to translate what’s in your head into the speakers,” he said.

When Nicholas started working at the studio as a first-year, he didn’t know his way around the studio as well as he does now, but over the past couple of years, he has been able to run studio sessions alone without Gray’s help. “Patrick and I have developed a bond strong enough that he trusts me to work the studio by myself,” he said.

Yasin echoed Nicholas’s sentiment. “Originally, my work revolved around the training part of it, so I was training with Patrick a lot throughout the week,” she said. “And then after a year or so, I got the ropes of the business nailed down so I could run sessions by myself with students.”

Nicholas also mentioned that, because the students who currently work in the studio (himself, Yasin, and Spencer Spivy ’22.5) are all seniors, there will be opportunities for new students to take those jobs. “If you’re lucky enough to work in the studio and you have a passion for music production, it would be a great job and learning experience,” Nicholas said. 

Yasin, who is a music major, explained that the studio is a good resource for students and musicians of all styles and backgrounds, which she said has not always been the case in music courses she’s taken at the College. “I think the aim of this recording studio is to uplift musicians of all backgrounds, and I feel like, on this campus, the support that is given to musicians is really given to musicians with a classical Western background, but not musicians of other music genre backgrounds,” she said. “I hope that in the past four years, in my role working as a student audio engineer, technician, and producer, I was helping diversify the music scene on campus but also helping other musicians who work in contemporary styles.” 

Studio 275 is accessible to anyone who is interested in recording, engineering, or producing music, videos, or any other kind of audiovisual content. Students can book two-hour recording sessions or 45-minute training sessions on the Studio 275 website. 

“We’re flexible here and really want people to take advantage of the studio,” Gray said. “I can walk you through some things and show you how things are produced. If you find that interesting, we’ll figure out a way to get together and learn more about it.”