New flock of engineers leave their Nashville nest

“Music’s been in my blood since before I could remember” Stephanie Moore


Stephanie Moore (centre) along with John and Martina McBride.

Stephanie Moore (centre) along with John and Martina McBride.

One of Blackbird Academy’s first graduates is on the cusp of spreading her wings and learning to fly, as a full-fledged audio engineer.

Stephanie Moore, 19, began attending classes as one of the initial students at the Nashville-based Blackbird Academy, owned by John McBride and his country star wife Martina McBride. Classes began mid-September of 2013 and six months later she graduated with a diploma in audio engineering.

“It’s like a trade school for audio engineering,” said Moore, who was born in central Alberta, where her grandparents still reside: Ponoka.

“The school itself is very interesting. It’s very intensive,” she added. Students spend two weeks in a classroom then the following two in the studio; the academy is run using a four-week interval rotation.

Moore says the system is used to allow students to apply what they’ve learned in the classes in a real studio setting.

The top-notch academy also gives its students access to the best assets in the industry, both in terms of educational guests and equipment.

“In our first week, we got to talk with Tim McGraw,” said Moore. Other industry experts included former The Beatles record producer/engineer Ken Scott and producer Nick Raskulinecz, who’s worked with the Foo Fighters.

Equipment was available to the students during and after classes as well as weekends. “We had a lot of resources at our disposal,” said Moore.

Moore declares the way the hands-on academy educates the small number of students who are accepted each year is developing a new type of learning. “We’re stepping away from traditional post-secondary education where we’re trained to take tests and people are afraid to fail. We need to be moving into an education where we’re taught failing is the correct way to learn.”

Each year, approximately 30 students are accepted onto Blackbird Academy. After doing some research online and learning about the academy, Moore decided to give herself a chance there.

Along with an application, potential students are asked to write a 100-question exam, not to determine whether or not they’re accepted but to establish if they’ll need to also attend the academy’s prerequisite course if accepted.

Moore says she was pretty green going into the process and ended up having to take the prerequisite course.

She found out she had been accepted when she received a bill from the school in the mail, rather than an acceptance letter. Confused, Moore phoned the academy and it turns out her letter had been sent to the wrong address. “A week later I got the acceptance letter.”

“I was just very excited I had a plan after high school,” she added.

The summer before applying to the academy, Moore had cut a three-song mini album in a friend’s studio. During the recording process, she was able to see up close and personal all the technical elements that went into audio engineering. “I was at the point where I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do after high school . . . I thought to myself, ‘I can do that.’”

The plan of action wasn’t a big stretch for Moore. She already knew she wanted to move to Nashville no matter what and had always been captivated by behind the scenes work. “Growing up I loved watching behind the scenes of movies and music videos. I always thought that would be my area of expertise.”

During a vacation in her freshman year of high school, Moore visited Nashville and fell in love with the city and its country music culture. “Music’s been in my blood since before I could remember.”

At age two or three, Moore was singing along to one of her mother’s friends on the piano. “She was like ‘your daughter has perfect pitch, she’s a singer.’ My mom was like ‘really, I don’t know where that came from in our family.’”

From those early beginnings, Moore attended school at the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts in Minnesota.

During her high school years, she was trained classically in vocal arts but was recommended not to pursue a career in singing and entertaining because it would become a job and lose appeal. Instead, she was encouraged to pursue a different career in the same industry and save singing for open mic nights, “just to keep it enjoyable,” she explained.

Since graduating in March, many of Moore’s friends have already moved on to positions in the industry. One of her friends move to Los Angeles for a job and another relocated to Washington to work for Microsoft.

Seven of the Blackbird’s former students, including Moore, are interning at the academy. “There might be a possibility of me getting another job at a private studio in Nashville.”