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SRT Grads in Grammy Mix Again

Alumni Snag Three Statuettes at Music Awards

Sound engineers Mark Donahue '07 and Dirk Sobotka arrive at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. The pair shared the Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Classical and Best Orchestral Performance.

02/25/2011
By David Perry

Mark Donahue and Adam Ayan don’t know one another, but they really should meet.

UMass Lowell’s Sound Recording Technology (SRT) program was well-represented at the Feb. 13  Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, as Donahue ’07 took home two statuettes, and Ayan ’97 watched his engineering work on Keith Urban’s “Til Summer Comes Around” help vault that recording to a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.

Boston-based Donahue’s wins for Best Engineered Album, Classical and Best Orchestral Performance brought his total to four (he earned one Grammy each at the 2007 and 2009 Grammys), and Ayan, who works at Gateway Mastering & DVD in Portland, Maine, also has four lifetime wins.

Both men are among the elite in a profession known for requiring ears of gold and technical smarts to match, and both credit SRT for getting them where they are. The Grammy is music’s highest honor. (Five presenters or performers from this year’s telecast performed at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell this year ߝ Katy Perry, B.o.B, Drake, Bob Dylan and Selena Gomez.)

UMass Lowell Lessons Lead to Gold

Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber may have sucked up most of the air with celebrity gloss, but the University’s alumni are quick to reflect upon the SRT program’s lessons.

“I do a lot of speaking engagements,” said Ayan by phone, between sessions. “And when people ask about my career path, I tell everybody, hands-down, go to UMass Lowell’s SRT program.”

Ayan, 35, has been at Gateway since 1998. His first Grammy (Best Historical Album) came in 2005, for his work on a Jelly Roll Morton box set. He has also won Latin Grammys for his work with Juan Luis Guerra. He has worked on recordings by the Rolling Stones, Madonna and Brian Wilson, and was the engineer on a pair of Pearl Jam remasters due next month. He says he loves, in particular, working with the Foo Fighters.

Donahue, 42, who is chief mastering engineer at Soundmirror Inc. in Jamaica Plain, has a long history with the University. He chuckles at the thought of it.

“Twenty-one years,” he says.

He began taking classes in 1986, and finally got his diploma in 2007, the same year he won his first Grammy. He took his last class in 1999, thanks largely to being too busy for classes after landing an internship at Soundmirror in 1992.

“Basically, SRT got me where I am,” says Donahue. “You sort of get out of it what you put in. People I went to school with end up in other fields, and others are doing it full-time like me and Adam.”

He remembers a weeding out process:

“We started with 60 kids in my class and ended up with 14.”

Student Becomes Teacher

Donahue taught a class in mastering in the SRT program last year, and hopes to return to teach again. But he hits the road to record projects and masters more than 200 recordings each year. While he’s a wiz at recording symphony orchestras, he masters every style from rock to hip-hop to country.

Ayan is active in local Portland causes, including The Portland Music Foundation, which he founded in 2006 to help local musicians and their community.

Ayan says it’s not just ears that are important in his work, but knowing technology, and learning the art of temperament.

“You’re dealing with all sides of a project, producers, engineers, record labels and the artists, to get what they want,” he says.

Says Donahue: “You know, what I do is sit down and listen to music all day, which is better than going out all day and digging ditches.”

Adam Ayan ’97 watched his engineering work on Keith Urban’s “Til Summer Comes Around” help vault that recording to a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.