Tom McGurk ’91 realized he’d been given a superior education in the Sound Recording Technology program shortly after graduating from UMass Lowell (then University of Lowell). While interning at a small studio outside Seattle, he would know how to fix things seasoned pros didn't.
Since 1999, McGurk and partners Mike McAuliffe, Dave Howe and Charlie Nordstrom have shared ownership of Bad Animal Studios. McGurk won seven Emmy Awards for work behind the board, especially while he sound designed and mixed for “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”
“When I talk about the SRT program, and I do every chance I get, I tell people how amazing it is,” says McGurk who lives in Seattle with wife Danielle McGurk (formerly Hughey) ’92, and their son, Connor. “It’s a true engineering program. It’s calculus, it’s engineering and it’s music performance in a very real sense. They make sure you are equipped to step right into a role and success. There’s nothing else like it, and Professor [William] Moylan is absolutely the best teacher I have ever had. I don’t know anyone who stayed with it and made it through the course who isn't doing well.”
Though McGurk found both his education and future wife at the University, he might have missed them both.
In the ’80s, the Chelmsford High School grad’s musical ambition wasn't popular at home. Though he sang and played jazz guitar, his parents wanted him to find a more secure path.
He earned an associate’s degree in computer programming from Middlesex Community College. When he enrolled at ULowell, he told his parents he was an accounting major. He was not.
“I’d always been infatuated with music and effects, and I had a four-track cassette recorder I fooled around with in my room,” he recalls. “When I started taking classes at Lowell, I knew it was a no-brainer. This is what I want to do.”
He played guitar and sang, including with an opera group. He juggled juried performance with weekly ensemble dates, and recording the performances of others in Durgin Hall. “It was awesome,” he says. “Complete immersion.”
He interned around Seattle and one day, called UMass Lowell’s Moylan. He was working 18-hour days without benefits, frustrated, thinking about coming home. “He was the one who got me here,” says McGurk. “He called the owner, Steve Lawson, and I was hired. It was 1991, an amazing time.”
Around since 1973 under the name Kaye-Smith Recording, Bad Animals has been the wellspring of many hits, from Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” to Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle.” Decades later, Neil Young, REM and Johnny Cash would record there.
But when McGurk and partners bought it, they focused hard on buying state-of-the-art digital equipment and drawing post-production work for the film, TV and gaming industries.
It paid off. McGurk has long since worked with benefits, and even earned the approval of his father.
“I don’t know what you do,” McGurk’s father has told him. “But I love it.”