Student Life

Remixing with the Best

By Jacob Couch, April 26, 2022

Michael W. Smith Center for Commercial Music grows substantially with help from top industry professionals

In a few short years, the Liberty University School of Music’s Michael W. Smith Center for Commercial Music has grown into one of the nation’s most reputable university music programs of its kind.

This was most recently evidenced in January when three tracks produced by students were selected by award-winning songwriter and producer Tommee Profitt in a remix competition and recently released by Capitol Records.

Profitt visited campus in December for the school’s Greatest Hits Remix Project, a series of competitions featuring different artists as mentors and judges. (He is pictured at top, center, with (pictured at top with music students, left to right, Fire & Ice, Rich Andrews, Joseph Brown, and Parker Robinson).

“Working with the Liberty students on the remix contest was such a blast,” said Profitt, who has worked with platinum-selling artists and achieved tremendous success himself as a composer for TV and film. “Not only was I super impressed with their world-class quality of work, but their hearts were so humble and passionate, and it was so encouraging to see their drive. I’m so thankful I could be a small part of their journey and excited to see what’s in store for them in the future.”

Award-winning songwriter and producer Tommee Profitt, center, served as a judge for the Michael W. Smith Center for Commercial Music’s Greatest Hits Remix Project, along with John Forystek, left, the center’s director of product development, and Al Denson, a music industry executive and liaison for the center.

The project kicked off last year with Michael W. Smith, the center’s executive director, working with students in April. Mac Powell, former lead singer of the Christian rock band Third Day, visited in September.

For the contest, which is open to all Liberty students, entrants choose a track from the artist’s past releases and remix it in one of the School of Music studios to give it a more present-day sound. Smith and Powell joined the students in the studio, recording their own voices over the new remix tracks.

“Our students have been released side by side with the best in the world, which is incredible credibility for them.”

— John Forystek, Director of Product Development and Communications, Michael W. Smith Center for Commercial Music

 

Liberty’s broadcast team has filmed each contest in a reality competition format, in the likes of “America’s Got Talent,” with a panel of judges, including the artist and School of Music staff, who offer advice before announcing the winners. Liberty is currently creating this remix series into episodes that will fit a TV format. The top remixes from both Smith’s and Powell’s contests will likely be released to coincide with the airing of the episodes. The center plans to bring a different artist in every semester to record an episode.

Through the remix project, the students gain valuable, real-time experience navigating the business side of the industry, which is something many music schools don’t offer. The winning students from Profitt’s remix releases are already earning royalties for their work, which is available on all platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.), and many have received job offers from major studios.

“We get to really help these students build a career. Now they have real credentials,” said John Forystek, the center’s department director of product development and communications. “It’s a Capitol Records-owned product that is remixed by our students with a royalty share. Our students have been released side by side with the best in the world, which is incredible credibility for them.”

The center’s growth has afforded students opportunities only typically available to music professionals. Liberty advocates for commercial music students by walking them through the full process, including the legal side, through Red Tie Music, Liberty’s music publishing company.

Forystek was a judge for the latest contest, alongside Profitt and former Christian recording artist Al Denson, a music industry executive who serves as an industry liaison for the center. As they were in the process of narrowing down the tracks for the top slots in the latest episode, Forystek said they were amazed at how “radio ready” many of the students were, and it was hard to choose just one final winner. That’s when Profitt contacted Capitol Records, which agreed to release three of the winning remixes in his remix series: “A Storm is Coming” by senior Rich Andrews, “There for You” by the student producer known as Fire & Ice, and “Pull That Trigger” by senior Joseph Brown and Parker Robinson (’21).

“The fact that Liberty’s student work is so good that on a Capitol Records release we get three slots is really good for the students, the program, and the school,” Forystek said.

Fire & Ice said opportunities such as this competition are why they originally chose to enroll.

“The reason we came here for music is because Liberty is a place that has a lot of connections to the music industry,” they said. “We think that these contests are the beginning to a lot more things that Liberty is going to be doing. It is an amazing opportunity that a lot of other schools never even get to have. The fact that they are able to bring in people like Tommee Profitt is crazy.”

Because the music industry is built off of relationships, the students in these contests, as well as many others in the commercial music center, are ahead of other industry competitors their age. Brown, for example, has already received an offer from a recording studio in Atlanta that is coveting his talent and ability.

“All of our students who got released or were a part of these remix competitions have already gotten other work,” Forystek said. “They’ve already gotten paid from other entities because their skill level has been seen, and they are wanted for other projects.”

This is the Center for Commercial Music’s goal.

“It’s not about winning (the competitions). It’s about building a career,” Forystek said. “While they’re students, they are getting opportunities to actually participate in real content generation for the actual marketplace.”

The music industry has long been known as a difficult destination to reach. But the Center for Commercial Music is creating a bridge from dreams to reality.

“At the end of the day, your (diploma) shows you have the qualifications, you have the credentials, but we wanted to go a step above, and now these students have the relationships, too,” Forystek said. “They are all getting face time. They are all getting to shake the hand, and the artist is hearing the student’s work.”

He added Denson has played an integral role.

“He tells the students all the time, ‘It’s all about relationships. It’s people working with people.’”

While many colleges excel at teaching the craft and giving students some insight on how the industry operates, Liberty gives its students tangible steps toward achieving their goals. After laying a strong musical foundation during their early semesters, the students are then introduced to studio musicians from the industry who fly in every semester to walk them through the process of bringing textbook education to
hands-on learning.

“The credibility for Liberty in the industry has grown to where people in Nashville and Los Angeles are talking about what’s happening at Liberty,” Forystek said.

Get the e-magazine straight to your inbox!

It only takes a click to unsubscribe.