Published February 28, 2023
Skyler Childress (left), a 2018 DC3 graduate, was credited as a sound engineer on Snarky Puppy’s album “Empire Central,” which won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards. Also pictured (left to right) are sound engineers Michael Harrison, Matt Recchia (back), and Nic Hard. [Photo by Brian Friedman. Instagram: @bfreedphoto]
People may not realize that when American jazz infusion band Snarky Puppy received a Grammy on Feb. 5, there was a Dodge City Community College (DC3) graduate listed on their winning album’s liner notes.
Skyler Childress, a Dodge City native, who majored in music and graduated from DC3 in 2018, was credited on Snarky Puppy’s 2022 live album “Empire Central” as a sound engineer. And she happened to be with the band when they got the news that they had won the award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.
“Lots of hugs and love were shared,” Childress said. “They actually didn’t know that it was my first project I had worked on, and the excitement ramped up even more. I personally am still processing it. I’ve only been in this side of the industry for about a year. It’s been an absolute whirlwind.”
DC3 Associate Professor of Vocal Music, Kerry Kuplic, said he thinks it’s wonderful to see that “the education, foundation, and support we gave her is paying off in very real and tangible ways.” And he said it’s also “gratifying” to know he played a part in her journey.
Kuplic said that in addition to taking his Aural Skills I-IV sequence of classes, Childress also participated in a number of his projects, such as music presentations to area schoolchildren, performing at area concerts, and playing her trumpet at commencement and other college events.
“Skyler was a very dedicated and talented student who was eager to learn,” he said. “I was always impressed with her work ethic and quality of work. And she had a great sense of humor.”
During her time at DC3, Kuplic said he talked to Childress a lot about her future and which paths she might want to pursue in the music industry.
“She was a very talented trumpeter, but I knew she was also interested in the engineering side of the music,” he said.
Skyler Childress performs a trumpet solo at a 2018 DC3 Music Student Recital in the Little Theatre. Also pictured is Don Steele on piano. [College Archives]
Childress said her journey into sound engineering actually started during her first semester at DC3 with a simple recording setup with her jazz professor Dr. Paul Morelli.
“He’d decided he wanted us to record one of the charts we were working on for fun,” she said. “I have no idea what setup he was using—just some mic and his laptop recording it. The whole process, regardless of how simple, had me hooked.”
From that point on, she began researching the best schools for audio engineering and “doing everything I could” to get into the school of her choice, which was the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS) in Phoenix, Ariz.
After graduating from DC3 in December 2018, Childress moved to Arizona and began studying sound engineering at CRAS, where she would eventually graduate in February 2021.
“COVID, unfortunately, halted progress for a while,” she said. “The program was only supposed to be about 10 months, but it lasted about a year and a half. I studied audio engineering and received a certificate in their Master Recording Program II.”
However, before Childress could graduate from CRAS, she had to complete an internship within the industry. So, she chose to return home to Dodge City and work in radio with Rocking M Media.
“The Conservatory has an internship program that students are required to complete to graduate,” she said. “They also have an employment coordinator to help graduates out if and when needed.”
While still working at Rocking M, Childress said she began to look for other opportunities.
“Our employment coordinator had posted in an alumni group that there was an intern opportunity in Dallas for an album recording,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
The listing said the job was unpaid. And although there were no details given, Childress said she decided she was interested anyway.
“I responded. I was then scheduled with my mentor, Nic Hard, to interview with him,” she said. “He asked if I could get down there the next day, and I said, ‘yes.’ I just happened to walk right into a Snarky Puppy album recording.”
Initially expecting to be an intern tasked with getting food, coffee, and other items, Childress said she soon discovered that the position could be much, much more.
“Long story short, I was gradually just thrown into the mix of everything,” she said. “I was solely involved in the recording process of the album. I started off with simple tasks to show Nic what all I could handle.”
Her first job assignments involved recording setup, such as taking inventory of all of the microphones and then putting them on the appropriate stands. Next, she was asked to mic up the drum kit, followed by the horn section, and then finally the percussion. And after mastering setup in all these areas, she graduated to rehearsals.
“I was in charge of recording each of the rehearsals,” she said. “Rehearsals lasted a week, then the recordings for the week after, two sets per night. I was in charge of recording the backup recordings. Both mine and Nic’s recordings were used in the mixing process later on.”
Following the shows, Childress saved the recordings and made hard drive backups. And after that, she spent the last day in Dallas tearing the entire recording session down, which included wrapping mics and cables, organizing and separating rented and owned items, and finally packing up anything that needed to be shipped back to the musicians.
Although it has been less than a year since she first met the band, Childress said she is “incredibly honored” to have worked with Snarky Puppy multiple times now.
“They welcomed me with open arms, and as they keep telling me, I’m stuck with them now,” she said. “They are incredibly humble and hilarious individuals. The familial aspect with them is on a different level.”
Regarding the “Empire Central” album, Childress said it is the first of its kind. It was recorded live in front of a studio audience over the course of eight days in Deep Ellum—which is an East Dallas, Texas, neighborhood largely composed of arts and entertainment venues.
“All 19 members, plus some, were together recording,” she said. “It was chaotic and yet somehow the most cohesive and well planned thing I have ever witnessed.”
Currently living in Dallas, Childress said she is “kind of all over the industry” at the moment working as a freelance audio engineer. But as a result of her work with Snarky Puppy, her “main job” is now at Deep Ellum Art Company where the album was recorded.
“I am now the production manager and audio engineer at Deep Ellum Art Company, which is a 600-capacity venue,” she said. “The owners called me about two weeks after the recording to offer me my current position.”
However, Childress said her end goal is to one day become an artist’s front of house engineer and tour the world with him or her.
Kuplic said he is excited to see what’s next for Childress, and he will continue to follow her career through social media.
“I’m so proud of her for following her dreams and making those dreams a reality,” he said. “Her drive and focus are an inspiration to me, and I think her story can be a great inspiration to all the other students we serve. And who knows, we may have the next Skyler in classes right now!”
By Lance ZieschDC3 Assistant Director of Marketing and Community Relations