Although he’s only been in the audio industry for 12 years, Dr. Adam J. Hill has packed in a huge amount of work, splitting his time lecturing at the University of Derby in the UK and working “across the pond” with Chicago-area-based Gand Concert Sound (GCS) as an audio engineer.
At Derby, the 31-year-old teaches on the university’s BSc (Hons) Sound Light and Live Event Technology program (considered by many to be the leading program of its ilk in the UK), and also runs the MSc Audio Engineering program, which he created along with colleague Dr. Bruce Wiggins.
While his live sound work in the UK currently consists primarily of supervising the shows his students work on, that may change when he obtains dual citizenship in the next few years.
Each gig feeds the other, Hill explains. “Doing live sound is essential for my academic work. We have students who’ve gigged a lot, and if they get any hint you don’t know what you’re talking about, they’ll tear you apart.” Given the pace of technological change in the industry, he adds, “If I wasn’t hands-on, my teaching would be almost irrelevant. I also love doing sound. GCS is like a second family.”
In The Family
Raised in Highland Park, IL in north suburban Chicago, Hill spent a good part of his childhood on stage with his father’s band, Dr. Mark and The Sutures. “That’s where I started out, but my grandpa taught me to play guitar at an early age. He was a professional jazz player who performed with guys like Les Paul and Wes Montgomery. Guitar was the first thing I noodled around on, but my dad made me learn piano first. Then I taught myself bass, drums and percussion.”
Later, he’d go on to play in various school ensembles and rock bands, but the experiences with his dad and bandmates stand out, including once opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hill was also interested in what the band’s audio engineer was doing, combined with an aptitude for math and science. “But as a teenager, I was going to be a rock star,” he says, laughing. Several family members and friends who’d already gone the professional music route tried to dissuade that direction, with one bluntly advising him, “If you’re good at something else, do that instead.”
Despite those voices of experience, he admits that if it wasn’t for his mother giving him a college application (“and partly filling it out herself,” he adds), he might not have gone the higher education route. Fortunately, given his love of music and STEM aptitude, she suggested considering the study of audio engineering.
He hadn’t. In fact it took some time to settle on a major at Miami University (Oxford, OH), his dad’s alma mater and perhaps the last school on earth he actually wanted to attend. “I looked at it to appease my father, but it became clear that was where I needed to go.”
Thus began the pursuit of a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, something he still didn’t fully engage in until the influence of his academic advisor, Professor Jade Morton. “She helped me test my limits,” Hill states. “Without her I never would have made it to the UK. She was the one who said, ‘take the opportunity, go abroad’.”
Paying The Dues
Amidst the academic pursuits, Hill reached out to GCS founder/co-owner Gary Gand, seeking hands-on work in pro audio (a.k.a., a job) while at home during the summer.
“It was like an internship. Gary threw me in the deep end with the sharks and I managed to survive,” Hill says. “On one of my first days a whole bunch of gear had just come back from a circus gig and they sent me off to the loading dock to clean a 300-foot analog snake covered in, well, you can imagine. I also repainted lift gates, ‘roach-bombed’ speaker cabinets, mopped the floors; the typical stuff you’re going to do if you’re willing to pay your dues.”