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Students mixing a real-world event heard via the organization’s new RCF PA at Tech 25 in Pittsburgh.

Helping Build The Future: The Wide-Ranging Educational & Development Efforts Of Tech 25

Inside the work of a Pittsburgh-based non-profit collective network of industry professionals providing production education, workforce programs, hands-on experience and more to the next generation.

Standing on the sidewalk in the Mt. Oliver borough of Pittsburgh PA, you can hear the faint sounds of music. The building reads “Eisenstat Candy Co.” but what’s inside might be a surprise. Tech 25 is a non-profit organization born out of the minds of individuals working in the entertainment industry.

It’s an operation focused on education, diversity, and accessibility through youth education, workforce programs, hands-on experience, and a collective network of industry professionals who provide beginner to high level donation-based training in live sound engineering, music production, sports broadcasting, lighting, DJing, and more.

Humble Beginnings

Initially established in the third-floor cry room of an old church-turned-production company headquarters, Tech 25 has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the summer of 2019. The idea started out with running a youth summer camp which introduced kids to the world of audio, lighting and video by bringing in local professionals who provided the kids with hands-on activities such as playing with lasers and setting up sound systems.

Later that year, instructors took pro audio equipment into local schools, supplementing their music and media classes by giving students hands-on experience with equipment they would see in the careers they were learning about. During the pandemic lockdown, instructors redirected by teaching live streaming workshops for the community and leading grant-funded after-school programs that gave students GoPros, microphones and audio interfaces, and access to editing software while guiding them through project-based learning.

Now in 2024, Tech 25 has expanded, coming from shared rooms and lended gear to moving into its own building with a 10,000-square-foot warehouse that works as a training venue for up-and-coming audio and lighting technicians. In addition, there’s an eight-station computer lab complete with music production and training essentials, as well as a small recording studio.

Tech 25’s multi-station computer lab with music production and training essentials.

Executive director Pete Spynda has spearheaded the renovation and vision for the new space and explains, “I see Tech 25’s facility serving as a place where working event technicians can learn, create, explore, and play through access to gear, space, and ongoing workshops and masterclasses”

Creating A Pipeline

Tech 25 has a vision of what the organization calls a “pipeline” into the production industry. It all starts with youth education. Director of education Jordan Gilliam leads the charge of the organization’s youth programming that involves in-school and after-school programming with partnering schools in Pittsburgh’s south hilltop districts.

“Most people consider workforce development as a concept starting at eligible working ages,” states Gilliam. “At Tech 25, we believe planting the seed early in a young person’s life to be the most important part in fostering their ability to find accessible paths in education, especially within the entertainment industry.”

These programs focus on music production, DJing, podcasting, and videography, designed to elevate the students’ interests and give them a voice while introducing them to various technical and communication-based skills that are valuable in all career paths.

Getting hands-on experience with some of the less-glamorous aspects of production work.

Jordan comes from a background of having his hands in everything, beginning with earning an audio engineering certificate from the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences to freelancing as an engineer, videographer, DJ, and performer with artists such as Wiz Khalifa, Chiddy Bang, Dixie Chicks, and Kendrick Lamar. With his experience and his unwavering dedication to teaching, he works to “connect the dots” for students between what they do now in school and reaching their potential dream jobs.

Tech 25 also hosts the local “Start on Success” high school program in its space five days a week, giving students a chance to earn money while establishing their work ethic, hard and soft skills, and building a network of people who support them in whichever path they choose to follow.

“I thought my goals were impossible to reach,” says Marcus Jones, Start on Success student-turned-staff member, who now teaches an after-school program which introduces kids to various aspects of music production and DJing, both of which are skills he has grown himself over the past few years with the organization. “Thanks to the Start on Success program and Tech 25, I can now reach them,” he adds.

Further along in the pipeline, Tech 25 offers workforce development programs for people of working age. Here, the organization has seen significant growth and success. Each month instructors run donation-based Audio Basics and Lighting Basics courses that are regularly at capacity, filled with people from diverse backgrounds and interests.

The organization also hosts regular workshops and master classes from various industry professionals to provide continued education for their students as well as local technicians. A couple of recent master classes have included A1 for Turner Sports Doug Deems on mixing for sports broadcast, systems engineer Michael Lawrence on sound system optimization, and Wayne Anderson on radio production for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A recent master class on mixing for sports broadcasts.

Branching Out

After the lockdown, the first workforce program Tech 25 introduced was their two month Live Sound Engineering program. Running several times per year since its start, lead educator and live sound instructor Carolyn Slothour has taught a slew of people of various ages and backgrounds, a large portion of which now work in the industry in various capacities.

Slothour is a live sound engineer and musician originally from New Jersey. After earning a degree in Music Technology, she moved on to immerse herself fully in the world of live audio as a freelance engineer involved in various roles including front of house, monitors and systems engineer, and has taken her skill set out on the road touring internationally with artists such as Meet Me @ The Altar, !!! (Chk Chk Chk), Your Smith, and Mija. In between gigs, she continues to make time for classes at Tech 25.

“With each experience I have in my own career, I’m able to bring that knowledge back to my classes and be an even better teacher,” Slothour says. “Using my skills to bring others up around me is an incredibly important part of my life and it makes even the hard days on the job feel more worthwhile when I can share those experiences with my students for them to learn from as well.”

Live sound instructor Carolyn Slothour (center) flanked by aspiring audio professionals.

Team Effort

Tech 25 doesn’t do all this alone – throughout its trajectory, the team has built relationships with various production companies and manufacturers who share their vision. Partnering with local production companies has given students a direct link to shadowing opportunities and entry-level positions. Through partnerships with companies like Hercules, Focusrite, and most recently RCF, students are given access to professional equipment to streamline their learning.

In addition to its dedication to producing reliable products, RCF has a vested interest in the education of the next generation of engineers and audiophiles. This is where Tech 25 and the company find their paths aligning.

To help bridge the gap between those who are interested in working in audio and the many positions that need to be filled in the growing industry, Tech 25 and RCF are working together to provide workforce and youth programs that provide students with hands-on experience with the equipment that they will see in the field. RCF recently helped to provide the programs with a new PA system that’s comprised of a dozen HDL 26-A active line array modules and four 9004-AS active subwoofers.

With the new PA, Slothour has developed an improved curriculum for the Live Sound Engineering program. “I’ve been able to introduce several new concepts using the RCF system,” she explains. “Things like prediction and design using EASE Focus 3, safe rigging and flying of PA, and line array shading and processing.”

In addition, the program offers lessons on pre-production, microphone techniques, system measurement and alignment using Open Sound Meter, stage patching, digital signal processing, live mixing, digital consoles and more.

Next Steps

For the organization’s staff, the journey so far has been an exciting one, but they believe it’s only the beginning. “By connecting with our students through their interests, we envision creating an inter-generational pipeline of workers through continued partnerships with schools, employers, and manufacturers, leading to a more equitable and diverse workforce that helps uplift our community,” Spynda says.

The team also notes that the hope is to build and share this model of accessible education so that other communities can see similar growth. “The efforts Tech 25 makes can be seen in the forefront of the community as well as the foundation of continual learning in an industry long overdue for evolution.”

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