This Cork music school is still rocking after 25 years

STUDENTS of the music, management and sound course at Cork city’s Colaiste Stiofáin Naofa (CSN) are a little starry-eyed with dreams of becoming rock stars. 

It’s The X Factor effect, says course director, Chris Ahern. He and his staff, along with the students and alumni, will celebrate the course’s 25th anniversary at Jacobs on the Mall, on Thursday, with music from local band, The Incredibles.

Dreams have come true for graduates such as Mick Flannery, Sinead Lohan and the Frank and Walters’ Cian Corbett.

But, based on his own experiences in the industry, Ahern is pragmatic about the course he instigated. He calls the course “a one-stop-shop for all aspects of the music industry”.

Its raison d’etre is jobs, which are about more than holding a microphone on stage.

“Employers get straight onto us looking for sound engineers for places like the Cork Opera House and publishing companies,” says Ahern.

Some graduates of the CSN course run their own PA and audio/visual companies.

Ahern was in the Stargazers band in the 1980s, He and his co-musicians were touring, making records and signing deals.

“We were dealing with promoters, venues and labels. There was a dearth of management skills and know-how. I was a part-time teacher of English at CSN at the time,” he says.

Ahern saw a niche for a music, management and sound course, and it has since taught 1,000 students.

For the first year of the course, there were 30 applicants. Twenty-four students got places.

Now, 200 people apply for the course every year and there are 40 places. The course has been expanded to a two-year diploma.

“People can come in as musicians and end up doing something different. Chloe Nagle came on the course as a performer. She is now Mick Flannery’s sound engineer. The music industry is hierarchical. A person can come in to us a bass player and end up as a lighting or sound engineer. Or they might build up a lot of contacts, which they can use working as an agent later on.”

The music industry has undergone huge changes since the course was founded.

“We started off with an eight-track recording system using reel-to-reel tape. We now have an up-to-the-minute Pro-tools system, so we can record albums that are of commercial quality. It’s great that our students can write songs, perform them at gigs we organise, and record them with the full package.

“We have a management teacher, Lara Norris, who has a first-class honours degree in music management from Berkeley University. She has worked for Universal Records and is a direct link to the industry.”

Advances in technology and the recession have had an impact on the music industry. “It makes financial sense for people to have a home-recording set-up.

But downloading has obviously affected songwriters’ incomes, with record companies going out of business. Now, anybody can put their material up on You Tube. Bands are dropping their prices just to survive. But this is all cyclical, he says.

Ahern still gigs with The Stargazers and is currently writing songs for Mick Flannery’s aunt, Karrie O’Sullivan, who is bringing out an album. For now, however, he can enjoy looking back on a very successful quarter century with CSN.


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