By day, Bob Wilson works for UPMC. His nights and weekends, however, are spent plying another trade: music.
Since he first picked up a drum kit as a kid, Wilson has always had a love for sound. He's self-taught on drums, bass and guitar, and once operated an informal recording studio out of a house he bought next door to his own on Third Street in Tarentum.
After recording a handful of local bands, including Shades of Scarlet and Paejac, Wilson turned his attention to fulfilling another dream — teaching his craft to area youth. Next month, in the same house, Wilson plans to open Refuge Studio, a state-of-the-art, teaching recording studio.
Wilson is currently renovating the house/studio into a more education-friendly environment. The project is an outreach of the nondenominational, contemporary-Christian Allison Park Church, where he's a member. The studio's flagship initiative is Tagged, a music-mentorship program that will give teen-agers hands-on experience working in a recording studio.
"Growing up, no one ever said to me, 'What are you going to do with your life?'" says Wilson. "We want to help kids discover their gifts. We want to have a positive influence so they can get usable skills and find their paths."
Wilson and his team of volunteer staff include trained sound engineers and musicians. The group is developing a curriculum for aspiring teen-age musicians and record producers, to teach all aspects of the business. Students can come in and record tracks for free, while working alongside trained professionals to learn how to run a studio. He also wants to help his students get certified in using Pro Tools, the industry-standard recording software.
"With so many cutbacks to school districts, a lot of places are getting rid of their music programs," says Refuge curriculum/instructional designer Nick Artman, who has a master's degree in adult education and communication technology. "We want students to gain that base knowledge."
"Anybody can open up [basic Apple recording software] GarageBand and record," adds Artman, himself a musician formerly with Shades of Scarlet. "But there's more to the process then just hitting 'record.'"
Students, for instance, will learn how to wire equipment, mike instruments and gain an understanding of how speakers work. The goal is to help the student become a well-rounded engineer.
While the interior of Refuge is still a work in progress, it has rooms for guitar, vocals and live recording.
Wilson, a former youth pastor, ultimately hopes that the studio and program will help revitalize the industrial riverfront community he calls home, while helping kids who need role models. According to 2010 Census data, nearly 23 percent of households in Tarentum are single-parent. Opportunities for youths in the community, meanwhile, are dwindling. Blocks away, a borough-operated skate park on East First Avenue sits empty after being closed due to funding issues.
To get the studio off the ground, Wilson is pursuing a grant with the help of the Allegheny County Labor Council, and private donations. In the meantime, his team is working on its curriculum and making the space parent-friendly with a green room and viewing booths.
"Refuge is really about what it sounds like," Wilson says. "We really want it to be a safe place for people to come that don't fit in anywhere else."