Drop the Beat: SUNY Broome alum finds a career in sound engineering

You never know what you’re going to get in a recording studio: an up-and-coming hiphop artist. A 13-member a cappella ensemble. A string quartet. R&B queen Faith Evans, dropping by to record her single “He Is” – later nominated for a Grammy.

SUNY Broome graduate Juan Peña has worked as a sound engineer for all of the above – including Faith Evans. And that includes work on “He Is,” for which he received a certificate from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

“I was stoked. I was thinking, ‘Wow, that’s crazy,’” said the 2011 graduate of SUNY Broome’s Music Program, with a focus on sound engineering.

These days, Peña works in New York City, one of the nation’s three hubs for the music industry. (The others, if you’re wondering, are Los Angeles and Nashville.) His interest in the music industry started closer to his childhood home of Owego, where he was the drummer for a Binghamton-area rock band called Freaks of the Forest.

To save money, the band wanted to record their own music. Peña enrolled at SUNY Broome and learned the ins and outs of the recording process, honing his skills by running the college’s sound-engineering lab.

“I was always trying to find time to bring my band in,” Peña remembered. “That helped me learn a bunch of stuff. I got deeper into it.”

Ultimately, Peña chose a career in sound engineering over the remote prospect of making it big as a rock drummer. He enrolled in SUNY Purchase, where he earned a bachelor’s of music with a focus in studio production, and began working in the industry while finishing his degree.

As his skill level grew, he moved from general assistant to assistant engineer at Bad Boy Entertainment, and then landed an audio engineer position at Area 51 NYC Recording Studios and, later, Downtown Music Studios in Soho, where he works today. Over the past few years, he has worked with a variety of clients, including Justin Bieber, Wyclef Jean, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Black Rob, Machine Gun Kelly, Lil Kim, French Montana, Macklemore and many others – such as those string ensembles and a cappella groups.

“I often think back on the sound engineering program at SUNY Broome and realize how it laid the foundation for the place where I find myself today,” he said in an email to Dean of Liberal Arts Michael Kinney, who helped create the college’s sound engineering program.

He’s continuing to hone his skills. Certain ones can be only learned in the studio – namely the fine art of dealing with the many personalities found in the arts. (Faith Evans, as it turns out, was quite friendly.)

“I’d love to get a Grammy someday,” he said. “That would be amazing.”

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