Al Schmitt has mixed and produced albums for artists from Madonna and Michael Jackson to Paul McCartney and Elvis Presley. But in Capitol Records’ Studio A in Hollywood, music stars of the future hold the recording engineer’s attention.

Nearly two dozen USC Thornton School of Music students record jazz cues under Schmitt’s watchful eye. Budding film composers take turns conducting the USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra, while students from the school’s music tech program assist Schmitt at the mixing board.

It’s not every day that college music students get to learn from a Grammy winner (in his case, a winner 23 times over). But at USC Thornton, it’s expected.

Thanks in part to its home in Los Angeles, USC Thornton provides its nearly 1,000 students with access to A-list artists and venues no other music school delivers.

In the coming months, students in the USC Thornton Symphony will perform at Walt Disney Concert Hall under principal conductor Carl St.Clair with USC Thornton faculty pianists Bernadene Blaha and Kevin Fitz-Gerald. Pop music-minded students will grab mics and take the stage at the Troubadour. Industry heavy hitters will come see them on campus, too. A weekly pop music forum has brought in artists like Elton John, Smokey Robinson and Randy Newman to share insights from their legendary careers. When the Beach Boys’ Mike Love and Bruce Johnston participated in a forum, USC Thornton students opened at their concert that same night.

— Daniel Carlin

“We are not only located in Los Angeles. We also are part of Los Angeles,” says USC Thornton Dean Robert Cutietta. “We utilize all the resources of this great metropolis, actively trying to blur the lines between campus and city.”

L.A. opens up opportunities to perform in hole-in-the-wall clubs and rooftop scenes. It offers hope to youthful impresarios who want to bring chamber music to the masses. And it brings budding artists together with music veterans who can kick-start careers.

“No other music program comes close,” says Daniel Carlin, chair of the screen scoring program. “That’s the advantage of being in Los Angeles.”

ArtsStudent LifeLos AngelesMusic