The old audio recording lab at St. Petersburg College consisted of four rows of pianos hooked up to computers.
"It was a simple recording platform, you hit 'record' and 'play,' " recalled Justin Shea, a music and recording arts student.
These days, he and his classmates are experimenting in two state-of-the-art studios, complete with a professional recording system, a new iMac, new software and an impressive control panel.
"We have all this gear, professional sound equipment that we can create world-class projects in a semester's time," said Shea, 25.
Since the college launched its two-year music industry/recording arts program last year, college officials have steadily increased their cache of recording equipment.
"This is what the students need to be good," said Mark Matthews, the program's lead instructor.
A growing number of students will be using the equipment. The program, which started with 12 students, will have 150 enrolled this spring, Matthews said.
The tens of thousands of dollars, mostly from student lab fees, used to create the facility is a necessary investment to prepare students for a career in a lucrative and seemingly recession-proof industry, he said.
"If anything, the entertainment industry and sound recording part of the Internet and entertainment industry are still growing because people still want to be entertained," he said.
In addition to preparing students to work in the music recording industry, the program also gives students a hands-on start if they choose to get into the movie, television, radio and even gaming businesses, Matthews said.
Shea and his classmates say the associate's degree program at SPC is a bargain compared to schools such as Full Sail University in Orlando, where tuition for a 21-month bachelor's degree program can cost up to $75,000, according to its Web site. At SPC, the cost for in-state students in 2009-10 is around $13,000.
"I'm not quite sure if I would be sold on school if this program wasn't around," said Preston Drewitz, 24. He spent four years touring with bands as a musician before enrolling at SPC's program.
"Here, we can do whatever we want, we can use the expensive equipment that none of us have money to afford, and it's local," Drewitz said.