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Allied forces

By teaming with a local college, Park Ave CDs sets its own unique stage

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Across the street from the 7-Eleven on Corrine Drive and Winter Park Road, nestled between Junior's Diner and a run-down shoe repair shop, rests Orlando's long-standing, independent record store, Park Avenue CDs. The view from the parking lot reveals nothing more than a lit-up store sign and blown-up Bright Eyes and Foo Fighters album covers hanging in the windows. The whir of passing cars and menacing smell of fumes disguise a simple yet undeniable truth: This vinyl-filled community hang is entirely unique among even the top-tier record stores in the U.S. thanks to a unique collaboration that could only exist in Orlando. The evidence lies within a series of CD releases titled Live at Park Ave, the result of a partnership between the store's management and select recording arts students and staff at Full Sail University that began in 2005.

It works something like this: Matt Gorney, Full Sail's music history course director, and Darren Schneider, advanced session recording course director, team up with PACDs manager Shellie Olszewski and owner Sandy Bitman to record certain in-store performances. Before the guys at Full Sail even step into the equation with their state-of-the-art equipment, Olszewski, amid coordinating all the other details for the regularly scheduled in-stores, attempts to also get the band and their label and/or management to agree to a live recording. Once they've agreed, Gorney and Schneider plan their end of the deal. (The university itself stays entirely clear of the recording negotiation process.)

They choose four students - through a competition in Schneider's advanced recording class in which the students write an essay meant to essentially sell themselves to an employer - to work the in-store as assistant engineers and gain professional credits that they can place on their résumés before graduation - a leg up that most Full Sail grads won't have. Schneider acts as the recording engineer, Gorney takes care of pre-production details between the artists and the engineer, and both of them guide the students through the process, directing them to run cables, set up the stage or simply sit back and observe.

It's almost intimidating to watch the crew in action: Half a dozen gear-heads gather around wide mixing consoles with hundreds of buttons and settings and lights; the artists, meanwhile, stand squeamishly on a stage that unfolds beneath the metal scaffolding near the front of the store, often shaken by the high quality of what they'd assumed would be an average, intimate performance.

The final result is a professionally engineered and mixed-down recording of the show, and it's delivered to PACDs and the bands at no cost. The only thing Full Sail asks is that credits are given to Gorney, Schneider, the students and, of course, PACDs.

"We don't charge the record companies any money. We don't ask for points, we don't ask for royalties," Schneider says. "We just literally hand them a clean record and say, ‘Do you what you wanna do with it.'"

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