If you graduated from Skidmore College in 1993, it’s entirely possible that you shared classes with two future Grammy Award winners. The first, of course, is Emily Lazar, who became the first woman in history to win in the Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical category earlier this year. The second, her friend Scott Jacoby, will be returning to the college on Tuesday, March 26, to share tips with students on navigating the music industry and making it as a creative professional. The Grammy-winning recording engineer, producer, composer and owner of Eusonia Records and Studios in New York City, will be giving a presentation from 5-6:30pm in Skidmore’s Davis Auditorium.
Even though it’s been 26 years since Jacoby has been a Skidmore student, he looks back fondly on his education there. He remembers his first visit to the college as a prospective student, noting that the school “seemed to be a bit more artist-oriented or -inclined than some other schools in the same category of small liberal arts.” That, and he was particularly attracted to the “interdisciplinary spirit” of the institution. Although you might expect Jacoby to have been a mainstay in the music department, he actually took few music classes during his four years on campus, though he did perform in a number of bands. These included Blue Knows, a jazz and blues group that expanded the Downtown scene; D.O.P.E (Deeply Opening Peoples Ears), a hip-hop-meets-funk ensemble, coupling a live band with three emcees; and Dig, one of Skidmore’s only groups at the time fronted by a woman of color. Despite his obvious passion for music, Jacoby claims that he never intended “for music to be a career.”
Instead, Jacoby opted to pursue psychology, discovering a love for the field while taking the then-mandatory Liberal Studies course. In his senior year, Jacoby applied for a Fulbright Grant, proposing a study exploring “the intersection of psychology, psychiatry and anthropology” in East Africa. Despite submitting an impressive application, Jacoby’s proposal was rejected; Fulbright stated that he would’ve had to have been a doctor to pull it off. Jacoby recalls his response to the news: “I was basically like f–k this, I’m going to medical school.” After taking more preliminary science courses, Jacoby began studies at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. At 27, he completed his sophomore year at Einstein and broke ties with the institution, deciding it was time to “figure out how to make a career in music.”
Inspired by Stevie Wonder, Prince and Lenny Kravitz, Jacoby approached his first album, operating under the assumption that “if you were interested in music you wrote all the songs, you produced everything, you engineered it, you mixed it—you kinda did the whole thing.” Jacoby shared the album with none other than his friend Lazar, who after listening explained that each aspect of creating an album—writing, singing, mixing and producing—is an individual career. It was then that Jacoby realized he was “basically a producer and a songwriter and an engineer—cloaked for the moment in recording artist clothes.”
Despite his reservations about where he fit into the music business, Jacoby clearly had a gift—at least in the Far East. His single, “I Like You,” hit No.1 in Japan in 2003. But by that point, his focus had shifted from performing to producing.
He’s had no problem making that shift in the industry, working with a number of high-profile artists such as Coldplay, John Legend, Vampire Weekend and Sia. He’d end up winning his first Grammy in 2006 for engineering comedian Lewis Black’s The Carnegie Hall Performance. A decade later, he served as a presenter the Grammys in its Technical category.
Over the last 20 years, Jacoby has given more than 25 presentations at colleges and universities, visiting Skidmore seven times. He admits that he doesn’t “like advice or people who give it”; he prefers his presentations to touch on the why, not the how of a process or the technicalities of creating it. He thinks that the music industry is a tricky business to get into, but like any field, “the thing that unifies most successful people is a sense of purpose and working hard toward that goal,” he says. “I’m not going to call that advice, but it’s an observation.”