The Sound of Success

A sound design company founded by UCI alumni is making waves in themed entertainment

By Christine Byrd

Even if you’ve never heard of Ears Up Sound Design, their work is heard by millions around the globe — from the music that sets the tone at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium to the soundscape of the touring Stranger Things experience and even the soundtracks at two theme parks in Abu Dhabi.

Created by alumni Matt Glenn, M.F.A. ’14 and Mark Caspary, M.F.A. ’15, Ears Up is a trailblazer in soundtrack production for “location-based” entertainment.

“Matt and Mark took a risk by asking the industry to think about sound design in a different way – and that’s paying off,” says Vincent Olivieri, professor of sound design. “As composers and designers, in theater and in themed entertainment, they always ensure storytelling is the throughline for their work, even as they are using highly technical tools to tell the story. That’s what makes them great.”

After working together as graduate students and then professionals in the fast-growing themed entertainment industry, the duo saw an opportunity to bring their experience from the theater world to improve the sound design process. Instead of introducing sound design at the end of the creative process — the standard workflow in film, television and themed entertainment — Caspary and Glenn thought sound should be involved much earlier.

“Uniquely, as sound artists, we can let you hear what your project will sound like at nearly full scale before anyone has stamped a drawing or built any scenery,” explains Glenn.

One way Ears Up achieves this is with the one-of-a-kind sound design studio they developed in Glendale, Calif. There, a raised floor surrounded by a theatrical truss equipped with speakers allows a 360-degree sound experience. They can mix audio with virtual reality mock-ups of experiences or even accommodate a full-sized vehicle from a theme park ride in the space. On the walls, two refrigerator-size subwoofers can produce an audio vibration akin to the call of a blue whale. The facility’s newest addition is a high-quality production studio for recording dialogue, instruments and other sound effects, complete with foley pits.

Image: Photo courtesy of Ears Up Sound Design.


Caspary and Glenn met in the drama M.F.A. program at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. They chose UCI not only because it’s one of the best design programs in the nation but because it offered the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment provided by industry standard-bearers like Meyer Sound Laboratories. They say they benefited from the different approaches to sound design brought by Mike Hooker, a professor of sound design who came from themed-entertainment including Walt Disney Imagineering, and Olivieri, who has a theater background. What both professors had in common was high expectations for the quality of their students’ work.

Caspary and Glenn worked together on CTSA productions, collaborated with Hooker on a show at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and took a themed entertainment course that brings together students from all design disciplines and stage management and asks them to plan a immersive, interactive experience from concept development to detailed design and planning.

“The themed entertainment design class is really unique; it was a great introduction to the themed entertainment design world,” says Caspary. “At the same time, I was noticing a lot of graduates from our program were going into themed entertainment design.”

Diving in and saying yes, that’s a big philosophy of the company,” says Caspary. “Those were values instilled at UCI.

Both Caspary and Glenn interned and worked at themed entertainment firms before forming Ears Up in fall 2016. The company was immediately busy, thanks to the pair’s alumni and professional network connections. Their first major project was sound design and installation for Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, with a size and scope that forced them to quickly refine the company’s design process to serve the complex, corporate world of themed entertainment.

“Suddenly, we were talking to general contractors and real estate developers or film producers — far from theatrical clients,” says Glenn. But the foundations they built at UCI served them well.  “It’s all about being able to communicate effectively, making everyone feel that you are there to work with them and accomplish their goal.”

Image: Mark Caspary gives graduate students from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts a tour of the Ears Up Sound Design Facility.

Global Reach

That openness to collaboration and creative challenges has led the team to accept some truly unusual projects. Ears Up recently worked with ornithologists from Cornell University to incorporate real bird songs into the soundscapes at SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, accurately re-creating sounds from different parts of the world across the park, and ensuring the sounds shifted over the course of a day and with the seasons, just as they do in nature.

“Diving in and saying yes, that’s a big philosophy of the company,” says Caspary. “Those were values instilled at UCI.”

Ears Up helped an ocean conservationist create a high-tech presentation about the effects of underwater noise pollution on migratory species. That’s when they acquired their massive subwoofers, to mimic the sounds of whale calls that are as intense as underwater explosions — too low for the human ear to hear but strong enough to be felt.

The team also composed and produced the music and audio for tours of Pilsner Urquell’s “The Original Beer Experience” in Prague, the sound mix for the Nintendo-themed attractions at Universal Studios Japan, and the musical soundtrack that conjures the vibe of a 1960s NASA mission control center in an escape room on the Royal

Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise ship.

“No two projects are ever the same,” says Glenn. “We’re as much inventors as we are producers, creating as we go along.”

Staying Connected

Caspary and Glenn remain connected to the CTSA faculty and to new generations of UCI students. As their company has grown, they’ve hired UCI alumni, including Nathan Chase, M.F.A. stage management ’17, whom they had worked with on UCI’s New Swan Shakespeare Festival. Chase had gone into live shows and entertainment for Disneyland and California Adventure until the pandemic. Serendipitously, Ears Up needed a project manager around the same time, and Chase’s role with the company has been expanding ever since.

It’s not just their professional lives that are inextricably linked to UCI. Chase and Caspary both met their future wives on campus, and Olivieri even officiated at Caspary’s wedding.

“Most of my best friends are people I met in grad school — and who are fantastic to hang out with,” Caspary says.

The team at Ears Up has become part of the ever-growing network of alumni who help new generations of CTSA students find their place in the professional world. Glenn taught several lectures in Olivieri’s recent post-production sound design course, and Caspary is the resident composer for acting professor Annie Loui’s CounterBalance Theater. Ears Up has also welcomed UCI undergraduate and graduate students taking Trends in Modern Sound Design to tour their studio to share more about location-based entertainment and the company’s unique approach.  

“Something we always want to pass back to current UCI students is that the lessons they are learning go so much further than just theater,” Glenn adds. “The environment of collaborative sharing of information, support and solving problems together is something that’s worth bringing with you wherever you go, no matter what.”

To learn more about Claire Trevor School of the Arts graduate programs in design, visit the website at

To learn more about Ears Up Sound Design, visit their website at


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CONNECT - Spring 2024

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