Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Community Music

Since Tim applied for a job helping design a music program for a community college, and given that my favorite game is "how would you teach this?", I have been thinking a lot about classes I would require for a music program.  The "conservatory model" used by most college music programs, both classical and commercial, doesn't actually prepare students for much but performing.

But performing is NOT the only part of the job for a musician. Especially since most musicians spend their entire lives working on a local or regional level, not a national level. Ironically, for those musicians, the performing is really secondary. You don't get to perform unless you master a whole bunch of other skills.

So, here are classes I would require for music majors, if the music program was going to release real musicians into the real world to make a living.

Oh, before I forget, first I would require a minor or a practical certification in a non-music field or teaching (but only if they are actually suited to teaching in a public school setting), since most musicians will spend many years (or even their entire career) making money in another area to support their music habit. Might as well qualify them to make a living as they build their music career. And to do it without label support, because even musicians that get signed to a label usually have to go it on their own.

Also, all music students (and all college students, actually) should be required to do a semester's worth of individual career counselling (at least 3 or 4 sessions), including taking a VALID interest test (like the Strong Interest Inventory, not like the Meyer-Briggs test). (The SII, as a side note, said that I would enjoy the work of a musician, and I was surprised because I thought that was only performing, and I only sorta enjoy that--but it turns out that it was right. I really really enjoy the career of a musician. It's so much more than performing.)

Other things musicians should ideally learn in a music program:

Performance Skills
*  Performing in their individual main instrument and genre live and in ways appropriate for the venues they likely will play (ie not recital halls)
* Performing in a studio/the process of recording from in front of the mic
* Performing in a dozen other genres, including both classical and jazz but also as many contemporary genres as possible. Outside of the "national acts," no musician who makes a living has the luxury to perform only in one genre with only one band.
* Performing on as many additional instruments as you can possibly do (not to a master level, but so you've done it)
* Modeling and Acting, and maybe the photography thereof (so from behind and in front of the camera)
* Public speaking/ emceeing/ toastmasters kind of stuff
* Performance analysis, where you film your own performance AND the audience's reaction and analyze both

Business, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship
* Music careers (most musicians don't know performing isn't the only option), aka how to most musicians actually make money?
* Basic accounting, tax laws, how to do Sole Proprietor taxes, etc.
* Music law, copyright law, licensing a business, etc. A music legal business class that is NOT marketing
* Marketing (NOT get ads on the radio marketing, but real useful music marketing, including the materials you need)
*Graphic design, including using the computer programs, and including the types of materials musicians design, from press stuff to photos to T-shirts
* Web Presence, including how to design and build a cheap website, viral video/YouTube realities, and social media (most musicians do social media wrong, and have incorrect expectations about what it actually does) (this is also a technology class)
* Getting gigs and building an audience (two different things completely but that are wedded by being reliant on good social skills and good networking skills)
* Fundraising, including crowdsourcing, loans, money management with future projects in mind.
* Money management for musicians--with a full acknowledgement of the realities of money for musicians, including that it comes in fits and starts, is irregular in amount, and is scarce all the time

Music Technology and Science
* Music Technology--every musician should be able to set up and run a sound system appropriate for their primary instrument and the venues it usually is used in (including, for this, mic technique and sound checking, EQ, etc). There is no excuse for a musician to graduate without knowing how to sound check and a show--from both sides of the board. Vocalists MUST do a section on mic technique for singers. Everyone needs to know what sound guys do so they can work together well, from load-in to load-out
* Music computer programs (like ProTools, Finale, Sibelius, StaffPad, etc)
* How to make a music video, including camera and software info, and focusing on "hacks" to do it cheaply
* Studio Engineering (so even if they don't record themselves, they understand what the engineer is doing and so can perform better)
* Music production and distribution (including digital distribution and CD production "deals" and how not to get tricked)
* Understanding sound and the science of music, heavy on the acoustics parts

Interpersonal, Social, and Health 
* Health and psychology for performers--so many ruin their bodies because performing and moving equipment is incredibly taxing and stressful, and so many struggle with the introverted/extroverted aspects of the job (because you really would have to be both to have it easy in music)
* Possibly a mental health class or yoga class to help give musicians good mental health habits and resources as well as some skills for dealing with other musicians when they are falling apart
* Music psychology (how your art affects your audience), including music therapy

Non-performance Music Skills
* Songwriting and arranging
* Piano skills
* Caring for, transporting, and repairing instruments and equipment
* How to teach private lessons in your primary instrument AND how to run a private voice lessons business (this is also a business class)
* Music publishing, in all its varieties: how to get sheet music made to self-publish, how to get it made my someone else, how to get music in movies, etc.

Academic Music
* a literature class, but that only deals with songs. So not a how-to-write-a-song class, but a how-to-listen-to-and-analyze-songs (music and lyrics, all genres) class the way you get a how to read and analyze literature class for English majors
* History of popular music (with the understanding the popular music in some eras was opera or madrigals, and including both "high art" and "low art")
* Music Folklore (real folklore, like academic folklore)/Music in Society--this would be a chance to study how music is produced, shared, and transmitted in regular culture (word of mouth transmission of both skills and musics). NOT just folk songs, although that is an important starting point, but how pop music and skills are spread (so a how to understand your music's reach and where to learn the skills you need class). This could cover the value of music in society and how people use music in their daily lives.
* Writing, with a focus on music writing--reviews, blurbs, press releases, bios, album notes, explanations of what you're doing

Music Management/Production
* Music administration (most of the jobs open in music are in administration)
* Event production (a lot of jobs are open in this, too)
* How to build and run a band (auditions, group management/ dynamics/ social skills, running rehearsals/ rehearsing, communication)
* Travel and touring--the practicalities of it, the costs, the planning, the getting of gigs outside your home area, where to go, why, and how to deal with the interpersonal issues
* Basic auto repair and maintenance (if you plan on touring at all)--actually, this should be required for all college students everywhere. That and how to pay taxes and how to use power tools. It's more of a life skills class (should be required for college!) than just a touring musicians might need this class

Of course, Tim doesn't do film music, soundtracks, musical theater, or classical performance, so I'm sure there are classes that would benefit those kinds of performers, too, that aren't on this list.

I'm sure I'll keep adding to the list. There are so so many things Tim has had to learn the hard way that could actually be taught to musicians. And it would be groundbreaking if a school did just  a few things: 1. Acknowledged exactly how most music careers actually go (ie stayed local and worked on a build it up basis rather than a get discovered basis, mostly not commercial or classical) and 2. Taught for reality instead of for fame. Oh, and 3. Embraced that there are many kinds of music separate from classical (and even more than just jazz and commercial) and all are equally valuable.

Tim had some really good ideas about all this (of course), one being that most of these courses could actually be taught by professors in non-music majors who are already teaching on campus.

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