The goal of any higher education institution is to provide students with the tools they need to contribute to society through their chosen profession while earning a respectable living. While traditionally, schools that offer music performance degrees are judged by their excellence in training the student to hone their performance abilities, it is becoming as important for schools to guide the young professional musician towards the bottom line of earning a living. This is an ever changing dynamic and, as we all know, performance opportunities that result in a real income are few and are well guarded by the “gatekeepers” of the industry. The opportunities for even the most talented of musicians are rare and competition for lucrative jobs is fierce, whether they are looking for work as a solo or ensemble performer, work as a member of an orchestra or choir, recording opportunities as an artist or sideman, or work in film or commercials.
While this reality of the difficulties of earning a competitive living in today’s society as a performing musician is not going to change in any major way, a trend is developing that has the ability to empower the enterprising professional musician and help him or her to rise above the pack.
With the advent of the personal computer, we’ve seen the evolution of the home-based recording studio and thus the demand for a music production curriculum. But, the trend is progressing faster and demand growing broader than most realize. Technology in the field of audio recording has progressed to the point where a very high quality home based recording studio is not only inexpensive but practical as well. Today’s recording studio could be as simple as a laptop or PC, an interface/mixer and a microphone. Often, adequate software for recording audio is included with the interface/mixer and/or the computer. The point is, that what used to be beyond the means of the average performing musician, is now within his or her reach and should be considered standard “tools of the trade”.
Proper equipment use and recording techniques along with the technique for the mixing and mastering of audio should be taught at all music schools, not as an elective, but as required courses in the core curriculum. Much the same as majoring in an instrument is required for Music Production majors, all stages of the recording process should be required learning for the performance major.
In addition to being a part of the standard curriculum, there is an opportunity for faculty to take advantage of the technology as another teaching tool, which can be used at practice or rehearsals to obtain a clear and accurate recording so that the student can review and judge their own performance more objectively. Software could be used as a tool to help analyze timing, intonation and tone. Homework could include recording performances in much the same way as written assignments. A recorded log of the student’s progress throughout their college career could be maintained.
In addition to being a learning and teaching tool throughout the student’s college career, basic recording skills will be a necessity throughout their entire career as a musician. Today’s major record labels are no longer signing acts on the basis of a musician’s talent alone. A healthy performance and sales base created by the artist is now usually required before the label will consider signing an act to their roster. The trend amongst the majors to thin out their A & R and production staff is a direct result of acts being able to record and produce their own product and then being able to create their own sales and fan base by performance exposure and peer to peer marketing.
As an example for illustration, in my recording studio, DreamCatcher Recording Studio, I produced 5 CD’s for New Age Recording Artist, Dan McClerren, over a 5 year period. Dan, with the help of his wife, Merry, through performing and retailing at Craft Fairs and Malls across the country and through exposure and promotion through the internet, have obtained gross sales of over $500,000 by direct marketing. Dan’s career has progressed to the inclusion of his own home based recording studio where, with my guidance, he has recorded and produced his 6th CD, in house. When recently approached by a major indie label to sign a recording contract with them, he weighed the pros and cons of the offering and decided to remain independent. You see, Dan has embraced the notion that mastering one’s instrument is but one step in the career of today’s musician. The packaging, promoting and retailing of his or her performance is a natural extension of the modern musician’s pursuit. Waiting to be discovered is not an option. Discovering their musical abilities and presenting the result to the world in a competitive way should be a basic pursuit of all evolving musicians.
Tools of the future for the performing musician will include recording, mixing, mastering, packaging, web-hosting, promoting and retailing of their musical performance. All of these subjects should be taught at the college level as basic skills for the performing musician. To gain a competitive edge, performance musicians will need to be able to effectively and professionally package themselves in such a way as to allow and encourage direct marketing and sales. In the new world of peer-to-peer networking, the whole world is truly a stage.