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Thursday, February 25, 2016

As music industry changes, Rowan emphasizes entrepreneurship


Written by Jonathan Lai

Andrei Fritz was itching to let loose a torrent of drumming that could be heard in the classroom upstairs and by passersby in the hallway outside.

But there was a problem.

"Uhh, there's no power," said Fritz, 21, crouched down and looking at a thick black cable.

Oops.

"On any of them?" asked Jeffrey Hiatt, a head engineer and staff producer at Turtle Studios in Philadelphia.

Something wasn't working right, but Hiatt was unfazed.

What better dose of reality for a group of Rowan University students learning about the music industry?

Hiatt turned to his students: "So, what do you do when something gets goofy like that?"

And with that, an audio recording class that was supposed to show students different types of microphones and setups became a hands-on class on responding to technical failures in the recording studio.

"Check user error first," Hiatt said, before telling the seven students in the studio that it's best to keep a recording session or performance going without interruption, if possible.

"Put a piece of tape on that, and we'll test it later," Hiatt said. "Sometimes unplugging something and plugging it back in will work; sometimes there are mysterious gremlins. So I don't like to just throw a cable in the trash."

For the 31 students in Rowan's new bachelor of science in music industry degree program, this type of real-world experience is a huge draw.

Launched this school year after two years of development, the music industry program seeks to train students for various technical and business jobs in the industry. All students take core courses, which include principles of marketing, a survey of record production, and two on business of music.

Halfway through the major, students choose either music technology or music business as a specialty. Training on the technology side includes courses such as game audio, mixing and mastering, and recording studio design and maintenance. Music business students take such courses as touring and concert promotion, public relations in the music industry, and entrepreneurship in the music industry.

"It's not a performance program," said Mathieu Gendreau, who joined Rowan in 2013.

Gendreau created the program, as part of the music department, for the universe of people surrounding performers and artists. "It's all behind the scenes, so managers, sound engineers, producers, some people work in advertising, marketing, touring, all that stuff."

The program incorporates a lot of training in entrepreneurship and marketing, Gendreau said, because the rapidly changing industry is turning to freelancers and start-ups more than ever.

"The idea is that most likely you'll be a freelancer, and you'll start a business, so we're pushing the entrepreneurship," said Gendreau, who taught at Drexel University before going to Rowan and has taught at London's University of Westminster and American Intercontinental University.

As the program grows, Gendreau hopes to hire more faculty, renovate existing spaces to build bigger studios and a second lab, and create a small record label for students to gain hands-on experience.

Because the industry requires a very clear set of technical skills, the program brings in adjuncts who are currently working in the industry, many in Philadelphia studios. In a lab last week, Gendreau taught students equalization by deconstructing a pop song he had recently mixed for a French artist.

Talking about the single also gave Gendreau the chance to teach soft skills, he said, by recounting how he had sought to change the song's bass line.

Gendreau knew that making that change would go outside the boundaries of the mixing job he was hired for, so he had to find a way to show how a new bass line would work without angering the client.

"So how am I going to tell them that what they recorded sucked?" Gendreau said.

His solution was to do the mix as requested, then make a new mix, with a new bass line, and hand both over.

"I just put the ball in their court, you know?"

Gendreau ended up getting his way, and he said he hoped his students would learn that type of nontechnical skill: How to work with others, deal with clients, negotiate when necessary.

Students need to be well-rounded, agreed Jim Gallagher, a producer and engineer of more than 30 years who developed a similar program at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and has also taught at Temple University and the University of the Arts.

"The industry has evolved in all the years I've been involved in it, and it's harder and harder to break into. And therefore, to train someone to be able to walk out with a college degree and start banging on doors and try to get into someplace to get gainful employment in music, you better have a very full skill set," he said.

As a Rowan adjunct, Gallagher this semester is teaching a history of popular music course required for all music industry students.

After all, Gallagher and Gendreau said, that's what separates a university-based music industry program from a trade school that solely teaches students how to handle the software and equipment.

So on Thursday, Gallagher talked about the early days of rock-and-roll, performance, and the format restrictions that kept songs to shorter lengths.

The last video of the day was a performance by Little Richard - "another wild man," Gallagher told the class - before ending the class with a look ahead to next week: surf music.

"You have to know where you've come from to have some sense of what's coming next," Gallagher said later in an interview.

Downstairs, Fritz played away on the drums, rumbling the floor; upstairs, students watched Little Richard play the piano with his hands behind his back.

"I'm sitting here and I'm actually wanting to spend extra hours, spend extra time at school so I can become more proficient in these types of things," Fritz said later.

"It's a lot of fun. Honestly, I don't feel like I'm learning; I feel like I'm having fun."

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