Monday, April 18, 2011

Careers in Music: They are real and important to our society

Music as a career has always had misconceptions and stereotypes.  It has been known that music does not lead to a steady flow of income or a structured career for a living.  However these are extreme misconceptions.  My favorite expressions are “majoring in music, how the hell are you going to earn a living?” or “Well music is one of those jobs either you make it or you don’t.”  Here is my ultimate favorite expression that is said after hearing a performance, “That was good but what about a real job?”

A career in music is not “let’s go and put a band together and get a record deal.”  That is the “artistic” end of music, which can lead to something big or not, but ultimately that is not a career in music.  A career in music is no different than any other career.  You go to college with a major and then find a job in that field.  Simple and easy.  A degree in music can lead to many types of jobs that bring in a regular paycheck.  Some of these jobs are an audio engineer, music librarian, music teacher, secondary school and college, music critic, and even to the administration of an arts organization. 

Many of these jobs require a musical background.  The website lists countless jobs in music.  Where does this begin?  It begins with music lessons and the choir and band in Elementary, Middle and High school.  These classes are now getting cut from school.  So where are we going to have trained professionals to record music in the studio?  If you speak to any audio engineer they all have learned a musical instrument and have taken band in school.  The foundation of the skills needed to do their work.  Of course what does their work bring?  It brings us music when we listen to the radio, watch a movie, go grocery shopping, and listen to music at the office.  Imagine yourself at work and not listening to music all day or going to the grocery store and not hearing music.  How about watching a motion picture that has no music?  Well this will become a reality if we do not have music in schools.  It’s just like taking away English or Math from school.  They are taking away the chance for a good career for something that is required for the survival of human kind.

Now let’s take a look at other careers.  Many of the music students who have decided to focus their attention on playing become performers.  They get a regular job playing in an orchestra or in the studio.  They go to it like any typical job.  They perform on stage a symphonic work, not for the artistic reason, but fact they are trained musicians who do their job and bringing home the pay.  The studio musician plays the music you listen to while watching Harry Potter and other motion pictures.  I guess we’re no longer going to have motion pictures with music since the option of playing in band is no longer there.  So let’s get use to it, turn the volume off of your film and turn on the close capture to read the script.

Performance is not the only career in music.  There are tons of background jobs that require a music education.  A composer can’t compose music unless he or she is musically trained.  A songwriter can’t write the next hit song unless he or she knows how to play the piano.  How about that wonderful musical Wicked and Beauty and the Best that everyone loved so much.  A composer wrote the music and a lyricist wrote the words.  A conductor directed it and the musicians performed the music while the singers sang on stage.  All these jobs are stemmed from learning how to play a musical instrument in grade school.  It does not happen over night.  These are trained jobs and they do it as a job.  They punch a time clock just like everyone else. 

There is even a union for musicians.  I know because I am in the union myself.  My last job was being the librarian for an orchestra.  It is a union position and requires a lot of musical training.  The job is the second most important job of an orchestra.  The librarian puts together the music for the concerts.  They order, purchase, and rent the music from various publishers.  Then they put them in the folders and place the bow markings as indicated by the principal string players in each part.  Oh and sometimes re-orchestration is needed in order to fit the budget of the orchestra.  Not many can do this; only a trained composer can do it.  I don’t think anyone off the street can be a music librarian.  Only someone who has learned to play a musical instrument the studied music in college can do such a job.

So do you think learning music from k- 12 should be optional or required?  Why take away an education that can lead to a career?  As to music being a real career, well let’s see.  Is music an option in the survival of our race?  Take one day out of your life and do not listen to music at all.  Do not plug in your ipod, do not watch a movie, and do not listen to music on your drive home from work.  See how that works out.  Oh and remember to plug your ears when you are at the next football came when the band starts playing music.  I don’t think many can do this.  Music is a part of our lives and as long as the human race exists music will be a viable profession like Law, Medicine, and many other service oriented career.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Many Uses of Garageband

If you are an owner of a Mac computer than you are an owner of the Garageband software.  It is part of the iLife suite of software and is pre-installed when you purchase your iMac, Mac Mini, Macbook or Macbook Pro.  Most people don’t use it stating that it’s a bit confusing or some just feel too intimidated by music software.  It is, in reality, software that can be used by many people for many different purposes.  It is a MIDI sequencer and an audio recording/ editing software all rolled up into one.  It can be used by the professional musician, the amateur musician, a music student or for anyone who has a need to create simple audio recordings. 

When I first bought a Mac that had it installed I actually ignored it myself.  My computer usually has the high tech Pro Music software and felt that it is something that I did not have to use.  However, one day about four years ago I opened it up and played around with it and realized that it was actually software I can use for many purposes.  Over the years as it developed further I became very fond of Garageband.  I used it for simple recordings, podcasts, and when I needed background music while I played the piano.  I also found that it was great for the student so I started to teach how to use it.  I want to explain some of the uses of Garageband and how it can be useful for the musician, the music student, and the average non-musician.

The software is a multi-rack recording studio and you can hook up a MIDI keyboard and audio microphones.  With the MIDI keyboard you can create tracks of musical lines and assign them different musical instruments.  The software already includes a library of musical instruments such as strings, guitars, keyboards, winds, percussion, and even sound effects.  Apple also has available extra library of sounds and instruments that you can optionally install to add to the library.  This then can be a great way for a musician to create background music while they are playing their instrument or singing.  They can edit it and then create a CD or mp3 file that they can take with them to their gigs or performances. 

There is also pre-programmed library of audio tracks of musical instruments.  You can then set the parameters of different instruments and then record yourself playing or singing on another track.  For example, let’s say you have been practicing the famous Bette Midler song The Rose.  You can then set parameters of a track of drums, a bass line, and even a guitar.  Then after editing and setting this up you then can create another empty audio track.  Add a microphone and press the record button then record yourself while the background tracks are playing.  You now have a recording of yourself just like in a professional studio. 

There are several options of how you can add microphones.  The first one is a bit expensive.  An audio interface such as the MBox or M-Audio can be attached to the computer either USB or firewire.  Then you can add XLR or RCA microphones to the audio interface.  If you don’t want to or don’t have the budget to spend several hundred dollars on microphones then there are the other two options.  You can add a USB or even an RCA microphone right into the computer.  This uses the internal input and output scource of the computer for audio.  It is less expensive and works just as good.

There are many other ways Garageband can be used.  If you are one who creates podcasts, then this software is perfect.  It has a pre-programmed wizard to set it up for you.  All you need is a microphone and headphones.  Then you record like a tape recorder.  You can then add tracks of music or sound effects right from your itunes library.  The software is smart sensitive and when there are spoken words the music will reduce in sound rather than you select or change parameters.  Unlike the professional recording software, Gargeband will set this up for you.

Remember the good old days when you wanted to record and owned a tape recorder?  Everyone owned one.  Some used it to record voice notes while other used it to record interviews (such as journalists).  You have this capability right there on your computer (if you have the Mac).  Garageband works the same way.  You also have a large advantage with Garageband, it can record multi- tracks so you can add several audio tracks.  Then you can have music or sounds that you can import from your itunes library.  A person recording their diary can add the song they are talking about or nature sounds for the person who is recording meditation/spoken words.   Having Garageband on your Macbook with a simple USB microphone and small headphones anyone can travel and have a “digital” recorder with them all day long.  Journalists can use it for their interviews, students can record class lectures, business meetings can be recorded, and Mom and Dad can record the first words of baby.  The uses are endless and with many possibilities.  By learning the simple operations of Garageband it can be a great tool for everyone.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The importance of a Music Education

The economy has been very challenging and in the last couple of years we have seen many budget cuts in government programs, arts organizations, and businesses.  The worst situation has been the cuts to the education system, both secondary and post-secondary.  In the last couple of weeks here in Los Angeles we have faced some real sad news.  Hamilton Music Academy, a High School in the LAUSD dedicated to music education, is scheduled to close its doors.  Hamilton has served the Los Angeles area for many years and to many generations of students who have been trained to move on to professional careers in music.  With this school closing not only will many teachers be unemployed, but also students who want a serious music education will be denied their education. 

This has not stopped there.  Over the last few weeks LAUSD not only served pink slips to the teachers at Hamilton but also to many music programs in the district, including Walter Reed Middle School where the music teacher had created an orchestra for each grade level.  This week many frustrated students even protested against the cutting of their program.  Several schools had students walking out of their classes playing musical instruments in the hopes they will be heard over the cutting of their education.
Yes we do understand that the state has cut educational budgets, however there are other ways to remedy this rather than take away one of the most academic subjects in a student’s education.  Music is not only an art, but also a math and language class.  It builds the skills required to be successful in both of these subjects.

Let’s look at history for a moment.  In the Middle Ages, Music was not considered an art form.  Schools did not teach how to perform or compose for musical instruments, but rather they taught music theory.  It was taught as part of the Mathematics.  They learned the relationship of intervals of notes, the linear movements of notes, pitches, and harmonics among other theory topics.  This was a very integral part of their studies and was considered to be very important.  It was not until the Renaissance that music was finally considered an art form in the education system. 

Nevertheless, in modern days when music is taught in schools they are taught how to read music, which are the basics of music theory.  They are taught interval relationships, harmonies, and musical phrases, among other musical topics.  This goes back to the mathematics portion of music, but also includes musical language and the “art” of creating music.  This follows in line with language arts.  A musical composition when created and performed is no different than reading a novel or writing an essay.
So looking at the big picture, Music is an important academic subject.  It teaches the student the skill required to be successful in math and language arts.  By taking away music, administration is creating more challenges for the Math and English teacher.  If anything, perhaps the Math and English teacher is very thankful of the music teacher for helping build the skills needed for their classes.  If anything music should not be an elective.  It should be a required class at some level for all students from k-12.  For the early development there needs to be general music with singing, movement, recorders, and percussion.  For the later students, they should have at least two years of a chosen musical instrument.  For the High School level, not only should they be allowed to either be in the band/ orchestra or choir with a music theory class, but also a music history class to enhance their education.  Music needs to be a required subject.  If this is done, then by the time students graduate High School they will have a good solid foundation for Math and English and be well prepared for College.  It well also serve as an exciting part of their education because what kid does not like music?

It has already been proven that music is “a window into higher brain function.”  Gordon Shaw, a physicist who taught at Irvine University, did a lot of research in these theories.  He proved that “music enhances spatial- temporal reasoning and learning math, and is of scientific and educational relevance.”  If anyone recalls about ten years or so there was a series of recordings called the Mozart Effect.  These were created from Dr. Shaw’s research.  The concept of listening to Mozart or to classical music from early childhood to the teen years of a child would help develop these functioning skills.  If this research can only be taken seriously over money then the education system would have made better decisions.

Where is the future of children going if they are going to be denied a music education?  What will happen to the future of musical performance if new students are not going to be trained?  Without schools like Hamilton and strong music programs across the board not only will this country lack a music education but future performers for film scores, jazz bands, orchestras, and operas as well as other musical ensembles and bands.  I hope that the “officials” will understand this with reasoning and bring back one of the most important subjects in education.