For Our Students, ‘Careers In Music’ Isn’t Just About The Future

2011Symposium_1_2In a time when music is so easily accessible, students can easily loose sight of all the work and people it takes to bring an album to their listening ears. All many of my students ever see is the album or song title on their phone, or the album art. They just take it for granted that music will be there to download or stream at any time. But before that music becomes available to them, many hands have gone in to creating and preparing it for distribution. Students should be made aware of what is done to make music ready for them to consume so they can become more engaged with the process, so they can enjoy music and music making beyond just listening, and so music will continue to be created and produced by their generation.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) has an excellent online resource that lists and describes many careers in music. The resource is organized by categories of Music Education, Performance, Music Business, Healthcare, Worship, Music Production, Music Technology, Music Publishing, Musical Theatre, Instrument Making and Repair/Restoration, Movies/TV/Radio, and Administration. Under each heading are 3-8 specific careers, with a description of each that includes skills needed and qualifications. These descriptions are valuable because they move the conversation beyond the obvious. For example, it seems silly to ask students to explain what a singer does, because the obvious answer is “sing.” But in the description, they learn that there is much more to having a career as a singer. For Pop/Rock/Jazz singer, the author wrote, “Most pop vocalists earn their living in a variety of music areas – concerts, recordings, club work, radio and television commercials, Broadway musicals, and even teaching. Versatility is absolutely essential in this career, especially to the vocalist who may not have the good fortune to gain star status. Performance situations are competitive, often demanding years of experience to gain a solid reputation and a high level of proficiency. A vocalist who sings reasonably well, can sight-read, knows all styles of music, and has a solid knowledge of music theory is going to be in demand.”

Having students think through the whole creative process brings them to discover a host of careers they may not have music consumerconsidered. “What has to be done first in order for a recorded song to get to you?” This begins with the producer putting together a timeline that starts with the composer/songwriter creating the song. Personnel must be assembled, including other singers, and instrumentalists. Often, a sound designer must be found to create rhythm tracks or special effects electronically that will be edited into the final mix. The song has to be rehearsed, probably edited and revised, and then eventually recorded by a recording engineer. Then the song is edited and mixed down into its final form. When the song is ready, the publicist needs to create a campaign to get the word out that the song or album is available. It needs to appear on Amazon, iTunes, and a number of streaming sites, and it needs to get air time on popular radio stations. And then there is the DJ who completes the on-air package, and helps promote the music. Suddenly, students realize that there are many career opportunities within the process of making recorded music; and they haven’t even considered musical theater and opera, or the many jobs that must be done in order to pull off a concert or concert tour.

This brings us to the students who are interested in music, but don’t see themselves as performers. For students who don’t see themselves as singers but want to pursue a music career, the resource offers many options, including recording engineer, recording producer, composer, publicist, sound technician, or sound designer. There is also the whole field of music business and administration. Berklee has an excellent resource on line that includes many music careers that the NAfME does not include, particularly in the popular music fields.

Many of these careers offer opportunities for classroom activities that students will enjoy, find relevant, and may lead them to choose a career in music. Creating, producing and recording a song in class, with small groups of students assigned to the various jobs along the way, offers an authentic educational experience, and the benefit of a product that every student can get a copy of and take with them—the recorded song. Careers in music is a good basis for many worthwhile units of instruction in the music education classroom.

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