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Limitations for the ENC music major

At ENC, music majors can only go so far when it comes to recording, but the lack of resources in Cove hasn’t deterred students from working on their own music.

This February, Senior RJ Barnett released an album under the name “Orakuru,” a project he’s been working on for quite some time. “I usually record in a closet at home, or in my car,” he says, because he was home during the summer. Before that, he released an EP titled “Hajimaru,” which he recorded during the school year, yet he still didn’t utilize the space in Cove to record.

He says, “This was when there was a recording class, but the only people who had access to the studio were people enrolled in the class.” To Barnett it wasn’t a huge deal. He says the equipment in Cove is “about equally efficient [as his own equipment] as long as I use it well…The studio [in Cove] isn’t really a studio, but a room with an iMac, monitors and some mics, which is close to what I have at home.”

Alum Daniel Cantrell comments, “The biggest piece missing when I recorded my album was personnel. I don’t know about this year, but last year there was just one adjunct professor [Andrew Messenger] and I had one recording lesson a week, which helped a lot, but it wasn’t as much as I needed.”

“There used to be a recording class that would take place in the studio,” says Barnett, “and anyone could sign up for it…But this year there was no professor to teach it, so there was no recording class.”

Dr. Kevin Smith, head of the Music Department, says, “There used to be a major that included recording as a major component…All of the students that were required to take recording have now graduated and our previous recording instructor decided not to continue with us.”

Due to the inability of finding a professor qualified to fulfill the role, Smith decided “to take a year away from it and then see what things looked [like] as we reassessed how to best serve the students on campus, and especially those in our department.”

In the music/business major that was offered in the past, “it was very popular at first, but interest in it quickly faded,” says Smith. “One of the problems with any kind of program that requires a significant amount of technology equipment is that technology changes so quickly that you are constantly having to update equipment to remain current in the field. So you can sink tens of thousands of dollars into equipment today that will be obsolete a few months from now.” Smith adds, something like that isn’t “sustainable for small schools that have limited financial resources.”

Right now the music major at ENC primarily teaches the student how to aurally receive and understand music, requires the student to take several courses on music theory and history, and provides students with the opportunity to perform music, whether in a choir or other kind of ensemble.

To be a professional musician in any sense of the term, understanding how music is produced and recorded is crucial for one who wants to work in the industry. Understanding and studying music on the page or through an instrument is just one area a student should be proficient in if he wants to get into the industry.

ENC’s music department is best known for its A Capella, Gospel Choir, and bands that host a number of shows throughout the year. Its roots are embedded more in performance arts and education, rather than recording, mixing, or producing music. Smith says, “The financial resources required for these programs is much less than recording programs.”

That doesn’t mean that the department has no recording experience, however. ENC choirs have professionally recorded their performances in the past, but it isn’t something that happens regularly even for those ensembles.

September 3, 2015, Daniel Cantrell released “No Budget” under the name “Half Bad,” an album he recorded in Cove with the help of other ENC students and faculty. “The equipment was sufficient,” Cantrell says, “and it could’ve been better. Considering I didn’t have any money to put into the album, the Cove studio was a huge blessing. But you can always have better equipment.”

Barnett, who provided drum tracks on a few of the songs in “No Budget,” says of recording at Cove, “I can say it wasn’t terrible, but [it] wasn’t ideal.”

Smith explains, “I am not sure exactly what industry standard is for recording equipment, but I’m told that we have the basics needed to produce high quality recordings…I do know that we use ProTools which is one of the industry standard sound editing software programs.”

Cantrell explains that one of the biggest disadvantages was the lack of microphones. In a more up-to-date recording studio, there’s usually one mic for each drum, but in Cantrell’s case he used as much as he could out of the mics and mixed the rest on his computer.

“To be fair, though,” Cantrell adds, “the project I undertook was definitely beyond the scope that the Cove studio was intended for.”

The department may offer enough equipment for recording, but lack of resources quickly presents a problem to aspiring music artists.

Berklee College of Music in Boston is home to 16 recording studios. To give an idea of what kind of equipment is offered in these studios, one of them consists of multi-track recorders, compressors, amps, and a range of effects. The college has a mastering and editing suite constructed for more specific tasks that go beyond just recording.

Other colleges that don’t specialize in music but offer a variety of music majors, such as Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California, provide music majors with the opportunity to record and produce an EP through a course titled “Production Techniques.” Senior Ciera Bardowell,Commercial Music major with an emphasis in Music Business at APU, explains that their recording studio “really is a performance ensemble room that has recording technology and acts as a studio in that way.”

APU may offer a production course, but its own recording studio isn’t anything like Citrus Community College, which has a $20 million recording studio, according to Bardowell. CCC’s website lists its capabilities of teaching students “how to record any kind of music, from hip-hop to classical movie scores, and design sound for games, videos or the internet and everything in between.”

“APU’s studio is more basic,” Bardowell says, “and has to be set up/torn down since the room is used for ensembles to practice as well.”

What APU doesn’t lack are professors who are heavily experienced in recording and producing. Bradowell says some professors “are still working, professional musicians.” One professor, Mark Gasbarro, has played piano for a number of Pixar films. Ebuit Cervantes, another professor at APU, is an audio engineer and sound-man and has worked for artists like Andy Grammar and Miley Cyrus.

At Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, Music Education major Melissa Alexandra believes “that GCU doesn’t equip their students to go into the professional musician position.” However, the university instituted a recording studio available to the students.

“I think we need more to become more successful,” Alexandra says. A building dedicated to the music department is something she hopes for. She also believes that the music department at GCU favors the worship students above other music majors.

“The only opportunity we get is the use of the recording studio,” Alexandra explains. Except the recording studio hasn’t always been open to all students at GCU; it used to be a privilege only for worship students. Now ensembles also have access to the studio.

The recording course Cantrell took while a student at ENC wasn’t offered this year. It’s evident that ENC better equips a student who wants to be a music teacher or improve one’s music performance. The lack of financial resources, professors who specialize in recording, and interest from students doesn’t give the music department the opportunity to consistently offer a course on recording.

The studio “isn’t set up as a proper studio,” Barnett says. “It poorly prepares anyone who wants to go into being a music engineer or producer.” But there may be hope for music majors at ENC.

Dr. Kevin Smith has expressed to students the possibility of “implementing a major that partners with Berklee, so that people interested in recording majors could pursue it seriously while also attending ENC.” While it’s just an idea right now, music majors like Barnett hope it becomes a reality.

Dr. Smith says he’s looking at more schools than just Berklee for courses that ENC doesn’t offer, usually due to financial reasons. He says, “I can’t really say too much about specifics yet, but we are looking at music industry courses with Berklee, courses in Music Therapy with Berklee and Lesley [University], and Arts Management courses with UMass.”

Along with partnering in music courses, Smith expresses hope in other programs that might give students the opportunity to spend a semester at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville to take music courses. “The courses in that program are all music industry related and would transfer back into ENC as a minor in music/industry,” says Smith.

Just because the music department is limited in what it offers to its music majors in terms of recording and producing, “that doesn’t mean we are not interested in finding other ways of providing learning/training opportunities for students who are interested in the industry,” Smith expresses.

There needs to be student interest in order for a major or program to exist, and there also needs to be enough financial backing to support it. Partnering with other colleges and universities to offer a wider variety of education is a music major’s best hope at the moment.

Barnett expresses, “I think Dr. Smith is on the right track trying to fix the lack of recording potential for ENC music majors.” There seems to be hope after all.

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