Master of Arts in music technology program laying down new tracks, one beat at a time
by Mel Smith
“Marching to the beat of your own drum” is more than just a figure of speech at Coastal Carolina University. This is perhaps the most evident in the new music technology master’s program, which allows students the freedom to forge their own career path as they learn how to write, record, and produce music. Inside the recording studio of Wheelwright Auditorium and led by Guggenheim Fellow and associate professor of music Matthew White, graduate students are pioneering the first degree of its kind in South Carolina.
The Master of Arts in music technology is a 30-credit hour, two-year degree that brings recording engineering, music created for media, and entrepreneurship together. The degree launched in Fall 2018 after White spent three years writing the curriculum, creating the courses, and submitting the degree proposal. With six students enrolled, White has created an intimate, hands-on approach that allows the students to learn all the facets of the music industry, not just one specialized area.
“The reality is, most people who are successful in this field are playing music, teaching music, and composing music, plus three other things,” White said. “We want to make sure we provide a curriculum that accurately reflects the changing face of the music industry and gives students all skills that are required today to be that multi-tasking music professional.”
The six students, three from Fall 2018 and three from this semester, meet together twice a week in the recording studio from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tim Fischer, assistant professor of music, assists White by teaching graduate classes and overseeing the undergraduate commercial music program. Steve Bailey, artist-in-residence in the Department of Music, faculty member at the Berklee College of Music, and world-renowned bassist, works with the music students several times throughout the semester at his personal recording studio here on the Grand Strand.
Course offerings include classes like, “Musical Skills for Engineers,” where students create charts and sheet music then actively conduct the piece they just wrote. Another course, “Composing for Media,” allows students to write musical cues for films, which are music compositions created specifically for visual elements. “MIDI Programming” involves students designing their own synthesizers. All of these hands-on courses allow students to tailor their degree toward the career they want to land after graduation.
Demetrius Doctor, an alumnus of the College of Charleston and current graduate student in the program, is utilizing this program to become a producer, music director, and performer at a higher level. The breadth and depth of the program is making it possible for him to become all three things.
“I saw this program and it was perfect for me,” said Doctor. “It’s exactly everything I want to do in a master’s program. It's truly extraordinary to see the level of commitment Dr. White and Dr. Fischer have to help us learn.”
Peer institutions like Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech offer similar graduate programs, but only scratch the surface by focusing solely on music production and music technology research. White believes this program at Coastal provides students with a wide array of career options, ranging from performers, composers, songwriters, recording engineers, conductors ... the list goes on.
“The idea is yes, you can be a recording engineer if you finish this degree, but that’s not the only thing you can do,” White said. “We want students to have a really great foundation where they’re comfortable with the technology, know how to operate it, and can also be creative with it.”
Graduate student Andrew Beck is an alumnus of UNC-Pembroke and currently works there as a technical operations manager. He chose to apply to this program to gain valuable assets that will take him further in his career, especially to one day become a professor. Beck is humbled by the wide array of skills and knowledge this program has instilled in himself while he is balancing being a student and working professional in the music field.
“People think students earning this degree would be recording technicians or live sound technicians, but there’s so much more,” said Beck. “I’m learning great skills for an engineer that I didn’t know I needed until I was here.”
The capstone for this program is specified for students to self-direct what they want their final project to be based off their next step in life. For example, a student can record an entire album, produce it from the ground up, write all of the songs, mix and master the sounds, and upload it on the internet to share. Or, a student could compose a 15-minute film cue with an orchestra. White believes the beauty of this program is walking away from this program with not only a degree, but also real-life professional experience.
“Since we’re covering so many bases in this program, we cater it to the needs of the students,” White said. “We want to make sure we’re reflecting what their career aspirations are so they have something when they leave here that’ll be a professional item showing what they can do.”
In May 2019, White became a recipient of the world-renowned Guggenheim Fellowship to forward his work in music composition. With the grant money, White plans to travel to St. Helena Island in Beaufort, S.C., with several faculty members to conduct interviews with those of Gullah heritage. He will be taking sabbatical in the spring to write the interviews into music, then eventually produce an entire Gullah-jazz album by Summer 2020. As the first CCU faculty member to earn a Guggenheim, he plans to involve students in his project to give them even more real-world experience before graduation.
“Some of the students will be coming with me to do the recordings,” White said. “We think that’s an important part ... if we have an important project going on, we get both graduate and undergraduate music students involved with it.”
As the music industry will continue to evolve, this degree will fill the needs of individuals who are looking to not only earn a degree in the music field, but become fully immersed in all it has to offer beyond Coastal Carolina University. For more information on the program, visit https://www.coastal.edu/mamusictech.