Saturday, April 7, 2007

USC: Improving the Educational Experience

The University of Southern California is an incredible school that is one of the best in the country and strives towards being the best, constantly improving the educational process, in order to continue establishing a high recognition of academic excellence. USC takes pride in being one of the best universities available to college students in the Los Angeles area and along the Pacific Rim. According to USC’s role and mission statement, “The central mission of the University of Southern California is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit. The principle means by which our mission is accomplished are teaching, research, artistic creation, professional practice and selected forms of public service.” Also, the Dean’s Prize, which allows students to submit their input and ideas for educational improvement, advises students to; “think seriously about learning, be creative and daring, and inspire us.” USC’s first priority is the education of its students and the USC Dean’s Prize allows students to make proposals to enrich the academic life and the educational experience. I would like to make a few suggestions and comments pertaining to the improvement of the educational experience, with USC's plan in mind.

As an aspiring student at USC, with a minor in the Music Industry, I would like to make some comments and suggestions that may benefit the students involved in my field of study. The first class of study and unit credit towards the Music Industry minor has been MUIN 277, Introduction to Music Technology, taught by Professor McIlvery. Professor McIlvery is an incredibly talented man in his professional field. He has worked in the music industry for over 30 years as a recording engineer, which involved working with many famous artists, including Michael Jackson, Ricky Martin, and many others. Professor McIlvery is very knowledgeable in his field and he conveys that knowledge to his students in a very efficient and interesting way. The class covers a wide range of topics regarding modern recording techniques, which includes topics like: studio acoustics and design, microphones, digital audio recording, monitoring, analog tape and recorders, signal processing, and synthesis and sampling. Many of these topics are very technical, and it is difficult to understand and grasp the concepts through the use of books. The books are helpful, but what is lacking in the class is the loss of any practical applications of these techniques. A lab with practical “hands-on” experience, using recording equipment such as: recording consoles, digital audio workstations, Pro Tools, monitoring equipment, etc. would be incredible tools for students to really understand the technical applications and concepts of the recording techniques. Professor McIlvery’s talents would prove to be incredibly useful to help students with the “hands-on” experience. Most classes that involve recording techniques offer the use of actual recording programs and equipment. For example, MUIN 446ab, Computer Assisted Recording and Editing, which is a class offered at USC, allows students the use of Pro Tools for the proper learning environment. It would not be difficult to incorporate these tools into the MUIN 277 class, since it is already accessible on campus.

USC emphasizes in its strategic plan the importance of becoming a “learner-centered college by developing three capabilities: (1) create educational and structural methods that better fulfill students needs, (2) harness technology for more responsiveness and flexibility in education and, (3) offer learning opportunities beyond graduation and across the world…Traditional lecture courses will decline, giving way to a variety of more flexible and interactive approaches to learning.” Acknowledgement of these USC standards and guidelines, would give rise to the perfect opportunity to allow the students involved in the MUIN 277 class to have access to the “hands-on” experience. Providing the digital audio workstations, recording equipment, and technological opportunity in this class, would satisfy all the learner-center concepts and desires. Student’s educational needs would be better fulfilled. Technology would be incorporated for educational responsiveness and flexibility, and learning opportunities would go beyond school and reach into a global society. Students could incorporate their “hands-on” skills outside of school, to be used in their professional field, and in the recording studios. These skills could be used to create their own music that could reach many individuals on a global scale, not just locally.

Los Angeles is the center of the music industry and USC is the leading school in Los Angeles and Southern California. This requires that USC’s music department provide the best educational experience to their students so they may carry these tools into their creative fields, which would directly affect the industry in Los Angeles. USC has a high influence in Los Angeles and the music industry, which in turn, affects society globally by reaching individuals on a larger scale. USC takes pride in having one of the best music schools, and having more technological availabilities to the students would only help to keep that reputation. Music affects people on a global scale, and the more knowledge students have to bring to society, the more benefits the world would receive through student’s knowledge and contributions. Incorporating recording equipment into the music technology classroom would prove to be highly beneficial for everyone.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Prince: An Honorary Degree Nominee

With the University of Southern California commencement for the spring of 2007 drawing near, I would like to address the issue of the honorary degree awards for this year. The awards are issued to extraordinary individuals in their field who have obtained very high achievements. According to James Freedman, president emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, “In bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.” Freedman also states that the degree should “celebrate distinguished and sublime achievement.” With such importance of the honorary degree awards, I wanted to take the initiative to address this issue and how it pertains to the world of music. Music has always been an incredibly creative and influential part of the world and people’s lives. Creative mastering can be a highly challenging accomplishment for any artist, while also becoming successful and famous in their field. There is a particular artist that fits the criteria for being one of the best musicians, while obtaining worldwide recognition, and someone who is exceptionally qualified for the USC honorary degree for Doctor of Music.

Every year USC takes the initiative to award these degrees and “honor the individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities. To honor… individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of…the communities of which they are a part.” Acknowledgement to an individual from USC, and to receive a degree of this magnitude, is an exceptional award that would be greatly honored by the receiver. This is why the individual that is the perfect choice, and my nominee of exceptional experience and talent in music, is Prince (birth name: Prince Rogers Nelson).

Prince is a self taught musician on several instruments and he released his first album at age 19. He is a master musician on the guitar, bass, drums and percussion, keyboards, and vocals. As a very diverse artist, he has constantly expanded his musical palette through out the years with a wide range of music styles that include: Rhythm and Blues, Funk, Soul, Pop, Rock, New-Wave, Jazz, and Hip-Hop. His ability to write, compose, and produce, allows him to make most of his music single-handedly, while playing most of the instruments on his albums. Many critics have dubbed him a musical genius because of his versatility, dancing, singing skills, and ability to play various instruments. He has released over a thousand songs both under his own name and through other artists, and is known for having composed and recorded many more songs that remain unreleased. Prince was signed with Warner Bros. and released his first album with them in 1978, titled For You, and the album reached the Billboard 200, while the single “Soft and Wet” performed well on the R&B charts. Known as a musical icon who has released over 25 albums, Prince has sold millions of albums that were ranked as top albums on the Billboard charts, while many of his singles also ranked as number one hits on the charts. Just to name a few, because the list is endless, Purple Rain sold more than thirteen million copies in the U.S. and spent twenty-four consecutive weeks at the top Billboard 200. Two songs from Purple Rain, “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” both would top the U.S. single charts and were hits around the world. Prince has recorded soundtracks for movies, including Batman in 1989, which was top of the U.S. album charts at number one. He is known for having a very androgynous and somewhat risqué and provocative style, which shows that he is a very diverse individual that does not follow the stereotypical “norms.” A controversial time in his career was when he changed his name to a male and female symbol as a way of taking back his identity, because he felt Warner Bros. controlled and owned him as an artist. He was known to have the word “slave” written on his face as an act of rebellion. Finally in 2000, his publishing contract with Warner-Chappell expired and he returned to using the name “Prince.”

He then became an independent artist and released his music on the internet through his internet subscription service On June 12, 2006, Prince was honored with a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his “visionary” use of the Internet that included becoming the first major artist to release an entire album-1997’s Crystal Ball-exclusively on the Web. In 2004, he was introduced to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. On February 4, 2007, he performed at the Super Bowl XLI halftime show in Miami, Florida. In April 2004, Prince released the Musicology album and grossed an estimated $87.4 million for the tour. Pollstar named Prince the top concert draw among musicians in America. The album Musicology went on to receive two Grammy wins. On March 2nd, 2007, Prince won an award for "Outstanding Male Artist" at the NAACP Image Awards. Others have benefited from his sympathy and compassion, through his contributions to his community in the form of donations, charity, and animal rights. He donated $37,000 to Princeville, N.C., for building supplies, after the Hurricane Floyd devastation. After Hurricane Katrina, he recorded two new songs, “S.S.T.” and “Brand New Orleans,” and all the proceeds went to the Katrina victims. Animal rights is an important issue for Prince, and he has received a Dolly Green Special Achievement Award by the Ark Trust, an animal-rights group, for his contributions to animals. He is also a vegan vegetarian, and according to PETA the award-winning singer is a "symbol of humanity" because he refuses to eat "anything with parents."

One can see that Prince is of exceptional merit by looking at all his accomplishments in his field. Few people have even come close to achieving as much as he, in the field of music. Some might argue that he shouldn't receive the award because he is strange and has feminine tendencies, including the way he dresses. He is known for wearing high heels and has been quoted saying, "People say I'm wearing heels because I'm short. I wear heels because the women like 'em." This shows that Prince is not afraid to express himself and be diverse, even if others may not agree with it, and diversity is important in the USC criteria for the award. USC takes pride in the Thorton School of Music and is very aware of the hard work and dedication that is involved in a career in music, and the talent that is necessary in obtaining all the achievements made by Prince. At commencement, Prince would advise the class of 2007 to follow dreams and not to let anything get in the way of achievements, or accomplishments. To have pride and seek truth and follow important beliefs. Find passion in life and be the best, and don’t settle for anything less. Prince is the perfect nominee for the USC honorary degree for Doctor of Music.