New bachelor's degree with high-tech music spin offered

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Photo of a sound board in a recording studio.

The first cohort will begin coursework in fall 2014.

KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University educators have created a new degree to better meet the high-tech demands of professional music production.

The new bachelor's degree in multimedia arts technology-music will give students the high-tech knowledge they need to enter exciting the field of music production, which increasingly is being done on laptop computers. Students entering the program do not have to be highly skilled performance artists.

"We've been working for several years to try to provide a major that addresses the needs of modern world music production for our music graduates," says John Campos, manager of the Western Sound Studios. "And, probably not surprisingly, that's centered around technology."

Technology is revolutionizing the music business, from production to performance, distribution and sound reinforcement, says Campos, who worked closely with Dr. Christopher Biggs, assistant professor of music, to put the new major together.

"The changes are just breathtaking in both how fast they're happening and how profound they are," Campos says. "So we wanted to have a degree that could give our students a really broad technical background."

Sets WMU apart

The fact that the multimedia arts technology degree is being paired with a broader liberal arts education, and without as many traditional music core courses, sets WMU apart and puts it among a select few places offering such multimedia technical music production training at a four-year institution or technical school, Biggs says.

"It's very exciting to have a technical program like this associated with a school of music that has been so successful in a traditional sense like WMU's and then make it part of a liberal arts education," Biggs says. "It's a very unique thing."

Twenty students will begin studies in fall 2014, with 20 added each year. They will not have to be proficient at a traditional musical instrument. Their studies will revolve around the program's five foundational pillars: audio engineering, generative audio technology used in commercials and video games, live sound reinforcement for concerts and shows, computer programming and performance with technology.

"So they get involved first, and then they can specialize in the area they're most interested in as they work their way up through the program," Biggs says. Students will top their studies off with a capstone project focusing on their specialty area.

Biggs will teach the generative art side, overseeing students as they create their projects and write their content, while Campos will specialize in the studio audio engineering component. Dr. Richard Johnson, who is starting later this summer, will handle the live sound reinforcement and video.

Developing expertise in audio and visual technology

"So much of music that we hear today is just made in the machine without human performers," Biggs says. "Even for a lot of movies, it's all fake instruments now."

Video game music is another example of how technology has changed the landscape. Music for games is an area of tremendous growth, Biggs and Campos say, with the vast majority created on a screen rather than in a sound studio.

The fact is that it is increasingly difficult to find performances and productions that don't involve technology. Nearly all music produced outside concert halls, and increasingly the music created within them, follow this trend. This reality has created a pressing need for individual performers to develop expertise in both audio and visual technology as part of their entrepreneurial skill set.

The program will require students to take 18 to 20 hours of core music classes, a course in music appreciation, a course in music theory, eight credit hours of music performance classes and 37 to 38 hours of multimedia arts technology courses. Students also will be required to take at least nine hours of related courses from other departments.

Biggs and Campos have seen strong, immediate interest in the new major and see no problem in filling slots in the program in the coming years.

"We had auditions for next fall and we were blown away with the talent our incoming students have," Biggs says. "There's been remarkable interest in this."

For more information, visit wmich.edu/multimedia.