Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Who Me?

One of my least favorite things about teaching anything to modern kids is the fact that they appear to believe they deserve to have information served to them in tiny chunks that are "digestable" without effort. Of course, the current generation of "teachers" appears to believe this is a goal, too, so you can't really blame the kids. You can't. I can.

One of the funniest people I've listened to since George Carlin died, Jim Jefferies, made the statement that Americans are #27 in "education" but we're #1 in confidence. "We you're breeding stupid confident people. They're the worst employees in the f... world." I suspect he's right. In fact, everything I've learned about "education" in the last decade has convinced me he's an optimist.

The driving command in modern, especially for-profit, education is "retention." That's a polite psuedonym for "Don't let the suckers escape until we have all of their money." Of course the only want to "retain" kids who don't want to study and believe that being asked to keep their pants on is an unreasonable restriction is to dumb-down what passes for education until it barely passes the high standard for a decent bedtime story. Kids don't fail in this environment, but they don't really succeed, either. As Jefferies said, "You won't find out what the f... you're good at if they tell you you're good at f... everything." While our students are mostly mediocre at everything and exception at nothing, their grades don't reflect that at all. In fact 43% of all college grades are (wait for it) A's. That is freakin' insane. Seriously? 43% of today's college students are "exceptional" (the definition of an "A")? The most I can say about that is, "Horseshit."

The program in which I taught is called "Music Production." Like many, or most, colleges with a music program in the US, we're attempting to train students for the rapidly vanishing job of recording engineer or the nearly non-existent job of producer. Almost no one makes a living as a recording engineer these days. Hell, pretty much no one pays for music anymore. And they shouldn't. Most of what I hear on the radio is somewhere between bad elevator music and not-good-enough-for-Musac. The art of the songwriter is almost ancient history and has been replaced with monotone, monosyllabic, monophonic "rappers" (I know, I forgot the "c.") complaining about their two-year-old Mercedes or their latest bimbo or their gun.

If this career path did actually exist, it has only EVER existed for incredibly focused, highly technical or musical or personable people with an amazing work ethic and exceptional perseverance. However, most of the children who are pursuing this path seem to believe the most important thing in a recording studio is their latest text message. It takes them no less than 45 minutes to setup a simple drum kit, a bass DI, and mic a guitar amp; while doing all of that task poorly and in complete disorganization. For reference, I can setup all of that, start and document a session, and be ready for a first take in no more than 15 minutes by myself. Four of these kids at their peak performance couldn't do the same in an hour without constant assistance and babysitting. Career-wise, they are doomed. They will never earn a nickel in a recording studio until they decide what is really important; both in the room and in their lives.

Earlier this year, a friend who is an excellent songwriter and a pretty decent musician volunteered to be a studio guinea pig and came to the school for a pair of two-hour sessions. I did the performance room setup, because I'd promised him we'd accomplish something that day. I asked the kids to simply setup the session and prepare for 3 microphones to be used through the session. When I finished my part of the setup, I had to go into the control room and do the other 1/10th of the job because four of six students were busy playing with their cell phones.

I have no idea how to make it clear the level of disrespect for the artist this behavior demonstrates. Honestly, I am clueless as to how anyone could expect respect themselves after failing that miserably at the basic job; the easiest aspect of the job (and the only portion of the job that most "music technology" schools bother to teach; i.e. Pro Tools Certification). Obviously, I'm part of the problem because a good teacher would be able to get through the ADHD bullshit and make it clear to these kiddies that they are looking at a life in a Wal-Mart uniform if they can't perform any better than that. Hell, Wal-Mart probably has higher standards than that.The Army doesn't, maybe they can be a recording engineer in the Army?

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.