Production class provides insight to music industry

Liana Hofer

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Music industry studies majors have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to work in a record label right here from the CSUN campus, thanks to the “Music Industry

Prof. Joel Leach teaches MUS 493 - Music Production which, according to the 2010-2012 catalog, is the "study of the making and marketing of music for recording, TV, film, and live performance aspects of the industry." Paul Kingsley/Photo Editor

Studies/Music Production” class.

Started in 1994 by Professor Joel Leach, the class functions as a student-controlled record label. Around 40 students are enrolled in this yearlong program, which consists of two parts. The students first scout out a musical artist to endorse and then spend the second semester trying to get the artist into the music industry.

“My main goal is that the students gain the concept of working in a team towards a common goal,” Leach said, when discussing what his reason was for founding the program.

Past students have found the project to be extremely useful in their current occupations. Jenna Forbes, who graduated with a major in music industry studies in 2007, is currently working for the marketing department of a music publishing company. She said the experience she acquired in Leach’s class prepared her for work in the industry.

“This project was great because we could build relationships in a stronger way than you would in classrooms,” Forbes said.

Forbes, 24, also said that by working on a project outside of class, it showed her which of her peers would come through in the end. She has seen past classmates working in the industry and she now knows who is reliable and who isn’t.

The class is made up of various teams, such as marketing, research and development and event production that all work together to find and endorse an artist.

Leach said that the artist can be a single person or a band, depending on who the class chooses.

“It just has to be someone the class believes in musically, and that the class can support all year,” Leach said.

Over the years, Leach has fine-tuned the project to best serve both the students and developing musicians. One major change he had to implement is to only allow applicants from California.

In the past, they would hear from artists all over the country. Leach said there were even a few international hopefuls that applied, including an artist from Japan who was interested in trying out. But because the class is not able to cover travel expenses for potential artists, they narrowed it down to only those within the state.

Senior Aaron Levy, 22, a music industry studies major, acts as the co-chair of the artist and repertoire (A&R) department. Along with fellow co-chair senior Jayme Palmer, a music industry major,  Levy is in charge of scouting musical artists to select from. The group gets the word out by painting Los Angeles and Hollywood with flyers aimed at aspiring musicians and applications start coming in.

Although Leach occasionally lectures on subjects from copyright law to managing, the students are given the responsibility of finding and developing the talent.

“Professor Leach doesn’t really tell us what to do,” Levy said. “It’s on us to use our own creativity and to find innovative ways to make this class better.”

By the beginning of October, nearly 40 submissions had poured in within a month’s worth of publicity. They are expecting to get close to 200 applicants before the end of the semester.

All of this leads up to the “Artist of the Year Showcase” in November when the top four prospects will perform for everyone in the music industry major and are voted on to determine that year’s chosen artist.

Once the artist is picked, students take on the task of producing and distributing their music. In January, they go into the recording studio to lay down six or seven tracks and then focus on putting together a media kit to represent the musician behind the music.

The media kit they put together includes a demo CD, song lyrics, the artist’s biography, photos and contact information. The students find people in the music industry to send the kit to including record executives, supervisors and publishers.

According to senior William Borza, a music industry studies major and one of the co-producers of the project, the kit is distributed to nearly 140 individuals.

While the program is providing students with valuable experience for the industry, no class has accomplished the goal of getting their chosen artist picked up by a professional record label in its 16 years of existence.

“Would I like it to happen? Of course,” Leach said, who is set to retire this year. “But we’re still focused on the practical application of the course.”

Borza, 21, wants to make Leach’s last year a memorable one and fully intends to get their artist into the music industry. He and his co-producer pulled everyone aside at the beginning of the semester and made sure they knew how important it was to achieve their goal before Leach retires.

“Everybody in this entire class has to give 110 percent and they’re all down to make this his best year,” Borza said.