Art courses hidden in recording booths and darkrooms

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Art courses hidden in recording booths and darkrooms

Marc Beth identifies the parts of a trumpet for his Intro to Mus Prod: Listening & FX (MUS-150) class.

Marc Beth identifies the parts of a trumpet for his Intro to Mus Prod: Listening & FX (MUS-150) class.

Marc Beth identifies the parts of a trumpet for his Intro to Mus Prod: Listening & FX (MUS-150) class.

Marc Beth identifies the parts of a trumpet for his Intro to Mus Prod: Listening & FX (MUS-150) class.

Shealeigh Voitl and Ian Havemann

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Marc Beth, music program coordinator at Elgin Community College, doesn’t necessarily believe that there’s a wrong way to learn how to make music. Although ECC provides a more systematic approach to music production, Beth is aware that the modern world is constantly churning out elaborate YouTube tutorials and blog posts, many of which are truly helpful resources for blossoming musicians. Making music relies on the inherent desire to create, which Beth believes can exist just about anywhere outside of the classroom.

“It kind of sounds like I’m saying ‘you don’t need to come to ECC,’” Beth said. “But the thing is, what we offer at ECC is an entry point for students who are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available on the Internet, which can sometimes be contradictory.”

Beth realizes that by logging on to your computer, you’re inviting a million loud opinions to tell you how to produce your music, and it can be really difficult to decipher which ones make the most sense for the sound you may be trying to achieve.

“Someone might be saying: ‘Do steps A, B and C’ and someone else might be saying: ‘That’s the worst thing that you could ever do,’” Beth said. “All of that implies that anybody really has the right answers.”

So, in his classes, Beth tries to emphasize a lot of the information he notices is absent from most of that online content.

“I try to make sure that if a student is running a recording session for a project that they are working on here, they have the fundamental knowledge to protect the equipment so that it lasts a long time,” Beth said. “Every YouTube tutorial forgets about that.”

Beth also wants his students to understand the instruments they’re working with, their capabilities and what to do to make sure they shine in a recording.

“The worst bad habit that I am aware of is when a producer expects everything they record to sound like a mastered, finished mix,” Beth said. “If you record an electric bass and it sounds weak or thin, because it doesn’t reach out of your speakers and grab you by the throat, you might think that you’ve done something wrong.”

Beth knows how discouraging it can be to watch all of the videos, read all of the articles and still feel unsatisfied with your work.

“In reality, you’ve probably done it right, but there is a series of processes that have to occur after that,” Beth said. “You have to EQ it, you have to compress it (…) And then you have to do a variety of other processes that give you that really punchy, aggressive bass.”

In order to make sure that each student can work independently after the semester comes to a close, Beth aims to provide his students with a foundation of knowledge that they can build off of.

“I want my students to feel like they’ve heard one perspective on music production with some acknowledgment of alternatives,” Beth said. “So, when they watch that next YouTube tutorial, they’re going to know what all of the words mean.”

Beth also teaches a music business (MUS-155) class in the spring, which expands on an industry that is evolving every day. 

“The music business is a vast sea of confusion that is constantly changing,” Beth said. “Thus, I am trying to acknowledge that I can’t teach everything in a three-credit class.”

To Beth’s point, Donicia Lloyd, a first-year student at ECC, feels like she has absorbed so much information in Beth’s Intro to Mus Prod: Listening & FX course (MUS-150) in such a short amount of time but doesn’t feel even close to being done.

“Learning the [music] terms and different effects have been really useful,” Lloyd said. “I’m looking forward to taking more of [Beth’s] classes.”

Beth carries a burnt orange ceramic mug through the hallways with his gear slung over his shoulder – a shiny trumpet in a black case and various loose-leaf papers. He begins his intro class conversationally, taking attendance by asking students how they’ve been or what they’re going to be for Halloween. He knows what books they’re reading and the genre of music they like the most.

Shealeigh Voitl
Professor Marc Beth plays the trumpet during his MUS-150 course.

“Everything [he teaches] is very memorable,” said Kenny Cook, a second-year student at ECC. “He makes us laugh.”

Cook didn’t have much experience with music production before registering for MUS-150 but has always had somewhat of a fascination.

“I really hope to pursue music production [beyond this class],” Cook said. “It awakened something in me that I didn’t know was there before.”

Also fairly new to the world of music was Victor Alvarez, a second-year student at ECC, and a current student in Beth’s MUS-150 class.

“I love learning about music production and the long process of creating a song,” Alvarez said.

Luckily, these students found their way into a new world in the arts wing that has both excited and inspired them. Beth thinks that the music production program is a well-kept secret, but that’s not by design.

“[The program] is nine years old, and I wouldn’t say we have an extremely public reputation,” Beth said. “I’d love it to grow.”

Beth feels like he’ll never stop learning alongside his students and tries to broaden his curriculum to reflect that.

“About four years ago, we reached a tipping point where hip-hop had become, by far, the most popular [genre],” Beth said. “I’m talking about how to record drum machines more and how to record rap in a way that I wasn’t before.”

Beth is willing and open to adopting new techniques in his classes, which has also contributed to the overall awareness of the program.

“I’ve had students who have graduated the program who are involved in the thriving hip-hop community in Elgin,” Beth said. “They are telling their friends who are hearing the beats that are being made and the accompaniment tracks, and they’re like: ‘How can I do that?’”  

Students interested in more visual expressions of art might be just as inspired down the hall from many of Beth’s classrooms.

Deep in the recesses of the building H on the second floor in a dimly illuminated darkroom, an Associate Professor of Photography by the name of Travis Linville shows digital photography student, Logan Lau, a century old technique of photographic printing called “tintype”.

It starts by taking a photo. Then comes one piece of thin metal, a few chemical baths, some blow-drying and finally, a picture of Lau is now ingrained on this small piece of metal and will last for many years to come. This technique is just one of a few historic processes Linville likes to teach his darkroom and digital photography students.

Ian Havemann
Tintype print of digital photography student Logan Lau, “There’s a good chance someone will be holding this and looking at it in 100 years.” -Travis Linville, Associate Professor of Photography

Photography is Linville’s passion, and he teaches beginner and advanced darkroom photography, beginner and advanced digital photography, digital manipulation and studio lighting at ECC. Many of these classes have intentional overlap with others so students are given the chance to sample other techniques and become more familiar with related fields.

“It’s not about picking a side,” Linville said. “It’s about: ‘Here are the creative tools, surprise us.’”

Linville is very much in touch with the fact that student photographers are seeking platforms and resources to make their own unique, creative dream a reality. Linville’s main goal as a photography instructor is to help students develop a stylistic sensibility, enabling them to build confidence in their own vision and to build a sense of progression, development and improvement in their work.

“In a freelance world, it’s about the strength of your portfolio,” Linville said. “What they get from these classes is how to develop their own artistic voice, how to make work that’s uniquely their own and not just an imitation of everything else that’s already out there. That’s what’s marketable.”

A student can work to fully hone their artistic voice once they have completed at least three photography courses, possibly of varying focuses, which allows them to enroll in an independent study. An independent study allows that student to dedicate an allotted amount of time to pursue their creative outlet in any direction they would like to take it. Resources are at their disposal and advice from Linville is available to students who may need help in shaping their creative vision.

“We have phenomenal resources for our students,” Linville said. “That’s why if anyone is even remotely interested in photography, ECC is a pretty great place to pursue it.”

These classes are however definitely not exclusive to experienced photographers.

“There is absolutely no experience required,” Linville said. “[It can be for] people who just want to take the course as an enrichment, who aren’t photo majors or [aspiring] professional photographers, but have a passing interest in it and want to improve their own ability in taking pictures. This is the place for that.”

Linville asks that if there is anyone who is interested in taking a tour of the photography department, wanting to talk with photography students or wishing to inquire about an independent study to contact him at [email protected] for more information.