Before you create that popular musics voice teacher position… // Jess Baldwin

Please stop creating positions for popular musics voice teachers in your mostly classical voice department if you’re not going to provide the students with the full range of resources and training they really need to be successful in these genres.

Will they be required to write and sing their own songs as part of their lessons? Will there be songwriting professors on faculty to help them?

Will they be required to learn an instrument and play it while singing in lessons? Will the teacher who teaches that instrument be teaching popular musics in the instrumental lessons?

Will they have easy access to amplification and production equipment and software and classes, and will they be required to use it in songs they perform as part of their lessons? Will they be required to regularly record, mix, and master projects? Will there be faculty trained in this to help them?

Will there be people on faculty who actually perform the genre(s) the students will be performing and who can connect them with the larger community that creates that music and can help the student understand its unique standards? Will those people be the ones grading the student’s performances?

Will the student work on moving in an appropriate/expected way on stage for the particular genre-culture-experiences they are incorporating into their style?

Will they have access to spaces that at least attempt to emulate the spaces in which they can expect to perform when they graduate?

Will their audiences be made up of people who are at least somewhat familiar with the genre-culture-experience and the way audiences typically interact with the musicians?

Will there be popular musics instrumentalists in the department with whom the singers can collaborate in ensembles every semester?

Will they have classes and faculty who can coach them in running effective rehearsals, writing charts, and arranging on the spot together…in these styles?

Will their music theory classes be focused on popular music genres with a heavy emphasis on learning by ear and reading piano roll?

Will they be trained to harmonize by ear on the spot?

Will there be history classes focused on popular musics that also allow them to zoom in on their genre(s) of interest?

Will they have classes that teach them how to be a music entrepreneur and projects that help them have everything they need in place to run their music business when they graduate?

Will there be artist development classes that help them figure out who they heck they are as people and who they want to be as an artist? Will they be guided through the process of figuring out what they want their music to accomplish in the world and in themselves?

Will the faculty understand the field of popular musics education, which has been around for decades and has tons of research to back up what works in teaching these genres?

Will your voice teacher have a full support system of fellow faculty members who get what they’re doing and are trained in the other roles that popular musics artists need in their lives? Or will they be expected to do all of it on their own? Or worse, will they be made to feel like the black sheep of the department and constantly have to battle ignorance and prejudice about popular musics?

If you can’t create a full spectrum popular musics experience for the singers who want it, you’re just training them to make sounds from other genres with the look and feel and language and manners of a classical singer. They’ll look and feel totally out of place when they actually start performing in these genres.

If you can’t provide this, please, please, please just point them in the direction of the schools that do.

Or direct them to train outside of academia within a strong, vibrant community of their chosen genre. This is how most popular musics artists learn and develop professionally. They may just choose academia as a part of their development, but academia is not the gatekeeper to their success.

If you’re actually passionate about doing these musics justice in an academic program, get a plan in place to create a better system so you don’t do psychological, financial, and career-harming damage to these singers. Kat Reinhert’s article and dissertation are a great place to start.

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