This program delivers collaborative, project-based learning where students progress through a highly integrated, entrepreneurial curriculum that encompasses songwriting, arranging, performing, audio engineering and production. Commercial Music emphasizes collaborative, project-based learning where students progress through a highly integrated, entrepreneurial driven curriculum encompassing songwriting, arranging, performing, recording/engineering (in our professional recording studio facilities), and audio production.
Studio pressure night (SPN) is the flagship performance course of commercial music. Each year students enrolled in SPN record an album. A visit to our SPN SoundCloud page demonstrates our long-term commitment to professionalism and excellence in artistry, performance, and production.
Departmental Course Offerings
The list is provided so that you can begin to imagine your academic career at Millikin in this major.
A variety of opportunities are provided to students across a range of musical genres: pop, rock, rap, jazz, classical, Latin...
An exploration of technical and creative aspects of popular songwriting where students compose, perform, and demo their own songs. Encompasses extensive analysis of lyric structure, melody, harmony, form, style, and performance.
An extension of Songwriting devoted to the further development and refinement of skills toward creation of a songwriting portfolio. Songs are performed for and discussed with peers. High-quality demo recordings are produced in the recording studio in conjunction with student engineers, producers, and performers.
Commercial Music Theory
A study of melodic, harmonic, and formal concepts and techniques used in various styles of pop, rock, and jazz. Practical application achieved through a piano laboratory component as well as arranging and composition projects.
A continuation of Commercial Music Theory with a greater emphasis on arranging and composition.
Perspectives in Jazz & Rock
A course dedicated to the study of two of the most significant forms of American music - Jazz and Rock and roll - in a broad manner that addresses performance, composition, and recording technology/record production. The work of important innovators is examined and placed in historical context. Students conduct music analysis and research.
A survey of jazz improvisational styles in American music during the 20th century. Analysis of improvisational techniques of major innovators in jazz through extensive listening and examination of transcriptions.
A practicum in the application of the techniques of melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic variation, elaboration, blues, and paraphrase to the process of musical improvisation.
Intro to the Music Industry
An overview of the music business industry as it relates to career opportunities. Students survey music in the marketplace, songwriting, publishing, copyright, record labels, and other business-related affairs and with additional focus on the media elements of the music industry.
Music Industry Seminar
A seminar providing students the opportunity to connect with industry professionals through a series of special presentations each semester. See recent presentations below.
DIY: Music, Distro, Merch & Promo
“DIY” (Do-IT-Yourself) refers to a set of values as well as a way of going about your business. This course provides hands-on experiential learning opportunities utilizing the Internet in the distribution, merchandising, and promotion of music. You’ll learn about and use new technologies, explore current best practices, and experience and reflect upon the challenges and rewards that accompany complete ownership of your music and how it is promoted and monetized.
Introduction to Recording Studio
An introductory study of the multi-track recording studio and the signal path of sound during different stages of the recording process. Emphasis is placed on the multi-track console operation and the patch bay.
Studio Techniques I
A laboratory/general study approach to the operation of consoles, patch bays, microphones, and digital audio workstations encompassing the basics of computer systems, digital audio theory, and file management. Students practice the concepts learned in Intro to the Rec Studio through hands-on learning and demonstration while becoming familiar with the recording, editing, and mixing capabilities of Avid Pro Tools. The full Avid Pro Tools 101 curriculum is completed representing one’s first step toward Pro Tools User/Operator Certification.
Studio Techniques II
A continuing laboratory/general study of the multi-track recording studio enhancing and deepening students’ understanding of Pro Tools editing workflows, navigation techniques, virtual instruments, real-time plug-ins, MIDI, and automation. Students are provided opportunities for supervised recording session engineering while continuing on the path toward Pro Tools User/Operator certification.
Encompasses a series of highly structured recording sessions in the Millitrax recording studio. Students may enroll in any one of the following capacities: recording engineer, instrumentalist, vocalist, or producer. Students may take this course as many times as they desire and in different capacities. Students work closely with the instructor toward delivering optimum quality studio performances and recordings/productions.
Recording Engineering Practicum
A laboratory study of advanced audio techniques and video production. Emphasis is placed on audio recordings of commercial music, video editing, SMPTE time code interlocking, and the technical complexity of a music video. The course provides opportunities for students to develop and create original music video projects.
A course serving as the final preparation for Production, students learn to apply arranging principles to the desktop production environment.
A capstone course for the commercial music major assimilating all creative, performative, and technical training. Students bring their unique skill sets to bear on the act of commercial record production completing a series of rigorous recording assignments while studying time-tested techniques and methods for successful record production.
Recent Guest Presentations:
Alison Krauss (singer/songwriter)- Independent artist, Robert Plant, Brad Paisley, Willie Nelson, Kacey Musgraves...
The Twilite Tone (producer/songwriter/DJ)- Gorillaz, Kanye West, Common, Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, Big Sean, John Legend...
Dino Zisis (producer/songwriter/engineer)- Lady Gaga, Pitbull, Rendezvous...
Gaelyn Lee (violin/singer/songwriter)- Independent artist
Adam Cunningham (bass)- Cole Swindell
Jake Widenhofer (guitar) & Sean McDonald (drums)- Matthew West
Roy Elkins (founder/CEO)- Broadjam Inc.
Brad Galvin (live sound engineer)- Lumineers, Dave Matthews Band, The Roots, Steely Dan, Ringo Starr...
John Gaczewski (live sound engineer)- Van Halen, Jill Scott, Cirque du Soleil...
Nate Towne (agent)- William Morris Endeavor
Commercial Music Curriculum
The Commercial Music major is founded on a simple and elegant curriculum that has proven to timelessly mirror the production chain as it exists in the music industry:
Song - - Arrangement - - Production - - Performance - - Recording - - Release
Built on providing aspiring artists and musicians with the creative power of technology, our vision has remained true and effective since inception. Our mission is to deliver on this vision in a way that leads students from comprehension and skills development to creative practice. Hence, there is nothing contained in the production chain shown above – and thus the curriculum itself - that is not put into serious practice from Day 1. Furthermore, all elements of the production chain are contextualized relative to one another in all classes, which results in a clear road map for students. The Music Industry Studies faculty is completely unified in our belief of putting everything students learn into practice at all stages of the curriculum.
Walking Through the Curriculum
- Songwriting and Songwriter’s Workshop: a two semester course of study that first examines the structures and craft of songwriting, then moves on to the search for a distinctive and crafty “voice” on the part of the student songwriter. Both courses require extensive writing and analysis and the Workshop also involves numerous performance and demo recording opportunities. It’s quite common for students with no design on being songwriters in the long term to enroll in these courses to better learn song craft and the power of songs.
- Commercial Arranging: Viewed in no small part as preparation for production, students learn to score for combinations of strings, horns, and rhythm section w/vocalist. Each project is recorded in Millitrax recording studios (rehearsed and conducted by the arranger) with a full compliment of studio musicians, vocalists, and recording engineers.
- Project Studio: Also viewed as preparation for production, students learn to apply arranging principles to the desktop production environment. Of particular emphasis is the desktop producer’s ability to work closely with singer songwriters, producing high quality demo recordings that demonstrate the ability of both the producer and the songwriter to work collaboratively on a shared vision.
- Studio Pressure Night(link is external): SPN as it’s known within the program is the center ring of the circus where players, engineers, and artists (the term we use for vocalists) work on their skills and artistry in a real life pressure packed environment (twice a week from 7:00 p.m. to midnight!!!) in Millitrax recording studios. This is the moment when singers learn to become recording artists. It’s very exciting!
- Production: The capstone - course for the major, this is the time and place where students assume bottom line responsibility for every aspect of a series of record productions. Students examine in great detail their own skill sets and engage in structured reflection upon each production experience, while adding valuable artifacts to their portfolios.
- Music Industry Seminar: In order for our students to appreciate that what they are learning is in fact the basis for a successful career in the creative side of the music industry, we host a semester long series of events called Music Industry Seminar. Successful music industry professionals are brought to campus to address and otherwise engage with students so that students can experience for themselves the value of what they are learning, discover how their own personal strengths and desires can be shaped into a career, and model their own efforts on the hard-won experience of our industry guests.
- Introduction to the Recording Studio: While many of our incoming students have some experience in recording, we start from scratch. The world of professional audio is one where successful participants need to speak, and understand, the language. What’s a decibel? What’s the difference between a dynamic microphone and a condenser microphone? What is lossy audio? Regardless of how you choose to utilize your technical training, the vernacular is the same across all professional audio disciplines – album production, sound for film/video/web, game audio, broadcast, etc.
- Recording Studio Techniques I: Day one – plug a microphone into a panel, route that signal through the recording console to a track in Pro Tools (or analog tape), record the signal and play it back. No, it’s not that easy but through lectures, labs and hands-on Pro Tools training in our CAI lab you’ll slowly start to build your confidence, and your skills.
- Recording Studio Techniques II: You now have a clear understanding of the basics. Now we delve deeper into the recording studio – microphone techniques, equalization, use of outboard effects to create a three dimensional mix. We continue to refine your understanding of the best practices currently used in recording studios for creating high quality recordings. We will continue to meet in the CAI lab to broaden your knowledge of Pro Tools, culminating in an exam that will allow you to earn your first of two potential Avid Pro Tools certifications.
- Recording Engineering Practicum: Off come the training wheels. It’s now entirely the responsibility of the students to record, edit and mix two songs throughout the semester. You will schedule the recording sessions, hire the musicians, arrange, produce and record the songs you choose. This is your opportunity to use what you have learned, and push the boundaries further and truly use the Millitrax recording facility and CAI lab to deliver a finished product that will be presented to your peers – the class. We will then dissect the recording and discuss what was done well and what needs improvement and how to achieve your sonic ambitions. Lectures focus on advanced recording topics including mixing, introduction to mastering, delivery formats and critical listening.
Along the way there are multiple opportunities to continue to hone your engineering skills recording a variety of musicians and styles. Exceptional students will be chosen to be a member of the recital crew - stereo and multitrack recordings of more than 150 performances on and around campus. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to run the audio at a live show? The p.a. crew transports, sets up and runs the live sound equipment for upwards of 40 shows on and around the Millikin campus. The cream of the crop of upper-class Commercial Music majors are invited to take the studio manager’s exam in the Spring and perhaps be hand selected to become a recording studio manager.