Brian McTear ’91 recalls first suggesting ideas for music production to Senior Master of the Arts and Director of Instrumental Music Margie Neiswender P’22 ’23 during his fifth form year. In the 30 years since McTear’s graduation, he and Neiswender have stayed in touch and would periodically brainstorm ideas for teaching music production to Hill students. According to Neiswender, H-Term was “the perfect vehicle” for the duo to put a plan into action, and they created the H-Term course, “Music Production Workshop.”
The course description reads, “This workshop will cover topics and studies of current interest in music technology. Focus will be placed on an introduction to the music software Pro Tools and to offering each student the opportunity to mix, edit, and master a recording.”
For Neiswender, the course represents the opportunity to be both a teacher and a student.
“I have always been interested in learning how to use Pro Tools and thought H-Term could give be the opportunity to be a student, too,” she explained. “Fortunately, Brian is a master record producer and educator. I discussed the idea of a six-week Pro Tools course with Brian and he was immediately interested as he’s taught a similar course at The University of the Arts, Philadelphia.”
McTear owns and runs Miner Street Recordings, a staple of the Philadelphia music scene since 1996. In 2010 he produced the sample hooks at the core of Kendrick Lamar’s breakout single, “The Recipe.” Soon after, he mixed Joan Osborne’s Grammy nominated album Bring it on Home, and he’s been an integral part of music by The War on Drugs, Sharon Van Etten, Kurt Vile, Waxahatchee, The Dead Milkmen, and countless others.
When asked, “Why Pro Tools?” McTear’s answer was simple: It is the industry standard.
“I'd assert that it actually is a standard because it is the simplest pro software to use,” McTear said. “Somehow, even after 30 years, the user interface is almost exactly the same. Even with all the improvements and enhanced capabilities, a person who opened Pro Tools for the first time in 30 years would know exactly how to use it and make music again. To me, I take that as a sign of the company understanding the real priorities of people who use recording software.”
For the course, the school sponsored the purchase of Pro Tools software for the eight participating students. Each week, classes are held on Zoom in which McTear provides topics for the group to work on and experiment with throughout that week.
For Andrew Spatarella ’22, this class was an opportunity to learn a new skill that he could take with him beyond his time at Hill. “I am interested in music production and may want to pursue it as career,” states Andrew. “I was excited to learn more about what was involved in making a song sound better.”
“The class has been really fun,” McTear stated. “It's amazing to see Hill students zip around the screen, even if they still don't fully understand the finer details. We're learning by using the software and speaking the vocabulary. When I was a student at Hill, I learned so much just by being given the confidence to try things that others would assume to be completely ‘out of reach.’ I think this is one of those types of experiences for the kids, and I love being able to bring it to them.”
“I have really enjoyed the personal instruction with such a talented Hill alumnus as well as the resources made available to us,” says Kendal Thomas ’21, another student participant. “I know I will use the skills I’ve learned in the future and they will serve as a wonderful foundation for my musical endeavors.”
The six-week course will conclude in mid-February with each student completing a capstone project which will task them with editing and mixing tracks from the library of McTear’s Miner Street Studio. Each student will have access to a variety of bands enabling them to select a style of music they are interested in mixing.
“I'm excited for the kids to pick out a song and mix it for the capstone assignment,” said McTear. “It doesn't matter so much whether the song is a perfect mix or not. It is more important to understand the complete workflow and timeline of a creative project. In other words, it's important to finish things. Anyone in this class who gets all the way through their first song is immediately empowered to go back and do it again, and that's the most important thing in the end. From that moment, they're essentially right on the same path that I have been for 30 years!”