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Making music remotely

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UD students in quarantine are fostering connection through music

Student plays guitar in studio

Samuel Goetz, president of the Music Production Club at UD, plays guitar at Philadelphias Grindhouse Multimedia Studio, where he formerly worked as an audio engineer.

When it launched in the fall of 2019, the Music Production Club at the University of Delaware comprised an unlikely mix. Sure, there were a couple of music majors in the group, but for the most part participants represented a variety of departments, from mathematics to Spanish to psychology.

Aspiring to be a teacher? A doctor? A candlestick maker? It didnt matter. As long as you had a song or a beat in your head, you had a community. And, every Monday evening, that community met in the Student Multimedia Design Center of UDs Morris Library.

Then: the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic struck.

For a moment, the clubs 16 participants thought their communal music-making days might be sunk. With campus closed and social distancing directives coming from state and federal authorities, some braced for a return to making art in isolation. But music forges connection even when and, sometimes, especially when you cant physically connect.

The student musicians, who produce everything from rap to pop to electronic dance music, have transferred their weekly meetings to Zoom, a video conferencing platform. Using DAWs digital audio workstations for recording, editing, arranging, mixing and mastering music on a computer they take turns creating a sample, or a piece of a recording. Each member then uses this sample as the foundation for a song or beat created over the course of a week. When the students reconvene, they share their work and offer feedback.

I guess you could say Im going a little stir crazy during quarantine, said Samuel Goetz, sophomore honors mechanical engineering major, from his home in Haddonfield, New Jersey. But making music helps. Its almost meditative you get in the zone. And you do it with peers you wouldnt otherwise see during social isolation.

This is the type of experience Goetz said he longed for after graduating high school, when he worked as an audio engineer for a recording studio in Philadelphia and, later, when he launched his own company producing and selling beats to regional rappers.

I wasnt creating the music I wanted, he said. Instead, I was making what I thought would sell. It was also solitary. Why would I isolate myself when I could be using music to create community?

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Students in a recording studio

In October, before the pandemic created a need for social distancing, the Music Production Club visited the Occupy recording studio on Main Street in Newark. Here, Julian Volare (seated at the computer) recorded vocals, while members learned how to mix these vocals with audio effects.

After enrolling in UD, Goetz launched the Music Production Club, now thriving during the midst of a pandemic. One member, Daniel Loughlin, is a human services major considering a career in social work. He makes music both through a DAW and an ocarina, an ancient, bird-shaped wind instrument. His current passion project Ive devoted hundreds of hours to it is creating the soundtrack for a friends independent, animated film about coping with loss.

Because Loughlin is a person with both high-functioning autism and ADHD, he said, the music has been a type of therapy something that helps him regain his focus when he is frustrated by school work. It also serves as an escape from an unsettled world.

Music takes your soul to a different place, he said. Even just for a little bit, it gets your mind off of everything, which is especially important during a stressful moment like this. Its a reminder that there are good things out there, too. It gives us a reprieve.

Because many of the musicians upload their work to various streaming services, outside listeners have access to this reprieve as well. Putting something beautiful into the world at a time when so many are struggling, Loughlin said, is definitely part of the motivation.

Consider Julian Volare, a violinist and first-year business major who recently shared his latest project a mixed tape of melodic rap on SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music. One of the songs, No Roommate, is about breaking up with his girlfriend on move-in day at UD.

I was pretty upset about it, he said from his home in Wilmington, Delaware. But without that experience, I wouldnt have this song, and Im very happy with it. I cant imagine not having this creative outlet. Id encourage anyone who is not making art right now music, painting, ceramics, whatever to start. Having that expression is so important, especially if you dont have anyone to talk to. Being able to engage with outsiders who appreciate your art in online comment sections during a period of social isolation, he added, is a nice bonus.

For those interested in joining the club, the group encourages participation from music enthusiasts of every skill level and from any department on campus. The only requirement is that you have that song or beat in your head and that you come ready to grow as an artist. All the musicians said theyre continually learning from one another and their own creative processes. One of the takeaways? Patience is paramount. Good things take time. If you want to be happy with your results, you have to put in the work.

Its a lesson, they said, is applicable to this time of quarantine.

I really hope everyone is doing what they can to stay positive and healthy, Loughlin said between ocarina practice sessions. There may be more we need to endure, and it may not be easy. But eventually better days are on the way. 

Article by Diane Stopyra; photos courtesy of UD Music Production Club

Published April 29, 2020

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Students in the Music Production Club are finding ways to create and share their music even while physically separated by COVID-19 restrictions.
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