Over the past two years, students around the world have had to make the shift to online learning. While we believe that virtual classrooms done well can offer a powerful educational experience, we know that virtual education is not always delivered with the level of care and quality that students and their parents expect or require.
At Digital Media Academy, our virtual offerings leverage the unique opportunities that digital learning presents, rather than simply trying to provide traditional education in an online format. Our virtual programs and camps are designed to be deeply engaging on an intellectual, practical and interpersonal level in order to provide an inspiring, enriching experience.
But don’t take our word for it – Theodore, a high school student from Montreal, Canada is an alumnus of the Music Production Tech Accelerator and joined us to talk about his experience.
Why did you decide to join the Music Production Tech Accelerator? Is it something you’re passionate about?
I was always very passionate about music. I go to an art school where you have all the regular classes, but then you also have theater and choir and you play instruments and take a bunch of other art-focused classes.
School was where I started getting into music – I’m a pretty good violinist, so I was already interested in making music. But what really got me into writing songs was that my friends would dare me to freestyle or create random raps. They would put on a beat from YouTube and then I would try to freestyle. And I was terrible at it, but it got me interested in making music.
I started writing lyrics all the time and I realized I wanted to actually make music. So I started to think, “If I want to make music, what is a program that I could take to learn how to do that?”
I know a lot of people just learn by looking at YouTube videos, but I’m not that type of learner. I need someone to teach me, because I can’t just go on YouTube and become an expert in music production software.
So my mom discovered the Tech Accelerator program at Digital Media Academy and I joined and it’s just been such a fun experience. It’s really been very cool.
Have you done any other online learning? What was different about Digital Media Academy?
I had violin classes which were online. And right now, I’m having online school which is unfortunate because it’s really bad. But the difference between online school and my violin class is that violin class is very focused, and Tech Accelerator is the same. It’s very focused on you.
The teachers are there for you. And instead of being in a class of 20 people, I was in a class with just one other student and a teacher who really knew what they were doing.
So I wasn’t on mute for an entire session, just listening. I was asking questions constantly and I was doing my best to learn. With other online programs I’ve seen, it’s not focused – it’s a class of like 27 people.
At school right now I have choir class where it’s the entire grade; 125 people in a Zoom call just doesn’t work. It’s terrible. It’s literally all the students annoying the teachers, writing a bunch of random stuff in the chat.
With Tech Accelerator, instead of having that kind of situation, you get the maximum amount of learning.
What worked really well for you in the program?
The first thing was just being with a teacher who knew what he was doing and was a professional in the industry. So he could easily help. I would have one question and he would give me so much information that I would have 10 more questions. He was really passionate, and he taught me a lot.
I learned so much – I’ve never learned that much in three months. It really is accelerated learning.
They also encouraged discovery and learning things on your own. So I discovered a lot of things that the teacher didn’t teach. When I would come to class and say, “I know you taught us this one thing but how do you do this other thing?” He would say, “That’s a very good question,” and explain it.
The second thing would probably be collaboration and sharing our music. There was another student in my class so I would listen to his beats and then I would put my beats on.
And then in the last class we had to show our songs to our parents. It was really fun showing my music.
How did the instructor support you? Did they do anything differently from other teachers you’ve had?
I think the difference between my teachers at school and my teacher at Digital Music Academy is that his job is to make music and to teach. Normally, you don’t have math class with a rocket scientist or go to French class and hear about your French teacher inventing new French words for the dictionary.
But with the teacher at Digital Media Academy, he’s been in the industry for 20 years, so he knows what he’s doing.
It’s not like I just learned a bunch of stuff on my keyboard. I learned so much about new artists that have inspired me and I’ve listened to my teacher’s music, which I really like.
I learned so much about music, but also about the industry. For example, how music publishing works. We had a masterclass with Brittni Noble, from Be Noble Publishing. She runs her own company that publishes music for artists. So she came in for an hour and a half, and I got her email so if I ever needed anything, I could build connections with someone who is already in the industry.
So not only am I talking to people who are working in the industry, I’m actually making connections while doing so. And that’s the difference because in math class, I don’t make connections with rocket scientists – in my class we just do algebra.
That’s the first one. And the second one is the same thing I said before: it’s very focused on me. And I’m allowed to be creative.
And eventually I just got good enough to make music that I was proud of. It impressed people – I would show it to my friends. This is actually a funny story. I’ve made 10 full songs and I’d never shown my friends these songs before. So one day I came to my school and I had a speaker. I connected the Bluetooth and I made my entire class listen to my song. And they were all like, “Oh my God!” It was awesome.
What tech tools did the instructor use to keep students interested and engaged in classes? (ie: screensharing, emojis, polls, etc.)
Well, he had a presentation for every class – if we were talking about pop one day, he would show a bunch of pop artists, he would have a song prepared and he would show us examples of songs that have done it well. He would show us song structure for the genre.
So we discovered many different genres: electronic dance music, house punk, hip hop, pop.
And then he would ask us questions afterwards. It wasn’t like he would explain everything. He would actually want us to interact.
He would also want us to research on our own: one day we had to find a good producer and explain what we think about this producer and why he’s bigger in the music industry than others.
He would also poll us after every class. He would want to know what we enjoyed about the class or what we thought about it. So we had polls, we had shared screens. He used pretty much everything.
What stands out for you as the most interesting or exciting thing that happened or that you learned in the class?
I think my connection with my teacher was really good, as well as my connection with the student that was with me, because he was younger than me, so he kind of looked up to me. I would be try-harding my music and then he would make these beats that I was like, “This is fire. This is awesome.”
Those two connections were really nice. And then the masterclass and showing my songs to my parents was really great.
Were there any ways you noticed that being virtual actually enhanced the experience for you?
It wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t virtual because it’s kind of designed to be virtual. My friend from Tech Accelerator is in Washington. And then Pepe, the instructor, is in Ecuador and Peter [the lead curriculum designer for Music Production] is in L.A. You couldn’t have those connections if the class weren’t virtual.
I think if it weren’t virtual it would’ve been less diverse. I got to meet people who are on the other side of the planet who are teaching music. And Pepe is a great teacher. I just want to shout him out. He has a band in Ecuador and they travel all over Ecuador to perform. He’s a drummer and producer and he was also part of a techno duo. He’s done so much. But he’s also a great teacher.
So that enhanced the experience for me.
What would you say to other young people (or their parents) who are thinking about signing up for a Digital Media Academy virtual program, like the spring break camp that is coming up?
It’s one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. It was an amazing learning experience. I don’t say this lightly, it’s really amazing. It’s worth the expense because you really get to be in an environment where you feel at home and you get to make creations that are really incredible.
For the kids, you have to be committed. Because if you go through the program and you’re not committed, then you’re not going to learn as much. If you’re committed, you can go so far.
I was at level one. I didn’t know how to make music at all. I’d never played the piano before and I had a keyboard in front of me. I went from that, in three months, to skipping a level because I was excited to make as much music as I could so that I could get so much better.
If you commit yourself and you’re passionate about it, you will love it.
Is There Anything Else You’d Like to Say About Your Tech Accelerator Experience?
I guess the first thing I want to say is the teachers are great. I haven’t said that enough. They know what they’re doing and they know how to get you somewhere.
I also love how interactive it is. There isn’t a second when I feel ignored.
I don’t go to class and feel like I’m just listening to a lecture. They ask you questions and you feel like you’re really learning. I think it’s been two months now since I’ve finished the program and the fact that I have this many stories about everything and so much to talk about means that I remember it because I was in those classes and I was able to learn as much as I could.
I think the last thing would just be, you don’t feel pressured to be something you’re not. You don’t feel pressured to go to classes and be like another artist, You really have time to develop your style, what you like, what you want to learn and what interests you.
And then you show them that and they’re like, okay, let’s take this to the next level.