Music Technology in a 21st Century Economy

Over  the last several years, NAfME has been listening to its members on the need to adapt curricula to today’s evolving job market.

We know that music education leads many students into prestigious career avenues in the music community.  Some become our next generation’s music educators, while others enter into the music industry as musicians, performers, entrepreneurs, and entertainers.  And yet for others, they enter the industry for technical careers in sound production, digital music, and electronic transmission. 

What is Music Technology?

In today’s 21st century economy, music education is also career technical education.  As technology advances, music education expands.  Music educators across the country are adapting by integrating music technology curricula into their music classes, or introducing separate classes focused on music technology entirely. 

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Music technology is the application of technology, such as computers and software, to the creation and performance of music. Whether it is the use of sequencer and editing software, or electronic musical devices, musical technology and its definition expands as technology expands.  Music technology encompasses the composition, recording, and playback of music.  Today, 2nd graders are learning how to use GarageBand to record, create, edit, and share music, while high school students are learning skills for what may be their future career. 

First Hand Applications in School Music Programs

Consider, for example, the Introduction to Music Technology class taught at Edison Township Public High School in New Jersey.  The goal of the program is to enable students to succeed and compete in a global marketplace by providing a “hands-on experience with the technology in order to gain a first-hand understanding of the cutting edge innovations that exist in the Music Technology realm.”  Educators are tasked with teaching how to share, purchase, and sell digital music responsibly, while also understanding the concept of intellectual property.  In another unit, they are taught how original music creations can be made on the computer by using pre-recorded music, and learning how to use a digital audio workstation (DAW). 

In Chemsfield Public Schools in Massachusetts, students learn about the different effects of editing programs by reconstructing a spoken recording of the Gettysburg Address.  For their final project, students write, record, mix, edit, and produce their own commercial jingle. In this endeavor, students use music writing software, production and editing—skills vital to enter the music industry on the production side. 

Reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Act

These programs and curricula are becoming more common, and they deserve a seat at the table when applying for career and technical education (CTE) funding.  Lawmakers, who crafted the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), understood that the accelerated evolution of technology demanded CTE to spread to different subjects to train the next generation of workers for a vast number of industries and professions that need such training.  Thus, they added conforming amendments to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Act to ensure that CTE, and its funding, subscribe to the “well-rounded education definition.  NAfME has written a legislative request that codifies this definition into any Perkins reauthorization, which would ensure schools have the opportunity to pioneer and expand innovative courses, such as music technology and recording arts, through supplemental federal CTE funding. 

Last year, the House of Representatives passed the “Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.”  In this legislation, Representative Elise Stefanik added an amendment to allow arts and design education to be integrated into state leadership activities and local uses of funds under Perkins.  While NAfME is supportive of this amendment that aims to expand access to Perkins funds for arts in an integrative manner, this language does not ensure that music technology classes will be eligible for Perkins dollars. The inclusion of the “well-rounded” education definition would create just such an opportunity.  

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Last year, a Senate draft of Perkins Reauthorization did use the “well-rounded” definition found in ESSA.  This continues to be  the direction that NAfME believes any Perkins reauthorization should go. 

Last week, the House of Representatives introduced almost identical legislation from last year’s bill, once again leaving out ESSA’s well-rounded definition.  A mark-up on the bill will take place this Wednesday.  The Senate, with still over 100 political nominations to consider, will not immediately consider Perkins reauthorization.  NAfME staff have been making the rounds to meet lawmakers in both chambers, and on both sides of the aisle, to ensure that the mention of “well-rounded education” be included in the reauthorization of Perkins for both state and local CTE plans.

Music teachers love teaching music to their students because they know that it shapes the way students understand themselves and the world around them.  They teach because music allows for deeper engagement in learning.  By developing curiosity, creativity, collaboration, self-discipline, and motivation, music education nurtures the assets and skills that pave the way for a student’s future success and happiness.  Music technology provides yet another avenue to find that success and happiness.

By including the “well-rounded” definition in Perkins reauthorization, we are laying the groundwork for future recording engineers, composers, music producers, audio visual technicians, and home audio consultants.  Music technology will play a crucial role in today’s 21st century economy, and we must commit to properly training those who wish to enhance, create, perform, and produce the music we love.    

Tooshar Swain, Policy Advisor, Center for Advocacy, Policy, and Constituency Engagement, May 16, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (