For junior Steven Diaz, homework, lectures and tests all have new meanings. Instead of working on a paper, he spends an afternoon in the recording studio. Instead of cramming for an exam, he is completing sound checks and finalizing harmonies.
And instead of dodging geese on his way to class, he is relaxing on the shores of an island.
Steve, a music composition major, is spending the semester at Martha’s Vineyard, an island of Massachusetts. He is studying at the Contemporary Music Center through a BestSemester.com program. As one of 30 aspiring college musicians and industry professionals chosen for the four-month program, Diaz gets to experience the music industry in an exciting, realistic setting, with weekly songwriting assignments, critiques and performances.
“Everyone thinks that a music career is really glamorous, but it’s a lot tougher,” Diaz said. “This has given me a clear image of what it really is.”
Before going to CMC, Diaz played several different instruments, including the piano, guitar, bass and drums, but typically avoided the microphone. Now, as part of the program’s artist track, Diaz takes the stage every week to share the music he has written.
“I haven’t sung in front of people a lot before, but it has gotten easier because I’ve done it repeatedly,” Diaz said.
While he is still trying to determine where his future in the music industry lies, and if performing is a part of it, Diaz said that he plans to write music for the rest of his life.
“It’s kind of like painting a picture or writing a story,” Diaz said. “Just think of what you want to say and it kind of comes out. … For me, I take personal experiences and thought processes and kind of expound on that.”
In addition, Diaz is given different assignments for songs through his classes, such as focusing on a certain object, using a metaphor or writing about the island.
While he loves writing, Diaz said he does not have a set style yet because he tries to mix it up by writing and playing a little bit of everything.
“I guess my style is more around folk music, but I did hardcore and pop,” Diaz said. He also tried his hand at rap while at CMC, writing a song called “Carry the Fire.”
As part of the program, Diaz will have at least one of his songs featured on a compilation CD which will be released through 450 Records this spring. The campus holds two recording studios that allow Diaz to use some of the latest instruments and music technology every day.
In addition to writing songs and performing, Diaz said that a lot of the teaching at the center is focused on technique and how to eventually be a professional artist.
“A lot of the teachers have been in the music industry, so they have a lot of knowledge from experience,” Diaz said.
For example, his songwriting professor, Katie York, released an album and also co-wrote a song with Mat Kearney, so “she knows what a good song sounds like,” Diaz said. And, even though being critiqued can be hard, Diaz said he would rather know the truth than be lied to about his work.