Jenny Amaya, a former national accordion champion, plays many instruments, teaches college, composes and arranges symphonic band music.
Even so, she's the first to admit that talent alone won't pay the rent. What will? Amaya, 34, preaches and teaches the gospel of commercial music. "There's no market for what you write by hand," she said. "You have to know music technology. The modern way to teach music is here, at the computer."
"Here" is the 900-square-foot Commercial Music Lab that Amaya and her husband Alex Amaya, 43, launched in their 3,000-square-foot home a year ago in an unincorporated part of Riverside County near Perris.
Although Inland-area community colleges teach music technology, Amaya's business is unique to the region, a claim supported by professional musicians.
"Our curriculum lacks some specifics and that's where Jenny, one of our former students, fills in the gaps," said Charlie Richard, chairman of Riverside City College's Music Department. "The class got her excited about technology. She's absolutely fantastic and has a great spirit."
The problem is that the schools can't keep up with the demand for such courses because the field has exploded into what's become the fastest-growing segment of the music industry.
"When I was hired 23 years ago, we were offering a couple of music technology sections," Richard recalls. "If we didn't have an economic hatchet hanging over us now, we could easily offer 10, instead of four or five."
The Amayas hope to fill the breach. They have invested thousands of dollars to remodel their sunken dining room with six computer stations equipped with the latest hardware, software, keyboards and microphones for all-day boot camps, costing $200 apiece.
"I've learned more about Pro Tools (digital audio software) in the first 10 minutes with Jenny than I learned in one semester of junior college," said Chaz Faucher, 24, of Hemet. He's co-owner and lead tracking engineer of a small outfit, Empyre Productions.
"My approach is very, very structured," Jenny Amaya said. Topics include digital audio fundamentals and mixing; commercial music theory, forms and structures; songwriting, keyboard, writing and composing for various instruments, orchestration and music for film, video and games.
At her master work station, Amaya faces the class in front of a 93-by-52-foot monitor, demonstrating step-by-step which knobs, buttons and keys to use and why, "Every time you press a key, it's data," she said. "It goes into the computer and is translated into notes and sounds."
During this session, all four students compose their own sound tracks to a comic, 40-second animated film clip. "In film scoring, less is more," Amaya said, "but beginners usually throw in everything."
Earphones clapped to her head, Melissa Feild, 34, of Riverside, retains the film clip's same notes with a different mix of instruments. She tosses in and edits such sound effects as a bomb exploding, a man laughing, a cuckoo clock chiming and a door creaking.
There is no wrong response, Amaya said. "If you screw up or don't like the result, just go back and change it."
In a male-dominated field, Feild, a student at RCC, is determined to succeed as an audio engineer scoring films and considers Amaya's sessions "much more comprehensive" than classes at school.
Amaya, however, regards the razzle-dazzle electronics as a supplement to, not a substitute for, traditional musical training. "You've got to pluck from the technology and combine the two," she said.
Another student, Nathan Owens, 23, of Hemet, plays rhythm guitar in a band called The Walking Toxins, a dead-end career. An audio technology major at Mt. San Jacinto Community College, he hopes to become a mix master engineer.
Online debates swirl around whether computer-generated music is really music.
"It's not meant to replace music," Charlie Richard said of the technology.
What would Beethoven, Bach or Mozart think of digital music? "They would use it as another tool," Richard said without hesitation.
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