Sonic Arts: An Interview with Michael Bacon

Michael Bacon
Michael Bacon

In December, New York State approved LIHSA’s three new CTE programs. We will begin offering Sonic Arts, Expressive Arts in Human Development, and Game Design programs during the 2021-22 academic year.  This week we’d like to share more information about one of our new programs – Sonic Arts – with our LIHSA Community and share additional information about the program through an interview with one of our esteemed Industry Advisors, Michael Bacon (see his bio at the bottom of this article).

About Sonic Arts

Through the Sonic Arts pathway, students will learn about recording, mixing, and mastering in LIHSA’s state-of-the-art recording studio and digital music lab. LIHSA’s experienced faculty will introduce students to a diversity of technical approaches and musical styles as they work with visual media, live interactive performance, sound installations, and software applications.  The hands-on sound production courses will introduce students to audio techniques, covering the basics of writing, producing, and engineering productions.

Students will:  learn the fundamentals of music and how to create it on the computer using digital tools; gain a solid understanding of digital audio recording and editing techniques for persuasion, information, and entertainment, as well as the experience needed to be proficient in technical aspects of sound and music production, such as signal flows, mixing, mastering, compression, asset management, and online delivery; delve into creating sounds using current industry standard synthesizers by working at digital audio workstations to record and organize synthesized sounds and explore the vast array of electronic effects in Logic Pro X, ProTools, and  Ableton Live.

LIHSA’s future alumni in this area will be poised to find meaningful work in recording arts, sound design, and commercial music enterprises. Others will pursue the independent artist’s path combining production with performance, composition, teaching, or arts administration.  Sonic Selected Career Opportunities: Record Producer, Audio Technician, Recording Studio Manager, Sound Designer, Sound Mixer, Radio Broadcast Engineer, Digital Audio Editor, Composer/Songwriter, Voice Over Artist.

An Interview with Michael Bacon

Why do you think Sonic Arts is an important CTE Program for LIHSA to offer?

A Sonic arts program is one of the new ways of learning and it’s great that LIHSA will be offering this track. Being a film composer, these classes were not available twenty years ago, or even when I started Lehman College twelve years ago. Now many college programs do offer similar programs and the program at LIHSA is phenomenal and a dream for Long Island high school students. I’m so glad they are being recognized by New York State because their work is incredibly important.

When I grew up in Philadelphia, attending the public schools, music and arts were an important part of the curriculum. Everyone got instruments, lessons, played in the orchestra. So much of that is gone from public schools. We need an educational process for creative things that can also be moved down into lower grade levels.

Where do you think will be the opportunities for students studying Sonic Arts in the future?

That is probably the most important question I ask as a college professor. Individually, one has to ask why does a student need to know when we’re teaching. At Lehman College, many our students are from the Bronx. When they come to our music program, we make sure we teach everything they need to know to go out, like the program being developed at LIHSA.

The industry has changed, which is one of the difficulties. When I started my career as a jingle writer, singer and studio musician, there 500 music houses doing recording and this work; they are pretty much all gone. Taking its place is a different world including Cable TV, which creates original music for their shows rather than use stock music. This makes for fast turn-around and opportunities for composers and musicians in a number of shows. But, it affects the income stream music composers will see from TV, affecting their down-the-line income opportunities from performance rights.

Most on my mind while teaching at Lehman: are we putting the right materials in front of music majors? Do we give them every opportunity to have learn so they can have “lightening strikes” moments? I was a professional composer for 20 years and I know what I wanted when I started. I want students to have a smorgasbord of things we put in front of them. They need a traditional education, but emphasize education that doesn’t fall completely only into European music theory too and incorporate world music. We have a new major at Lehman for music majors lean toward tech side, much like LIHSA’s Sonic Arts program. It’s why I love to be involved with LIHSA – they are on cutting edge. This is a great achievement.

What has your journey been in Music and the Sonic Arts Field?

It’s been an amazing journey. Somehow from my earliest days, I’ve been well prepared to come into a field where virtuosity not as important as understanding lots and lots of different styles of music. My family and household were filled with wide exposure to creativity and opportunities to play, perform, and express through music, art, costumes and theater. I started playing the cello at six years old and banjo at age eight. I started writing songs when I was ten.

I started out as rock singer and a singer-songwriter. Once the disco era hit I had nothing. I can play every pop instrument, every one except the saxophone. This means, as a musician, I could bend and be in the background. I read scores for oboe and cello, and I can play tracks. There’s nothing I play particularly well, but I can play it all. Music is like that to me – I just know how to do it. And I also knew what I didn’t know, which is why I decided to study at Lehman Colleges many years ago. John Corigliano was there and I could study with him for a great education that was also affordable.

Circling back to my students at Lehman, I feel like my job is to give them enough information so that when they get themselves out, they feel secure enough to say, “I can do that.” On my first job in New York, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I could figure it out. Our students need to move forward with enough education to figure it out.

What is a piece of advice you’d offer to potential students considering entering the Sonic Arts CTE Program?

That’s a great question. One of the reason I succeeded is because I had to do music, there was nothing else, I had no backup. The music industry is filled with people taking chances, but it’s important to also have backups. But if you absolutely love the music industry and nothing else would make you happy you have no choice but to immerse yourself. Teachers – like the ones at LIHSA – must give you the right information. I’m very late to academic world; I’ve lived much more in the freelance world. I have students who are wonderful composers but can’t take notes on their work. But, I have to teach them, film scoring is more of a craft, not an art, and they must learn this lesson. Film scoring is for the sake of the film.

I also hope students entering this field have a very supportive family. I have four sisters and a brother and we are amazingly supportive of each other.

A Video: “The Way We Love”

The Bacon Brothers performed Michael Bacon’s “The Way We Love” Live at the Opry at the Grand Ole Opry
In 2019, The Bacon Brothers performed Michael Bacon’s “The Way We Love” Live at the Opry at the Grand Ole Opry

About Michael Bacon

Our Industry Advisor, Michael Bacon, is an accomplished musician, composer, and teacher. His recent projects include the original scores for The Architect and the Painter for American Masters, Finding Your Roots hosted by Henry Louis Gates, The Man Nobody Knew (feature documentary), Slavery by Another Name (Sundance selection), Downtown Express a feature film directed by David Grubin, Gloria-In Her Own Words for HBO, Stevenson-Lost and Found (feature doc) Master Maggie (Tribeca selection), RX:Early Detection with Sandra Lee (HBO).

The feature film Losing Chase premiered at Sundance in 1996 and won 2 Golden Globe Awards. Bacon won an Emmy for his score for The Kennedy’s, an Ace Award nomination for his score The Man Who Loved Sharks, The BMI Television Music Award and The Chicago International Film Festival Gold Plaque Award for the music in LBJ. Shows he has scored have won numerous Emmy Awards and three Academy Awards (The Johnstown Flood, A Time For Justice, and King Gimp). Jerry Lee Lewis, Carlene Carter, Peter Yarrow and Claude Francois are just a few of the artists that have recorded songs written by Bacon. He and his brother, Kevin, perform music live as “The Bacon Brothers.” Their 10th CD was released in the spring of 2020.

Bacon’s cello concerto, “Eidolons for Violoncello and Orchestra” was completed in 2017.

He is an Associate Professor of Music at Lehman College, CUNY, where he studied composition and orchestration with John Corigliano.