“We want our music to do good”

When music professor Mark Katz says he wants his students to have a hands-on learning experience, he means it.

Katz often takes his classes on a “field trip” to his office to check out his turntables. For students raised on listening to CDs and iPods, playing with turntables can be a novelty. But this hands-on approach isn’t just for novelty’s sake. The First Year Seminar class, “Making and Marketing Music in the Digital Age,” is all about engagement, interaction and hands-on experiences.

Katz brings DJs, producers, promoters and entrepreneurs to the classroom. The students bob their heads as they listen to original tracks and ask questions about the music industry. The students interview local musicians, explore digital distribution issues and study the effects of marketing music via social networking platforms.

In the past three years, Katz has brought hip-hop-related courses — the Beat Making Lab, the Art and Culture of the DJ, Rap Lab, Rock Lab — to the department’s academic offerings.  The reach of these courses — what Katz calls the Carolina Beat Academy — has extended beyond the classroom to have worldwide influence through the Beat Making Lab.

Photo of Mark Katz with turntable.

Mark Katz

The lab emerged from Katz’s collaboration with colleagues in UNC’s Department of Music. It started as an innovative course on music production and entrepreneurship, and was founded by lecturer Stephen Levitin (a producer and DJ known as Apple Juice Kid), and Katz  in 2011.

UNC lecturer and emcee Pierce Freelon joined Levitin to co-teach the class in 2012, and was instrumental in transforming the curriculum for implementation in a community setting.

Together, Freelon and Apple Juice Kid formed ARTVSM LLC, and initiated a grassroots campaign to crowd-source funds to donate training and equipment to Yole!Africa.  Yole!Africa is a cultural center in Goma, Congo co-directed by UNC professor Chérie Rivers Ndaliko. They collaborated with PBS Digital Studios, which airs webisodes documenting Beat Making Labs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Panama, Senegal, Fiji and Ethiopia, each Wednesday on the Beat Making Lab youtube channel.

‘We want our music to do good’

Katz, who joined the department in 2006 and is its chair, uses words such as innovation, entrepreneurship and engagement to describe his efforts to make music available to all students and broaden the reach of the music department, while forging connections. He says, “We don’t just want to create good music, but we want our music to do good.”

The Beat Making Lab, says Katz:

  • engages artist/entrepreneurs as co-teachers,
  • enables students to develop skills in fundraising, marketing and promotion,
  • emphasizes professionalism and resourcefulness, which students can use in all careers and
  • fosters entrepreneurship and builds careers in communities where labs originate.

As the author of Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip Hop DJ, Katz sees the value of hip-hop and other popular music in the world and in academia.  He recently told the smartplanet blog that, “We need to reflect the world, and in the world of music, if you’re not talking about hip hop or rock or jazz, there’s a lot of music you’re not talking about. As the chair of a department of music, I feel that we need to reach out to students who have diverse interests and to talk about all types of music.”

Read more about the Music Department and watch a video about the department.

Watch a video about one of Katz’s classes.

Published November 25, 2013.