Story and photos by Danny Rivera
Steve McClain, 26, a guitar student, waits in the hallway that once led to the old studio control rooms in LAC’s G building. The rooms that once held the thousand-pound mixing boards are now used for faculty office space.
“Can we meet off campus?”
For someone who spent thirty-one years developing the now-defunct Commercial Music Program at LBCC, former director Nancy Allen has little desire to return to the campus she called home for so long.
We sit on the patio of a coffee shop two blocks away from campus. Far enough not to see it, but close enough to know it’s there.
“It’s still sucks to think how everything we built from the ground-up isn’t there anymore,” she said. “I had two mixing boards custom built in England for this program.”
From under her dark, purple-tinted aviators comes a burst of confidence. It’s the kind of swagger that exudes from someone who experienced battle in the darkest trenches.
“Everybody in the industry knows the best boards come from England.”
A mixing board is a large table with rows upon rows of controls, buttons and metering equipment, used in professional audio recordings since the 1930’s, up to today.
Once, these two particular boards were conduits between artist and creation, harnessing the aural chaos that emanates from throats and instruments. Thousands of students sat at the helm of these half-ton behemoths inside cramped rooms for hours upon end, turning knobs and adjusting faders like mad Transylvanian doctors doing their damndest to bring life to the otherwise lifeless. After honing their skills at LBCC under Allen’s tutelage, many of these mad ingénues went on to win Grammys for the platinum-selling albums they helped create.
“Yeah, they’re still in storage in the warehouse,” says Doug Wood, the Music Department’s resident engineer.
“I mean, unless they’ve already sold them. It’s possible they put them up for auction.”
The college actually did something else with the music boards–they parted them for the precious metals contained within.
“If it was musical equipment, like violins or horns, I could sell those easily,” said Ricardo Harris, LBCC’s warehouse logistics manager. “But the technology’s way past that, everything’s digital now. The metal inside was worth more than the unit.”
Throughout her tenure at LBCC, Allen and the other professors in the Commercial Recording Program made sure their students were more skilled in real-world applications than the mathematics and theory taught in other programs.
LBCC officials, however, still found it necessary to discontinue the program. In a public letter to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges dated 30 July 2013, the LBCC administration cited “historically low completion rates, partly due to students having other academic goals than program completion.”
But to Allen, it wasn’t a problem with students coming in; it was a problem with the college wanting the program out.
“The school wanted us to be a satellite campus for Cal State Long Beach,” says Allen. “Think of it as ‘Long Beach North.’”
While the Commercial Music Program maintained a transfer relationship with CSU Dominguez Hills and its Digital Media program, members of LBCC’s Board of Trustees and President Eloy Ortiz-Oakley did not want to continue offering the Commercial Music Program, citing that there was no equivalent program in effect at CSULB, according to Allen.
“But that didn’t make sense,” she said emphatically. “We had classes that taught exactly the same thing as [CSUDH]. But because the names didn’t match up on the records, they wouldn’t count them.”
Ultimately, the program was scrapped in summer 2013. According to Allen, students still completing the program were driving as far south as San Diego to finish their graduation requirements in time.
“Now, whenever I go out in the field, workers in the field are always telling me ‘You know, we’re having the hardest time trying to find interns to come work with us and learn,” says Allen.
When asked about the discontinuation, former president-superintendent Eloy Ortiz-Oakley said it had more to do with the impact of the Great Recession on the college’s bottom line.
“During that period of recession, the college needed to refocus resources on career pathways where we felt our students could a) earn an associate’s degree, and b) where there was a direct pathway to jobs in the area.
“I realize that for many students that were in that program, [the cancellation] was a blow to them, but I think what the department has been able to do with those resources has benefited its students moving forward.”
Tired and distraught from having worked for over a year to save the program, Allen retired from LBCC shortly thereafter. Colleagues could not fault her for leaving, but her presence is still sorely missed.
“Nancy was the backbone of this department,” says Wood. “She had a way of walking into tense situations – in classrooms, in the studio, wherever – and getting people to calm down and work together.”
The impact that the Commercial Music Program had on the entertainment world is still being felt today. Hip-hop artists such as Warren G and Skee-Lo are alumni, as well as others who have worked for artists ranging from Janet Jackson to Marilyn Manson.
That legacy is also being felt around LBCC, as well. Mayra Aguilar went through the Commercial Music Program and now works as a Senior Multimedia Tech for LBCC. In her spare time, she co-founded a non-profit group called Chicas Rockeras.
“We are a rock and roll camp for girls,” says Aguilar. “In one week, girls ages 8-17 pick an instrument, form a band, write an original song and perform it.” Aguilar says that the knowledge she learned from the program has helped her in both her job and her charitable passion.
Since retiring, Allen has focused her efforts on providing people effective tools to “harness and manage their inner energy.” Her website, yourenergyrx.com, provides information and tips on stress management that she learned while helping musicians and artists get into the right mindset to perform at their peak levels. When the subject of a possible reemergence of recording classes returning in 2017 is brought up, Allen sits back and ponders for a moment.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind doing some consulting work for them,” she says matter-of-factly. A humorous glance cuts through the top of her Aviator sunglasses again.
“It’d be nice to get paid without working so hard for it, for once.”