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New USC Thornton courses to reflect trends in music industry

"Electronic Dance Music" and "The Music Video" will be taught by USC faculty this fall. (Photo/Courtesy of mandoka)

Recognizing the opportunity to cater to musicians who were not seeking to pursue the traditional classical and jazz genres offered in typical university music programs, the USC Thornton School of Music founded the Popular Music program in the fall of 2009.

This fall — four years later and after the first graduating class of the Popular Music program — USC Thornton will recognize a new opportunity by offering classes in electronic dance music (EDM) and the music video to nonmusic majors at USC.

“The Music Video” will be taught by Joanna Demers, chair of USC Thornton’s musicology department, and “Electronic Dance Music” will be led by Sean Nye, a leading expert in the genre.

EDM has become a highly successful commercial industry in the past five years, dominating singles charts and being integrated into the music of pop, hip hop, and R&B acts, such as Rihanna, Usher and the Black Eyed Peas. EDM acts and producers, such as David Guetta, Steve Aoki, Deadmau5, Skirllex and others, have experienced much success, winning Grammy Awards along the way.

The EDM course will enlist history and musicology to describe the genre’s origins, development and current incarnations. The course will also look at how “DJing,” scratching and sampling have evolved since the mid-1970s.

Students will listen to music that dates back as far as 1948 while also listening to the music of Kraftwerk, David Bowie, James Brown and Fatboy Slim, among others. In addition, students will draw from cultural criticism to study social, political and cultural phenomena, such as constructions of race, neighborhood, and masculinity, misogyny and homophobia, intellectual property and political activism in order to drive discussions on the role and future of the EDM genre.

Though it is an older phenomenon than the EDM movement, the music video has become a major topic of discussion since the growing influence of YouTube and VEVO. The music video, which has provided a platform to film directors from David Fincher (The Social Network) to Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) has become more of an online medium since MTV dropped its Music Television tagline.

“The Music Video” course will consider the video in relation to notions of stardom and celebrity, and it will speculate on the future of the form amid drastic changes in the production and marketing of media.

The course will also explore how the gender, race and class of video participants shapes meaning as well as how technical processes contribute to  — or detract from — a narrative flow. Special topics will include precursors of the music video in concert films and film musicals, the MTV-era, Christian music video, fan-produced anime music videos and video games.

For more information, email Demers at or call (213) 740-3213.

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