When COVID-19 canceled all my plans - from working to getting my driver's license - I was left without anything to do over the summer. That's when I started scouring Facebook and Instagram for activities that could fill my time.
Knowing that my hobbies were art and music, I looked for programs that would help me improve those skills. That's when I found the UCLA Summer Songwriting Intensive Program. I have been writing songs since I was 12, and I've always wanted to learn more about the music industry, so this program was a perfect fit.
Unfortunately, I was unprepared for the setbacks that come from participating in an online program. Here are some things that I've learned from my experience:
1. Screen time
First, I didn't anticipate how restless I would get sitting at my desk for six hours a day. The program runs on Zoom which, by now, everyone is familiar with. However, I was accustomed to video calls that lasted 1-2 hours, not all day. While we do get a lunch break as well a 15-minute break between workshops, it gets tiring to sit in one place for hours on end. Also, while I am lucky enough to have access to an electrical outlet close to my desk and that my laptop can handle hours of Zoom calls, I know that others may not have that privilege, so the constant calls may be an issue for some.
Sitting at a desk all day also burns me out, and by the end of the day, all I want to do is go on TikTok and YouTube, which lowers my motivation to go exercise or do other things.
2. Lack of social interaction
The program was intentionally supposed to be an in-person program, which I think that I, among other participants, would have preferred, had COVID-19 not ruined that. I actually attended a similar program called the California State Summer School of the Arts in the summer of 2018, which was a month-long art program that took place at the California Institute of the Arts. The reason I enjoyed the program was that I got to meet new people, live in the dormitories and go on field trips. Without that experience, the program feels less fulfilling.
On Zoom, it is extremely difficult to interact with other people or make new friends, seeing how it is a mass conference call. There is also virtually no privacy. The program directors provided us with everyone's contact information, but it still feels very isolating. Luckily, I have managed to make friends through breakout rooms, but I know that I just got lucky with the people I met.
Even if you make friends, the most interaction you will ever do is probably texting or the occasional video call. We all know that texting is very ambiguous, and it makes it hard to detect tone. Additionally, you may discover that you might not actually have much in common with your peers aside from your participation in the program, because there are no in-person trips to the store, eating in the cafeteria every day or late night talks. You don't get to bond with people on a deeper level which is really unfortunate.
Zoom is extremely awkward. Sometimes someone's audio cuts off or their video glitches, and you have to either pretend that you heard what the person said or ask them to repeat themselves. There are so many pauses and silences where you don't know what to do. When the coaches are giving us critique, it can be really hard to understand what they are saying when their audio is fuzzy or they are having trouble screen sharing.
A big part of songwriting and this program is collaborating with other people and co-writing songs together. And while participants can share google docs with others to write songs together, or talk on Zoom, the lack of in-person interaction makes it hard to 1) connect and get to know each other, and 2) produce music with both writers' voices on the track.
4. Extremely expensive for an online program
My program cost $750. $750 for a week-long program. For comparison, the comprehensive fee covering room, board, and tuition for CSSSA was $2,250 for me (as a California resident), and tuition for out-of-state/international attendees is $6,750. Of course, financial aid does play a part in the tuition, but that means each week costs $562.50 for CA residents and $1687.50 for out of state attendees.
This program costs $750, even though attendees can't:
- Actually meet new people or make genuine connections
- Write and produce songs in a professional studio
- Attend in-person lectures where we can interact with guest speakers and talk to them privately
- Live at UCLA for a week
Yes, there are lots of programs out there that cost less or are even free, but this program is hosted by a well-known and reputable college, which makes it so much more valuable. However, it's ridiculous that the program cost $750 when there are so many limitations. This is also problematic because it means that lower-income students are less likely to participate in the program because of its high price. This also increases the opportunity gap in performing arts between students of high and low socioeconomic status.
Overall I am truly grateful that I was able to find this program and learn about the music industry. I also made a lot of priceless connections. I am also fortunate enough to be able to afford the tuition. However, the limitations and lack of social interaction of the online platform made it difficult for me to stay engaged in the program.