Steve MacLean

Associate Professor

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Steve MacLean is an assistant professor in the Electronic Production and Design Department at Berklee College of Music. A guitarist, composer, producer, and engineer, he has been evolving with music technology since the early 1980s, when he worked in a New York City recording studio and got hands-on experience with early versions of the Fairlight CMI, DX-7, Linn Drum, automated mixing consoles, and digital audio samplers. Later, he founded his own recording and production studio and produced/engineered hundreds of artists and numerous award-winning projects including scores for more than 200 commercials and soundtracks, as well as a prolific output of his own acclaimed works. 

An active performer and composer for more than 30 years, he was cofounder of the Portland Experimental Music Collective, has performed original compositions at numerous new music festivals, including several pieces for New Music Across America and similar events. An innovator in the new music circuit, he was curator for a series of concerts called 2001 New Music Odyssey, and continues to release recordings internationally on Recommended Records, U.K., and others. 

MacLean has been a music technology educator independently and with Berklee. He also was a product specialist/clinician with a variety of manufacturers for more than 20 years.

Career Highlights
  • Electric and electronic guitar
  • Leader, Steve MacLean Ensemble
  • Member, Smacdada
  • Appearances with Chris Cutler, Nick Didkovsky, Mercy, Roswell Rudd, Smacdada, and Steve MacLean Ensemble
  • Recordings include The Opposite of War, Radial Circuit, Flies in the Face of Logic, and Holomovement
  • A.D., University of Maine
In Their Own Words

"Some people have stereotypes that electronic music is just about dance beats, but there's a ton of music you can make using these technologies. One ensemble I'm now teaching focuses on compositions using electronic instruments and processes. Advanced students are writing their own software and doing all sorts of things in all genres. Using the technology is the thread that holds the ensemble together, often with fascinating results!"

"I'm also teaching a 'techno-rave' performance ensemble using electronic equipment mixed with other instruments and electronic elements. It's completely free improvisation—like jumping off a cliff each time, learning to trust that you can close your eyes and play from the heart. We usually start out playing a vague sort of soundscape. Out of that usually evolves a beat, a bass line, and implications of harmony and style. It's a very communal experience that usually creates something unique and beautiful. We land in places a composer might never have thought of."

"The musical breakthrough is when students hear MP3 files of the rehearsal on the class website and think, 'Wow, that was really something. How did we do that?' They carry that with them to the next time. It's a confidence-building evolution that I don't think ever really ends. What's nice for me is that I get to keep working on it myself."

"I try to get my students to think like professional students, really producing and learning. I'm always delighted to hear how students bring their own cultural influences and creative spirit to class assignments, all using the same software and hardware tools. It is extremely powerful for them, as well. It's gratifying when somebody who's never used this stuff before does a really great project by the end of the semester and gets empowered that they can do it. And the music synthesis majors really are sharp; by the time they're done with the departmental courses, they know how to do a wide variety of things."

"My mentors always encouraged me to follow my own vision. I encourage my students to do the same, and to be aware of the pitfalls of commercial music: being expected to sound a certain way, and following the trend toward more tricks and less composition. Creating something personal and unique, like a signature sound, is the spark for a career. So I'll help in any way I can to empower a young artist to step back, listen to what they're doing, and say, 'What does it sound like, and what do I want it to sound like?' We can do a number of things to help you get there."