New Songwriting Theater Opens This Week at University of Southern California

Photo by Paul Zollo

The USC Thornton School of Music, one of the first traditional music schools in America to offer a songwriting curriculum, has created its first-ever venue designed especially for songwriters.

The Songwriter’s Theater will open March 24, according to Chris Sampson, vice dean of the Division of Contemporary Music and founding director of the Popular Music program. The opening will begin with a reception at 6 p.m., followed by a performance at 7 p.m. featuring current students and alumni from USC Thornton’s Popular Music program, including singer Rozzi Crane.

Sampson teaches songwriting, which has expanded in recent years from an obscure elective that attracted 13 students into the nationally known Popular Music program.

“Sound was our first priority and we put in a state-of-the-art system [for the theater],” Sampson said. “This is, without question, our finest technical audio set-up in the entire Thornton School.”

The 981-square-foot space now boasts high-tech acoustics, LED lighting, stage lighting that allows for curtain and wall highlights, and red Austrian style curtains with deep vertical shirring. Custom-made wall sconces add to the retro, “speakeasy” feel of the design. The venue includes a grand piano, drum set, amps and other musical instruments, including guitars donated by Taylor Guitars, to convey the idea that people can “walk in and start performing.” The venue is designed to be the physical embodiment of the idea that all elements of the contemporary music business start with the single critical action of writing a song.

“For me, this room symbolizes the way that songwriting has become accepted within an educational environment,” said Sampson. “We value the importance of the song as the place where it all starts. Without a great song, there’s nothing to record. There’s nothing to share with an audience.”

The 50-seat venue, which was built in the early 1980s as a sound mixing stage for the USC School of Cinematic Arts, will host solo performances and small ensembles. It made its debut as a lecture hall this semester, and its future may include streaming of original online content.