Originally published on Forbes.com.
In the first article in this series, I argued that rock musicians benefit from business skills that enable them to run their bands like small businesses. In this article I describe three unique types of programs, each of which presents a different approach toward teaching musicians to be business minded.
The first program is a short and intensive intervention that teaches musicians to be savvy managers of their own careers. The Artist Entrepreneur Program grew out of Coalition Music, a Toronto-based artist management company. “Young artists were coming to us saying, ‘I don’t know what to do, where to go to get to a point so someone will pay attention to me,” told me Eric Lawrence, owner of Coalition Music. Although the blogosphere offers endless advice for aspiring musicians, some of the advice is contradictory and changes from genre to genre or from artist to artist. “Most of the people coming here are very lost and confused,” concurred Vel Omazic, former Head of Promotion and Publicity for Sony who now runs The Artist Entrepreneur Program. The 10-week intensive teaches 20 musicians at a time the skills and knowledge they need to build a successful career in the music business.
The primary goal of the program is to get artists to think of themselves in commercial terms. “They need to understand that they’re running their own business,” said Lawrence. “The cards are with them and they have to drive the bus on their own careers.” This means learning about registering as a business, protecting their artist name, and mastering the legal ins and outs of publishing, label relationships, and their own band’s partnership agreements.
Understanding the legal side of the business is relatively unchartered territory for rock n’ rollers. Back when Bob Dylan got his first record contract in 1961, for example, he signed it without reading it. Early in his career, Jimi Hendrix signed pretty much any document put in front of him as long as there was a cash advance involved, which created complicated legal tangles. As a result of their naïveté, many artists did not gain financially from their success. The Kinks, for example, received only 2% in royalties from their music. They lived on about $100 a week until the 1980s, according to singer Ray Davies.
The Artist Entrepreneur Program teaches musicians how to roll up their sleeves and delve into the particulars of their various contractual agreements so that they can get better deals. And in some cases, the artists get signed to Coalition’s management company, as was the case with up-and-coming artist Ben Caplan.
The Coalition program specifically caters to musicians who want to take a shot at making a living from music, and it offers the advantage of operating within a currently functional company in the music business. But for people looking for other kinds of jobs in the music industry and would like an undergraduate degree, there are degree programs in music business. One of these is The Academy of Contemporary Music at The University of Central Oklahoma (ACM@UCO), a bachelor’s program that trains students in a variety of skills for the music industry.
“What students need the most help with is learning how to connect all the different aspects of how the industry works,” program CEO Scott Booker told me, “Because you get the people who are great musicians, or you get people who are wonderful producers and understand the tech side of things, and then you have people who are interested in the music business but it’s really that combination of those things that makes it work. Most of the incredibly successful people in the industry are skilled in at least two and maybe all three of these aspects.”
At ACM@UCO, students train in all facets of the music business: music performance, music production, and artist management. Like Coalition Music’s Artist Entrepreneur Program, students meet with experts in a variety of relevant disciplines, including lawyers, producers (Nile Rogers was a recent visitor), musicians, booking agents, and managers. The program prepares graduates to make a living in music outside of the major label system.
A broader goal for ACM@UCO is to create a vibrant local music scene in Oklahoma City. “We’re trying to create an industry at the school in Oklahoma City with our community,” said Booker, who is also the manager of the Oklahoma City-based band The Flaming Lips.
A recent ambitious development in the project of educating artists to be business minded comes from Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre (Andre Young). The two co-founders of Beats Electronics recently donated $70 million to the University of Southern California to establish The USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation.
I spoke with Erica Muhl, who will serve as the Dean of the Academy. “All of the arts are learning new ways to not only create but to disseminate art and to relate to the consumer,” she told me. “That’s true about the visual arts and it’s true of the audio arts. Music faced a disrupt in innovation quite a few decades ago now with the disappearance of traditional modes of disseminating music and going digital. So musicians in particular have been reinventing themselves and reinventing the way that they approach their art but also the way they interact with the consumer.”
Compared to the other types of programs, the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy places particular emphasis on technology and design. “We’re looking to train and educate those kids who are going to be deciding what is that next innovation, what is that next art form, what is that next business, that next technology, that next innovation that is going to change the way that we live,” said Muhl. To this end, students will become proficient in creative software used in visual design, audio design, and business, such as Adobe Creative Suite, Final Cut Pro and After Effect, Excel, PowerPoint, ProTools, and Logic.
Graduates will be fluent in arts, technology, and business and should be able to communicate effectively with experts in all of these domains. “The thing that had occurred to us,” said Muhl, “is that when those three specialists walk into a room the first thing they have to do is figure out how to speak to each other, because each of those disciplines has its own language and its own vocabulary. So one of the things that the Academy intends to do is to give students that fluency of language across all of the disciplines.”
The broader aspirations of the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy reflect a trend toward bleeding disciplines together. Just as the members of Pink Floyd used their arts and architecture educations to revolutionize what was possible in a rock show, artists today are redefining how music is created and disseminated. Artists such as Jay Z and Lady Gaga do not feel confined by disciplinary boundaries (art, business, pop, technology, fashion). Rather, they grab and choose the unique blend of the disciplines that suits their visions. Initiatives such as the Creators Project, a partnership between Intel and VICE, are also advancing the idea of synergy between technology, business, and art for pushing the boundaries of creative expression.
In the third and final article in this series on educating musicians to be business minded, I will evaluate what can get lost when artists do become business savvy.