A College Boy Can Survive: The
Academic Side of Music Row
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
It used to be that ambitious
youngsters knocked on Music Row doors or networked in nearby bars
to gain a foothold in Nashville's music industry. Some still prefer
these approaches, but the more savvy among them have learned that
the odds favor those who've earned a music business degree, particularly
if it's from a local college where the interaction between gown
and town is constant.
There are plenty of high-profile
success stories to drive home this point. Brad Paisley, Josh Turner
and Trisha Yearwood, are all music business grads from Belmont University.
Grand Ole Opry manager Pete Fisher is a Middle Tennessee State University
alum, as is Erin Enderlin, the co-writer of Alan Jackson's Top 5
hit, "Monday Morning Church." Super fiddler Andrea Zonn,
a long-time member of Vince Gill's band, earned her degree from
Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University. Trevecca Nazarene
University, a newer presence on the music business scene, is beginning
to make a name for itself under the guidance of Jim Foglesong, the
former president of MCA's and Capitol Records' Country divisions
and a Country Music Hall of Fame member.
"Every record that
comes out of Nashville has the fingerprint of at least one of our
students on it," asserted Nathan Adam, Associate Chairman,
MTSU Department of Recording Industry.
Belmont, which sits at
the top of Music Row and MTSU, located some 30 miles away in Murfreesboro,
are the major academic players. Belmont currently enrolls about
1,300 music business majors; MTSU 1,400. Trevecca, situated near
Downtown Nashville, has 60 such students. Blair doesn't offer a
music business degree, but Foglesong teaches a class about the music
business there each semester. This session, about 100 students from
Blair and Vanderbilt are enrolled. Moreover, the school has a thriving
folk instrument program with distinct Country Music overtones.
MTSU boasts that it has
the largest undergraduate four-year recording program in the country.
Enrollment has soared as high as 1,700 students. But given the limitations
of the present facilities, the ideal number is around 1,400, Adam
Students at Belmont's
Mike Curb School of Entertainment and Music Business can major in
music business, entertainment industry studies or audio engineering
technology. Apart from classroom training, Belmont also owns and
operates Ocean Way Recording Studios, a commercial venture that
Wesley Bulla, Dean of the school, likens to a teaching hospital
where pros and apprentices work side by side.
MTSU's Department of
Recording Industry awards undergraduate degrees in music business
and production and technology. Last year, the university instituted
a Master of Fine Arts degree in recording arts and technology, primarily
to prepare teachers for the recording industry programs that are
springing up at colleges throughout the country. Trevecca confers
a general music business degree. All Blair's degrees are performance-
In addition to their
full-time teachers, all the schools rely heavily on Music Row professionals
as adjunct faculties. Bulla said that more than half of Belmont's
music business instructors are adjunct. MTSU also employs a wide
range of part-timers, including professional studio engineers, entertainment
lawyers, music publishers and songpluggers. Trevecca has only two
full-time professors, including Foglesong. Experienced moonlighters
provide all the rest of the instruction.
Blair School of Music
Dean Mark Wait established the folk instrument program in 1994 after
friends took him to see fiddler Mark O'Connor play at Nashville's
fabled Station Inn. "I was just blown away," Wait said.
"I thought, 'Boy, if we don't make him available to our students,
we're missing the boat big time.'" He quickly persuaded O'Connor
to teach and soon after lured dulcimer player David Schnaufer, mandolinist
Butch Baldassari and banjoist Alison Brown to the cause.
Internships are optional
but commonplace at Belmont and MTSU. Both schools aid their students
in finding part-time music business positions that qualify for academic
credit. At Trevecca, internships are a degree requirement. Trevecca's
students begin their internships the second semester of their freshman
year, during which they serve a total of 40 hours. The requirement
escalates to 100 hours a semester during their junior and senior
of our students want to intern," Adam said. "But we make
them wait until they're in their senior year, until they've completed
the core classes [for their degrees] . so we can guarantee we're
not sending out into the field people who don't know anything. We're
sending out people who have a good solid base of knowledge."
Despite the industry
shakeups caused by record label consolidations and new Internet
technologies, the job market continues to look promising, the schools'
directors concluded. More entertainment outlets will require the
creation, production, marketing and licensing of more content, they
"We adjust our curriculum
every semester, every year, based on what's happening," Bulla
explained. "But there are a lot of fundamentals out there that
just don't change. You're still selling an artist. You're still
selling an image. You're still selling a lifestyle. You're still
trying to get the public to identify with whatever you're trying
to sell them. Whether you're trying to sell them over the Internet
or in a retail store, much of the same knowledge base goes into
At a recent alumni meeting
in New York, Bulla said he encountered a Belmont grad who works
at an independent label overseeing a team of Internet bloggers.
"Five years ago,
four years ago, even three years ago, students came into this institution
barely knowing what blogging was. Now, she has a full-time job and
full-time staff. So there's a job that didn't exist three years
ago. . There are more jobs out there than there's ever been."
Foglesong labeled the
job market "tough and competitive," but added that many
of his music business students have been successful in finding the
kind of jobs they've trained for.
To keep their competitive
edge, the colleges are creating new classes, programs and physical
facilities. Trevecca has added classes in marketing in the music
industry, copyright law and entertainment law; and it is currently
raising funds to build a fine arts building.
MTSU recently instituted
the Partners in Craft songwriting program in conjunction with ASCAP.
The program pairs aspiring student songwriters with successful composers
and acquaints them with the business context within which songwriting
functions. And there is a new program that enables music business
graduates to tack on an extra year of studies and earn a master's
degree in business administration.
"We're also looking
at expanding our studio facilities into a 5.1 cinema mix suite,"
Adam said, "so that students can work on sounds for films.
We already have that to some degree, but we want to implement a
whole new room based around cinema mixing."
"A lot of these
schools do the recording business very well," Bulla observed.
"What we don't do very well is the concert and touring business.
That's what we're looking at as a growth area for us - and a growth
area for students who want jobs. Other than the [burden of] traveling,
the jobs are more regular and pay better on the road than they do
Bulla said that Belmont
is working on a partnership with Clair Brothers Audio in Nashville
that will basically be an internship and training program for the
"They've come to
the conclusion over the years that touring and tour support are
no longer a situation in which you get the biggest, burliest guy
you can to hump your gear around. You've got to have somebody who
knows computers and technology and how to operate this equipment,
because it is high-tech. It's come a long way from 25 years ago,
when you stuck a band onstage and just turned it up loud."
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