By Hattie Bernstein
Why would a musician want an MBA?
Ask Danny Smith, a composer and songwriter who runs Soul Resurrection Music, LLC, in Salisbury, North Carolina, with his wife, Shameka Henderson Smith, a lyricist and singer.
The couple began writing songs 10 years ago. While they enjoyed a measure of success – including two singles played on the radio – they were at a loss when it came to promotion and marketing.
“We had all this material and we said, ‘What are we going to do with it?’” Smith said.
When he heard about the newly launched MBA in Music Business, a partnership between SNHU’s College of Online and Continuing Education and Berklee College of Music’s Berklee Online, Smith knew he’d found “the perfect fit.” He began classes last January.
“We knew we were on the right track, but the program gives us some good tools in the marketing aspect of the business,” Smith said.
An Evolving Industry
In the old days, a musician with a dream had just one path to success: getting signed by a record label. Today, thanks to digital technology and platforms such as CD Baby, PledgeMusic and other online services, artists are becoming their own record labels. They assume the risks and the rewards that were once fixed in a top-down hierarchy, usually with the artist at the bottom.
It was the recognition of these changes that sparked the collaboration between COCE and Berklee Online, producing what Gerard Ross, associate vice president for Digital Marketing at SNHU, said was the only music business MBA in the country when it was started last fall.
Nineteen enrolled in the first class — a diverse group of artists and businesspeople who were looking for an education and an edge on the competition.
“There’s an opportunity now for musicians to control every aspect: performing, touring, music publishing, placement in film, TV, other media,” observed Debbie Cavalier, vice president of Online Learning and Continuing Education/CEO for Berklee Online.
Composing a Duet
COCE markets, recruits and handles admissions. It also provides a student portal, academic and career advisors, and other student services and support. Students select nine courses from the traditional MBA offerings that include Managerial Accounting and Economics, Operations Management, Finance, IT and Marketing Strategies, and they are required to take four music business courses from Berklee Online — Music Business Structures and Strategies, Music Marketing Strategies, Music Business Finance, and Music Business Leadership and Ethics.
Combining the resources of the two institutions took flexibility and imagination, Ross said, describing the partnership and how it blossomed.
“We’re really different institutions, but both teams were super-flexible,” he said. “Between academics and marketing, we mapped out what we wanted to do.”
Berklee’s Cavalier said the teams found common ground, philosophically and in practical ways. For one thing, both institutions emphasize “putting students first.” For another, each has developed a reputation for excellence — SNHU in business education and Berklee for music.
“The SNHU/Berklee Online partnership is an excellent example of two schools leveraging each other’s strengths to bring a great educational opportunity to students,” said Scott Durand, vice president of Graduate Marketing and Student Recruitment at SNHU. “I am immensely impressed with how well both teams work together for mutual benefit and, above all, a focus on our students.”
Preparing to Perform
The partners also recognized that student success would depend on support, both academic and career. No matter a student’s background or experience, developing a career plan early and staying connected with an advisor would be critical.
“In a field that’s so competitive, we really need to be even more diligent about what they need to do to have a competitive advantage,” said Carrie Weikel Delaplane, director of SNHU Career. “A music business MBA sounds cool. You might think you’ll become an executive at Sony, but it’s similar to what we do when we work with students in all programs. It’s about managing expectations.”
Weikel Delaplane said she also sees her team’s role as a reality check. When working with students, it’s important to assess “aspirations and inclinations” and figure out if they are a good match. A student who lives in a remote rural area of the country and is unwilling to relocate, for example, may not be the best candidate for a music-executive job.
On the other hand, students need to consider their options, including some they may
“We believe the earlier we can work with someone, the better, especially in the music field,” she said. “We reach out to alumni, want them [students] to be creative. There’s a lot they can do that may look and sound really different, but still gets you into the music industry.”
Finding a job is also about taking risks and moving out of one’s comfort zone.
“We definitely encourage people to really push the boundaries and get out there,” Weikel Delaplane said. “We’re teaching lifelong skills.”
Hitting the Right Notes
Berklee Online instructor Chandler Coyle, a web developer for over a decade before he joined his brother, Jay, running Music Geek Services, couldn’t agree more. In today’s music industry, he said, there are plenty of opportunities for someone looking for a challenge.
“There are problems that need to be solved, someone [needed] to jump in to figure stuff out,” Coyle said. “Through the MBA program, a student will acquire a solid foundation of knowledge and a list of industry contacts to take their Berklee [and SNHU] education to the next level.”
Coyle, who graduated from Syracuse University in the late ‘80s with a business degree, worked in the student-owned and -operated record shop, volunteered as concert security for on-campus concerts and played music as a hobby. His childhood dream was to work in the music industry.
“I turned 48 this year and when I grew up, getting a job in the music business was the ultimate goal,” he said.
Today, that goal may be even more attainable.
Jennifer Brady, associate vice president of Marketing and Student Recruitment for SNHU’s online graduate programs, said she sees the new music business MBA as a means to that end — and an example of best practices in a rapidly changing industry.
“Musicians are entrepreneurial and creative by nature, with strength on the creative side,” she said. “But they [often] need the formal education to launch and sustain a business, generate revenues. The music business MBA is the perfect blend of business and passion.”