The Future of Music and the Music Business

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The CEO of a multi-million-dollar record store chain, a DIY singer/songwriter, a former radio executive, a soldier in Iraq, even Scott Underwood from the band Train — they’ve all taken Berkleemusic’s “The Future of Music and the Music Business” course. And according to instructor, Vice President of Berklee Media, and synthesizer and electronic music pioneer, David Kusek, it’s that very mix of diverse backgrounds that will help inform your future perspective and prospects.

“The mix of students so far has been all over the place,” says Kusek. "From artists, songwriters, managers, and record company employees, to publishers, promoters, and venue owners. We’ve had a lot of people sign up trying to figure out what they are going to do in the future: ‘I own a record label, how can I get into this digital thing,’ or ‘I’m a manager, and I can see that the labels are not really servicing my clients anymore, so how can I grow my business in an appropriate way.’ Depending on your point of view, what we do in the course is collectively talk about what is happening in the music industry today, why things are the way that they are, and what are some of the scenarios that could happen in the future.”

As a musician who has been inventing the future of music for the past twenty-five years, Kusek has a keen sense of these possibilities and scenarios. Before he was twenty, he co-invented electronic drums at Synare, which helped ignite the disco era. In the following years he founded the first music software company, Passport Designs, which made it possible for musicians to record and produce their music at home. Following that, Kusek co-developed the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) standard that opened up electronic music to literally millions of people. His efforts, along with others, set the stage for the desktop music market that we have today.

"We have to really think about what kind of new products and services can be created in the 21st century for music, musicians, and fans in the age of digital music, Napster, iTunes, P2P and file sharing," says Kusek. "What will be the new things that will lead to a further expansion to the music and other media industries? We believe that the way to discover these opportunities is not to worry about protecting the past, but to think creatively and uncover the future of music for yourself."

Students taking the course benefit from Kusek’s endless networking — 30 years of it — as planned guest speakers include Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk (home to Avril Lavigne, Neil Finn and Barenaked Ladies); Roger McNamee, Bono’s colleague in Elevation Partners; Derek Sivers of CDBaby; and MC Lars – an up-and-coming raptop (that’s laptop rap) artist.


View a flow chart on how the music industry operates.
Learn about the different types of income publishers collect for songwriters.

For those who have yet to dip their toe in industry waters, the course lays an informative foundation — discussing the merits and mindsets of major and indie labels; the basics of copyright; and the de-puzzling of publishing. Then it’s into the future — copyright in the digital age; a Don’t-Fear-the-Reaper approach to filesharing; online distribution outlets; direct fan outreach; and the ever-changing landscape of web, print and alternate-media promotion. Weekly assignments include creating a $10,000 promotional strategy for a hypothetical band. “It’s done in the most efficient way,” Kusek adds. “So the band can get exposure, get a fan base and get to the next level.” Working with and borrowing ideas from fellow students is encouraged.

The culmination of the course – after you’ve been given the tools to create, promote, distribute and hopefully profit from music in the future age – is creating a business plan that suits your business future.

“Students walk away with different kinds of marketing plans and business plans that they develop for their own situation,” he says. “People really like it because they take those marketing ideas and apply them to real-world situations. You learn very real, very practical marketing techniques and knowledge – how much things cost and what you can expect to happen as things change.”

The business plan you choose is up to you: running a niche label, effectively touring your band, setting up a radio promotion company or, like, one former student, creating a music discovery site. For Mike Dreese, of Newbury Comics, a New England-based music and lifestyle retail chain, the final project was to create a business model for a website that would sell used CDs and DVDs from his 25 stores. Three weeks after the course ended, his project was at a $20,000-a-week run-rate; it currently earns the company $3,000,000-plus a year.

As he did with Dreese, Kusek, along with fellow classmates, will help determine the type of people you might hire, what your budget might be and how you will promote your product, service or artist.

“It’s all very future-oriented towards the new techniques being used in business, in marketing, in distribution. How do you take advantage of what’s going on in the market place rather than fight it?” Says Kusek. “And really, that’s what Berkleemusic is all about. We’ve seen this huge shift —how do you learn to become a good producer, or writer, or a good marketer in this new environment? We give you the business tools, marketing tools, distribution tools and an awareness that you can do it yourself.”

Read celebrity opinions on the music industry and downloading.


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