Music Business Degrees: asset or setback?

I was doing my usual LinkedIn browsing when I came across a profile that had the following text and, having pursued a Music Business Degree, it caught my attention.

This wasn’t the first time someone mentioned our degrees being “frowned upon” but I agree with Dolf’s reasoning of why this disdain seems a bit archaic. I too studied concomitantly to working in the industry and it was an invaluable experience to be able to apply theory to work and use my work experience to achieve higher results at university.

There’s a lot more to it but I’ll leave you with Dolf’s text as he explains it very well. The only thing missing is the teaching staff. I don’t know how it was at his university, but at mine we were taught by industry professionals, people who had years of experience to pass along. The only downside is that some of them weren’t exactly made for teaching.

I’ll name one, actually, who was one my favourites and I was lucky enough to have some of my favourite subjects with him: Pete Dyson, entertainment lawyer. Worked with many bands including Coldplay, Elbow, The Walkmen and taught Music & Media Law, A&R, Music & Media Global Distribution and Intellectual Property.

Every week Pete brought to class cases for us to analyse and discuss after a clear explanation of that day’s topic.

I went to Law School prior to dropping out to leave the bourgeois bubble I was living in and explore the world. From time to time I wonder if it was a good idea as now I could be living a more comfortable life and would have a broader job market available. But would I be happy? I’d be miserable. I chose this degree because what kept me going during those endless Chemistry classes was the fact that, once at university, I could be and study whatever I wanted. Whatever I was passionate about. And that’s music.

I did meet a lot of people in my course who were just looking for an alleged “easy” degree and an excuse to extend party life, but also a lot of people who chose that degree because that’s what they were interested in. So interested, in fact, that they were willing to live indebted for as long as necessary in order to pursue their passion. So why should a Music Business Degree be frowned upon?

The only things that should be frowned upon are laziness, lack of passion and enthusiasm and lack of the desire to learn and always improve.

We All Have A Lot To Learn

Young London promoter Dolf Bekker, of Famous Wolf, challenges the seemingly prevalent attitudes of an industry unimpressed by music business degrees…

The words ‘music business degree’ generally leave a foul taste in the mouths of the majority of people in the music industry, particularly those that have been involved in it for longer than a decade, and who tend to be sceptical, at best. The reason for this is rather understandable; the ‘seniors’ in the industry never went to a college or a university to study music industry management. They worked very hard and through sheer persistence (and maybe a sprinkling of luck) they managed to establish their music industry careers.
As a young promoter who recently finished an MA in Music Industry Management & Artist Development, I know very well that waving my degree around will not (instantly) get me a job (although one could ask in which industry it does work like that). Still, I wonder why having a professional qualification is despised so much?
General opinion in the industry is that when people see a music business-related degree on a CV they reckon that this guy probably thinks he knows everything about the industry because he went to school for it, and you are automatically seen as an arrogant rookie who is not going to be invited for an interview. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but the question still remains, what is wrong with a bit of education? At the end of the day, there are pretty much only two professions you absolutely need a degree for: law and medicine so, no, you do not need a degree in music business to become a music industry professional, but this applies to a lot of other professions also. Not everyone who studies physics becomes a rocket scientist and not everyone who studies psychology becomes the next Dr Phil. And likewise not everyone who studies music business will be the next CEO of Live Nation. A lot of industry professionals fear an overflow of (wannabe) managers, agents and promoters coming from these music industry courses but, let’s be fair, it still comes down to the individual. Every young professional in this industry (with a related degree or not) still has to work very hard to develop their careers and it’s still persistence, being clever and having that bit of luck that gets us where we want to be, not degrees. But again, what is wrong with a
bit of knowledge?
As a young promoter I predominantly work with small-capacity venues, as do most young professionals in this industry. In the time I have been working in London I have started noticing that a lot of my peers (and even people with more experience than me) have very little knowledge about what they are actually doing in areas such as licensing, production, health & safety, marketing, and contracts, etc. Everything is learned through trial and error. I am not saying that this process is a bad thing, it is generally perceived as one of the fundamentals of learning, but is it necessary to make the same mistakes others have already
made before you? These degrees, although frowned upon, do provide such knowledge through research. Through lectures, essays and a lot of reading I have learned what industry professionals before me have done right and more importantly what they have done wrong, what does not work (anymore) and what (still) does. Is that not worth at least something?
During my masters I was working full-time as an in-house promoter for a venue in Camden Town in London. Although juggling my time to do both simultaneously was not easy, I have to say that the learning process was amazing; I was able to utilise knowledge gained from my degree in my job, but also, I was able to include the experience gained from my job, in my degree. This combination provided me with a lot more insight, and what I learned from my degree was not solely theoretical anymore. Likewise, in my job, I could depend less on ‘throwing faeces at the wall and seeing what sticks’ because I could rely on knowledge.
Maybe it is time that these degrees – and the fact they might actually be good for our industry – became seen as more acceptable. Maybe it has already begun: The new general manager of the AIF – Claire O’Neill – studied music industry management (and graduated with a first).
Although I like to emphasise the fact that it is still all about the individual: working hard, doing internships, networking, proving yourself, landing that first awfully paid job but sticking with it, through to the next slightly better but still badly paid job, never giving up is the way forward; but combining that with education is not such a bad thing either.

You can read the full issue of the IQ magazine here.

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