MusicDish e-Journal - February 28, 2020
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New MBA in the Music Industry Promises to Meet Music Industry Challenges in the 21st Century
An Interview with Helen Gammons, Program Director for the new MBA in the Music Industry, Henley Business School, London, England
By Jerry Flattum
(more articles from this author)
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In the New Millennium, the music industry calls for new leadership. Both labels and Indie artists are scrambling for new ways of generating income, requiring new business models and innovative approaches in the bridge from the analog to digital realms.

True, the new MBA is more business related and not necessarily "artistic or creative" based, with the exception of the business becoming more attuned to the management of creativity. Many schools in recent years such as Full Sail and Berklee have begun offering music industry-based degrees never before available. It's no longer unusual for business and creative types to "crossover" the creative and business domains. Legends like Mike Curb and Herb Albert (Head of A&M), who once seemed like rogue elephants in achieving both artistic and business success, paved the way to what will now become an increasingly commonplace duality in a complex global industry. Both artists and managers are faced with the need for technological savvy and proficiency and an ability to navigate a drastically changing global music business landscape.

JF: Speaking of vision

Helen: I'm asking the industry to buy into my vision and looking to change the culture so the very best the industry offers now reaches out to harness a skillet mix combining creativity, innovation entrepreneurship and best business practice. We have so much to learn from each other and from other industries as well.

JF: The new Henley School of Business MBA in the Music Industry is clearly unique. What prompted you to focus an MBA program on the music industry? Did the shifts within the industry as a result of the Digital Age inspire you? Why Henley? Do you think Harvard, Yale or other business schools will follow suit or wait and see what the results will be via Henley?

Helen: I completed my own MBA in 2003 part time while running and developing various businesses. It provided me with the tools, confidence and a much bigger business landscape to look far beyond what we were doing at that time. Not only has it continued to have a profound effect on my business skills but it ignited my interests in research and reading and I found myself being drawn into education.

I was asked to give a few guest lectures and enjoyed the experience so much that apart from running my businesses I then started to lecture once a week and this work grew organically over a period of eight years resulting in becoming the Head of the Business School at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, England.

I developed many initiatives for students working closely with the Music Industry, including securing over 180 syncs for students music with top MotoGP Computer Games. Students retained all their Rights under a non-exclusive license and received good payment for their work and credits. The music was fresh and didn't sound "dated" unlike using known hit songs.

Another initiative involved helping students develop new music industry-based start ups by attending key music industry trade shows where they could flesh out their ideas in action. All over London I'm running into many former students making their way in the Music Industry. It's been very rewarding.

I started to look at how an MBA program could be developed for middle and senior management in the industry. Research led me to Henley. I was looking for culture, passion and vision and not just curriculum. Dean John Board kindly invited me in for a discussion. From that very first meeting I knew that the Dean's vision and Henley's reputation were perfect partners for the Music Industry.

Traditionalists feel you can't be an entrepreneur and a good business person, or develop creativity and innovation and watch the bottom line at the same time. The MBA will help individuals face some of the biggest business challenges and develop new opportunities.

Henley has powerful 'first mover advantage' space. If this works, we will be copied for sure. Some competitors attempted programs for the "Creative Industries," but are missing the point entirely. I am unique in having one foot and my heart in both the music industry and education...but then, I'm also a businesses owner and entrepreneur...does that make 3 feet? I'll have to use a different analogy!

JF: Why would a music and/or entertainment company be more inclined to hire someone with a music industry-focused MBA as opposed to a more generalized MBA?

Helen: The program we offer is a core MBA based around experiential learning and a contextualized application for the Music Industry. There is a sharing and learning of best business practice with people from a broad industry profile and then music industry participants peel away for bespoke contextualized application. It is a style of MBA that I feel will resonate with many industries looking for this type of combination--more tailored and bespoke but at its core broad and demanding.

JF: In terms of discovering and developing talent and the acquisition of hit songs and/or catalogs, the most powerful individuals in the music industry are A&R. Up to now, A&R execs were not necessarily recognized for their academic credentials. How will the MBA affect this? Same question applies to other areas of the industry, such as copyright administration, marketing, publishing, etc. In other words, the music industry is largely founded on the savvy and prowess of individuals who cut pathways through the industry will little or no academic training. No doubt as labels, music publishers and other entertainment companies become more corporate, the degree requirement becomes more critical. Do you agree?

Helen: My training in the industry was totally organic and I had the most wonderful mentors who I mention with great affection in my book, The Art Of Music Publishing: An Entrepreneur's Guide. But we mustn't get fooled. The pace of change was much slower 30 years ago. You could spend more time learning through others and whilst this is still important it cannot be the main focus anymore. The music industry needs to be more agile and strategic in keeping pace with the rest of the world. For a business to survive it has to be able to provide customers with want they want and be able to innovate.

Having said all this, the music industry is obviously people oriented because it's so creative, and there will always be a need for mentors. I do a lot of this, that is, helping those new to the industry. But what is lacking is development for middle and senior managers.

JF: Over the past couple of years, more and more music industry schools have sprang up or experienced new growth: The Academy of Contemporary Music in England, Full Sail and Berklee in the US, etc. These schools are offering degrees never before offered in the history of music, focusing on everything from engineering to songwriting to the music business. Of course, classical music has recognized degrees in composition, performance, conducting, etc. but a degree in pop or rock is almost an oxymoron. The Beatles, Elton John, Madonna, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Michael's almost ludicrous to imagine these giants having gone to school. Add to this the Royal Academy of Music in England and Julliard in the US and other globally recognized performing arts schools, what we have is a serious disconnect between academic and/or official training and the little or no training found throughout the pop/rock worlds. Is this changing? Is the Henley MBA a reflection of these changes?

Helen: I think you are mixing up too many areas here. I think as far as music goes, musicians, composers and artists will find their own route to market and a degree or other accolade will have no bearing on this. But people love music and even if they know they will never make the grade they want to be immersed in music. I have seen 16 year-old kids failed by the usual academic route, given a 2nd chance (by parents, educational authorities, social services) and sent off to a music college. With encouragement, finding something they are good at and love is so powerful.

You must remember how emotive music is and sometimes young people who have not been good at anything else in their lives often find music as a future. They become music teachers, launch business start ups, provide music therapy, become working musicians, enter the computer games industry, work in live events management, theaters...all sorts of areas.

You also talk about these giants not having gone to school, but they learned from each other. And, what's available now wasn't available then. Many great musicians are increasingly involved with colleges to pass on their skills. Education is not just about theory and most colleges blend inspirational mentors and musicians into their programs.

JF: Obviously the Digital Age has drastically changed the industry. CD sales have drastically plummeted and CD technology is quickly headed for the same graveyard as vinyl and cassette. Piracy is rampant, with the freely distributed mp3 and the belief especially amongst younger people that music is something you get for free. Music publishing, that is, the actually publishing of printed music, has long since been replaced by the recording industry. More critical is the issue of copyright on a global scale. We need new business models. Is innovation part of the curriculum?

Helen: The MBA touches on all of these areas, but an MBA as a program is very different in style to a taught degree, for instance, "read this, this is what you must know, and now you're equipped to deal with everything." Life is just not like that and neither is business. Many of the people attending an MBA have already got a lot of business experience; they don't need us to tell them what they already know.

But what happens is that their experiences and their journeys are developed and stretched; their minds are opened. Combining this with new research and contextualized learning makes for a powerful and innovative approach to management and leadership training.

Here's a summary:
IP Management and copyright development
Brand sponsorship and value creation in the music industry
Evaluation and analysis of business models and alternative funding options and their impact on stakeholders
International policy, regulation and leadership in the music industry
International business, global strategies and market opportunities

The program aims to develop and enhance the skills of future music industry leaders and innovators, help direct strategic energy and insight, reflect on business models, decision making and business challenges and lead music businesses in a way that welcomes and supports responsible leadership; a key trait of the Henley MBA.

JF: We have what might be characterized as the Indie Artist vs. Major Labels War currently raging across Cyberspace. How will the MBA affect the Indie movement?

Helen: Artists are empowered to get on and do so much themselves, but that's pretty daunting, sounds great but many don't know how to start (hence the role of education short and longer programs). Many Rights organizations--BASCA, BPI, MMF, AIM--run short training sessions on key topics. So whilst its great for Indie Artists to make money out of this new found freedom, it does require a development of IT skills and business acumen.

About 80% of the industry is comprised of small entrepreneurial businesses and this includes sole traders to small companies employing less than 10 people as an average. Indie music--independent labels--has always been the life blood of the industry and never more so than now. What we have are major labels being "less creative" at their core and taking "less risk" in taking on artists that have a more proven track record. So the industry itself has also pushed "creatives" into the realm of having to be more self-sufficient and again education has also tried to respond to this change.

The MBA is for anyone with a minimum of 3 years business management experience and a degree, or, without a degree, 5 years business experience with demonstrable management and leadership experiences. For those that want taught knowledge then a masters degree or general degree is the route.

JF: It's becoming increasingly popular to refer to music supervisors as the new A&R. Is this true? Are music supervisors becoming more sophisticated in their endeavors, moving beyond the mere licensing of songs for film, TV and commercials into new media?

Helen: There are significant changes in available budgets in the world of synchronization. Music supervisors often search out new artists, composers and new music in general. This gives rise to new opportunities to music supervisors that were not previously available, i.e. unsigned artists, unpublished writers, etc. So, if you like, music supervisors choosing the right music for their needs often find new music and are responsible for giving artists and composer early recognition.

Some have therefore set up vehicles to own and control these Rights or to benefit in other ways thus developing new income streams, from coordinating iTunes releases and internet viral campaigns to film marketing.

JF: Because of the Internet, what are the issues facing copyright on a global scale? What's happening in China for instance.

Helen: Wow this is a big question and lots of things to tackle here. If I may I will focus just on two areas the recent SOPA fight and then China and copyright growing pains.

Like most reasonable people, I want to see the protection of copyright. It makes no difference whether we work in a physical domain or digital domain. Copyright must prevail. We all realize that any copyright abuse on the internet can lead to catastrophic income loss to the Rights owners and at this point I'm really standing up for the Composer who is always over looked. The Artist is not always the composer and composers do not benefit from merchandising or income from ticket sales.

Because the music industry is lumped into one bag (the major corporate) and due to the lack of understanding as to how musicians, composers and artists actually earn their income, there is little understanding or sympathy for the individual. It's easy for any copyright forums to bash the industry. It's easy when the person they are hurting has no name, no face, or no family background.

I see the results of copyright infringement and the reduced income streams stealing peoples lives; people's ability to earn a very basic income (less than £30K a year) to live on and support their families. This is wrong. My dissertation, Tightening the Net - Making the Net Pay, was the first of its kind written in 2002, 18 months before industry reports surfaced focusing on the growth of internet pirate sites and the potential threat to the industry. It took the industry a long time to react and when it did it was not a strategy that was well thought out.

Government has also not responded robustly either and so we are now witnessing a substantial loss of income, loss of careers, loss of creativity--with people giving up their crafts and doing something else because they cant make the business model work for them.

I think it's important to have a backdrop.

I firmly believe you must always look to fulfilling your customer's needs, and that being agile and flexible is key to driving any business or industry forward. The world of the Internet is wonderful. The digital domain offers huge possibilities. Still, the industry is not ready either in its mindset or capabilities to really harness this.

My one big wish, which would demonstrate to me that the industry was heading in the right direction, is to let competition between labels be focused on content: music and artists. Let all the heads of digital departments at the labels (there's only a few now) develop an industry strategy when licensing digital innovators. At present every new digital innovator has to approach each major label separately.

Instead, the industry could act together. License more opportunities—having learned from previous experience--with those experiences being pooled across the industry as "best practice"...and yes...this really fits the MBA model. It's important the industry builds relationships with digital innovators (media companies), for the key reason the likes of Google, Facebook, etc., have the ear of the consumer.

The relationships between consumers and the music industry needs to be more positive. Also, media companies coming out of Silicon Valley rely on protecting copyright in the form of patents.

Such companies obtain their investment based on a strong patent (usually). So, for such companies to trash music copyright but protect their own rights is unfair, something the consumer most likely hasn't thought much about. These companies want content and it's the industry that has it. There is a mutually beneficial relationship here to be developed.

The other comment I'd like to make is that the Internet is the new playground for creativity and we do need to be more tolerant of crazy, fun, innovative, and creative non-commercial use. Legislation needs to clarify the complex issue of Rights (think of all the sampling law suits) and that a commercial license has no automatic approval process. The implication in the digital domain is that distribution is automatic across the world. Therefore a requirement is a global shift in understanding copyright beyond the local territorial segment. Whilst the industry is the umbrella and framework, ultimately it will be the Rights owners and contractors who will ultimately have to agree on alterations in contracts and the application of moral Rights to loosen up legislation.

The development of copyright law in China and other territories is exciting. This will happen slowly but is well underway. In China, copyright is not culturally embraced and there is great opportunity for international involvement. The current proposed legislation I believe is providing an automatic right for a song to be covered after first being released in the market place. This is not something new

New legislation seems to be putting a statutory framework to Rights, and it is assumed this can be exercised in many other countries. There is an assumption that, after a song is first released, a third party will then be able to obtain a license--as a Right--from the relevant mechanical copyright collecting society. This is not always the case but it's a relatively safe assumption. It requires the composer to 1st be a member of the MCPS (or equivalent Rights society) and that the song has been released. There are cases of cover versions coming out very quickly after the originals. The availability of such a license has not brought the UK recording industry to its knees or prevented investment in artists. In fact, going back to Tin Pan Alley days, sometimes the same song was in the charts recorded by two different artists--such was the demand for great songs.

Greatest concern appears to emanate more from artists/composers wanting to protect their songs and originality. Now it could be that the world of cover recordings is more culturally prevalent in China. I'm assuming this Right will only apply to songs registered for copyright, so artists/composers can stay outside of this for a period to protect their originality until such time as they need to be registered with a Rights society. Or, is it being proposed that all titles are the subject of copyright? I'm not clear. I think a bigger issue is royalties and the terms on which the license is granted.

Composers and publishers should receive income from all releases. This will provide new income streams. Covers on an international scale are sometimes annoying to the marketing department of labels because if there is a cover recording in the charts at the same as the original it can affect sales to both.

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