Unbundling the music school
Photo by Leon Wu on Unsplash
Throughout around 100 interviews that I've done, the idea that music education doesn't catch up to the industry and needs a huge revamp was brought up often.

Let's look at music education as a product. Whenever you go to a grocery store to buy an apple, for instance, you see all of your options right in front of you: you can touch the apple, see its color, expiration date, prices. This lets you make an informed decision knowing exactly what you're getting.

With education, however, you are buying an idea – an idea that upon graduation, you will get an unforgettable college experience, the connections you need, all of the necessary knowledge and skills, and a successful career. Before you even get to try out what this journey entails, you need to fill out an entire application, write at least one essay, pass an audition and interview, and pay the tuition up front.

"In this country, education is a business, which means a lot of colleges and universities benefit from funneling more and more people through the door. In our profession, that's not always to the advantage of those who graduate," Mark Baechle tells Composium. People are subscribing to pay $300,000 to dedicate their next four years without any guarantee that this investment will be worth it and land them the job they went to the university for in the first place.

I already discussed that education should be accessible, competence-based when I imagined what an ideal music school looks like for me, but today I'm going to be exploring the idea of how to unbundle music schools.
Partnerships. Of course, all universities have partnerships, most of which are either with services that hunt for internships or other institutions. What universities lack, and could have more of, is collaborations with the industry itself.

For example, Purdue Fort Wayne has two degrees in partnership with Sweetwater, the country's largest online retailer of musical instruments and pro audio equipment. This means that on top of getting real hands-on experience, students who graduate have a great promise of a job at the company. "I can't think of any other music school in the country that has this close of an association with a music industry," Gregory Jones explains in his Composium interview. And he would be right.

Partnerships can sprout within different educational institutions too. It's logical that any single university won't be able to offer its students absolutely everything – while some are strong at fostering connections between students and the music industry professionals, others have robust studios, practice rooms, and equipment. UMiami Frost School of Music has amazing resources, which it could offer to other institutions and thus use its underused assets.

In order to truly win and adapt to the new realities, universities need to be flexible. Let's look at Booking.com, a famous online travel agency. If you go onto their website to find good ticket deals, you will quickly notice that they're showing not only their own offerings but also what their competitors – Kiwi, mytrip.com, and more – have in store. Why? They understand that their focus should be on keeping the customer on their service.

Similarly, music schools can show other schools' courses and even create bundles in conjunction with institutions. When you're a classical conservatory and your student wants to explore music technology, it makes sense for you to partner with Georgia Tech School of Music.
That brings me to my next point: speed and flexibility. A lot of universities have accelerated programs, minor degrees, and build-yourself flexible programs – the first things that come to mind are the UCLA Extensions film certificate and NYU's Gallatin School. But if music schools want to survive, they need to be more agile.

At Full Sail University, for instance, you can complete a bachelor's degree in 20 months on campus or 29 months online, with rolling admissions and classes beginning monthly. Moreover, you can pause your education, like Minh Khuat did when he got a film scoring internship back home. The Thai composer landed a job at Hans Zimmer-owned Remote Control Productions right after graduation because of his connections with Full Sail's alumni.

Lastly, music institutions should move away from the traditional formalities and focus on even more specialized and niche fields instead. A musician's success no longer depends on whether or not one can remember all composers of the Romantic era – in fact, one doesn't even need to know the notes to compose anymore.

We see that positions like mixing and mastering are becoming commoditized, while fields like data science are growing with groundbreaking speed. As a current student, there aren't any options to study data science in music specifically; the only route you can take is majoring in music and juggling that with a minor in computer science. If schools start to create these vertical-based programs, this will allow them to produce specialists that actually have relevant skills, and emerge as a leading educational institution in that niche area.

Of course, universities can continue to operate the way they already are and ignore the reality that is the changing music industry. After all, music companies themselves, following The Dyson Institute's example, can start building their own education programs that would offer industry-relevant skills, a salary from day one, and a guaranteed job in-house. The only question institutions need to ask themselves is… will anyone need universities at that point?
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