Once upon a time in 1962, the Beatles signed a recording contract with EMI Music in which all four members would split every penny they earned for each record sold.
If the Fab Four had starting out today and were students in CSUN’s Music Industry Studies (MIS), they may not have made the same mistake.
“Students in recent years are coming to realize that making a living in music is becoming more and more difficult,” said professor Joel Leach, who heads the MIS program. He began the major in 1994 to help music students learn the business side of the industry. It was the first of its kind in California.
“A person can have good ears and can also make really good decisions for a record label,” Leach said.
The major trains students for future professions in producing, managing and other music industry careers, along with teaching musicians the legal aspects, such as earning percentages specified in contracts.
Jeff Kolhede, a junior MIS major, transferred from Saint Mary’s College in the San Francisco Bay area after one of his professors recommended CSUN.
“I heard about the program through my saxophone professor,” said Kolhede, who also plays the flute and clarinet and plans to work in production side of the business after he graduates. He considered USC, but ultimately chose CSUN instead because of the positive feedback he heard about the program, he said.
MIS requires that students audition, interview and write an essay to be accepted into the program.
“It was a lot like applying for a job,” said Brett Grossman, a senior MIS major. Formerly a jazz major, he changed to MIS in his sophomore year because he “saw a lot of strength in the program.”
It’s also mandatory that students can play a musical instrument and read music.
“I’m all for it,” said Grossman, a bassist, regarding the requirement. “An understanding of the instruments and how they’re supposed to sound” is ultimately beneficial for anyone who wants to be effective in the music industry, he said.
Leach said there are currently 121 students enrolled in the major, with the number of students capped at 125. About 40 to 50 percent of students who apply are turned down, he said, with “some returning to audition until they get in the third time.”
Professionals in the music business speak to students in classes and “guide them, mentor them and take them out to see the industry,” Leach said. Students also are allowed an opportunity to visit the music studios of “The Simpsons” cartoon show to experience industry surroundings.
Students also manage their own record label, the MIS Music Group.
“I just sit back and let them run it,” Leach said.
The label includes all the positions that any other professional label has such as co-producers, Artist ‘ Repertoire (A’R), production, managers and publicity. The coproducers, who are chosen by their classmates, assign fellow students with responsibilities in the various departments.
Everything from choosing the music artists to the design of the album artwork is handled by the MIS students, Leach said. Throughout the semester, the class assembles a media kit to promote the artist. At the semester’s end, the kit is sent out to other record labels.
MIS students are required to complete music history, technical, business and management courses, along with six units worth of internships.
Students get “real world, hands-on” experience, Grossman said. Some of his fellow students have earned internships at Warner Records, Capitol Records and Hopeless Records. Many of these are not your photocopying errand-running internships, Grossman said.
“They didn’t just get coffee, they did the job,” said Grossman, noting one of his friends who interned for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” who took on the full responsibilities of a copywriter.
Leach said students also benefit from the campus’ location in Los Angeles. Though Cal State Chico offers the MIS major and the Berklee College of Music in Boston has its own reputable program, “they do not have the location.”
“New York is okay” for music and networking within the business, Leach said, but it is not as user-friendly in terms of transportation as L.A.
Compared to other music-focused schools such as the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, CSUN’s program is more well-rounded, Grossman said. Musician’s Institute “seems like its very focused on certain aspects” such as recording or producing. Students are not required to take general education classes, Grossman said. He feels CSUN is “more balanced.”
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