Music Industry Studies teaches the business of show business

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The Music Industry Studies program is offered to music-oriented students with the passion for a career in the music business.

Professor Joel Leach, founder and head of the program, said the Music Department’s music industry option was created for students who have enormous dedication to music, but wish to combine that with a strong appetite for business.

The blend is supposed to help students become professionals and more appealing to the demands of the real-world music industry, he said.

An entering freshman would spend four years in the program, provided that he or she takes reasonable class loads each semester. Only 125 students are in the program at any given time, although there are no official rules about this.

“Quantity isn’t as important to me as is quality,” Leach said. “By limiting the number of students who are allowed to join, I feel we are maintaining a better balance and ratio with the music industry’s needs in any given year.”

Students must pass an audition on a musical instrument (including voice) and an interview, and they must write an essay on a specified topic in order to be considered for admittance, Leach said.

There are no extra fees and the Music Department offers some guidelines as to what material is recommended for each instrument.

The major also requires students to complete a six-unit internship in the music business along with the completion of the option-required courses.

“The Early Field Experience class takes our students out into the industry to observe it working firsthand,” Leach said.

The internships provide students with the opportunity to get a hands-on experience in the industry. In most cases, many students were hired at the companies they interned for, he said.

“Probably 60 percent of our students are offered employment at the firm in which they interned,” Leach said.

Leach said the students would have proven their abilities, their work ethic and their character over a period of 15 weeks. That would allow both parties to decide where a long-term relationship would work out. Thus, the company would save money that could be spent on training.

Leach also said the music department at CSUN has become the hunting ground of choice for professionals in the music industry.

Leach said he gets calls every week from firms seeking graduates of the program.

“I either send out an e-mail blast to my students, or contact certain individuals who best match the job’s qualifications,” Leach said. “It works beautifully for our students.”

John Perry, a junior at CSUN, said that he became a film major because his father, Steven Perry, an executive at Capitol Records, told him that a degree in music would not help him pursue his real dream of the music industry.

John said his father told him that the music business cares more about talent as opposed to degree. His father advised him to use his 4 to 5 years of college as a backup plan instead.

Another student, Jazen Andrews, said he changed his major from music to business when he realized he could acquire music-industry knowledge without a degree.

“I used to be a music major, but I realized that I can do that without a piece of paper telling me I can. So, I switched my major to business,” Andrews said.

Leach said people with a limited view of the music industry frequently make the wrong call by thinking they do not need a college degree to succeed in the music world.

Once you move beyond the popular music segment, away from the fundamentals of the pop/rock record labels, and aquire an in-depth understanding of the music industry and its many facets it becomes highly important, he said.

While pop/rock is directed toward the general population and the lower level jobs require only an interest in the genre, many other jobs in the music industry require that you understand music, Leach said.

Hence, students perform on an instrument, study music theory, harmony, keyboards and history, in order to be more fully rounded, more competitive and better qualified to move around in the industry, Leach said. he also said the unique degree and special training enable the students to move up rapidly within the companies where they work.

“Indeed, many of the jobs our graduates get wouldn’t be available to those who think they can just hang around and get inside,” Leach said.

The graduates are found in the music departments of major film studios, in music performance licensing, in popular music publishing and educational music publishing. They are also found in artist management, concert promotion, classical music production, the retail music industry, the religious music genre and several work as print music editors, Leach said.

“I love the music program, and hope to audition for the music industry option sometime next year,” said Kailynn Montio, freshman at CSUN. “The program makes me feel important and accomplished; like I can go into any field of the industry with confidence.”

The program is in its 11th year. According to the program description, MIS is the largest program in the Music Department, totaling 28 percent of the department’s overall enrollment.

“We have to admit that fewer students are considering entering music today as performers, and colleges must address changing trends and interests in our population,” Leach said. “So a degree in the inner workings of the music industry seemed a natural for us.”

In terms of where CSUN’s MIS program stands in relation to other such programs in the state, the CSUN campus was the first to develop a music business program in California, and there are similar programs in a few other California colleges today.

Leach said CSUN’s program is the most highly regarded. It is also one of the most difficult to enter due to the three requirements mentioned earlier.

“Our program may be one of the most difficult to enter,” Leach said, “but this way I can continue to raise the bar of achievement. We are drawing exceptionally talented students to our program, and that’s the way I like it.”

Jelly Mae Q. Jadraque and Sanaz Bakhtiari can be reached at ane@sundial.csun.edu.