One week they build a fanbase for an up-and-coming pop singer. In another week, they develop a new audience for a jazz legend, pitching business strategies to executives from a major music company for each assignment.
These are two of the topics taken on by USC Thornton School of Music students in their “Music Media Solutions” course — unlike classes where the work is merely theoretical, the assignments here are based on real-world situations.
“These students interact with professionals from the music industry, but it’s on our turf,” said Paul Young, associate chair of the Music Industry program. “That blend of industry personalities with a classroom environment helps students learn things they probably wouldn’t learn through traditional internships or lectures.”
Each week, leaders from major music companies visit the class, sharing information about the challenges they face in their work, and students must come up with creative solutions. A good grade is just the beginning. Past students have seen their ideas implemented, resulting in job connections.
“Not only do our students get a deluge of information from music industry insiders, they get personalized critiques about their ideas and pitching skills,” Young said. “Being in a room with these executives helps our students check what they’re learning in their other classes against the reality of the industry.”
Testing their limits
The course is taught in a semester-by-semester rotation by Young and Ken Lopez, chair of the program. With just 12 students per semester, the students are handpicked through a competitive application process.
“Because these students have already proven themselves to be among our very best USC students in their fundamentals courses, we put aside the traditional lectures, tests and so on,” Young said. “Instead, the students interact with the executives in a model of a real working environment.”
Though the groundbreaking course was launched 10 years ago, the curriculum was revamped in 2015 to keep up with an ever-changing music industry. Young, who worked as director of licensing and contract administration for Universal Music Group before joining the USC Thornton faculty, used his industry connections to take the course in a new direction.
“The idea is to take excellent students, push them to their creative limits, let them experience the real world and give them an opportunity to add value to other people’s musical lives as a way of adding value to their own,” Young said.
Life lessons learned
When the students pitch their ideas, they are evaluated by professional standards.
“Our professors are not afraid of hurting our feelings,” said Carina Glastris, an economics major who minors in Music Industry.
“If someone says no, you don’t need to take that as the end-all-be-all,” said Caitlin Harriford, a business administration major and Music Industry minor.
Results are important in the course, as is the trajectory of each student’s learning curve.
The amount these students grow is simply enormous. It’s a next-level kind of transformation.
“The amount these students grow is simply enormous,” Young said. “It’s a next-level kind of transformation when they deliver real value for artists and music companies that might just be their next employers. I love this kind of win-win outcome, and you just can’t get this kind of experience anywhere else.”
The students are also expected to work together. Opportunities abound for each of the 12 students to bounce ideas off each other and let their strengths shine while learning new skills.
“Everybody thinks really differently,” Glastris said. As she reached the end of the class last spring, she looked to her peers’ development to see where she could work harder.
“I want our students to be more than just well-informed or to have lots of ideas,” Young said. “I want them to turn heads in this business with how savvy, passionate and self-disciplined they are right when they hit the ground, even at an entry-level job.”
Judah Joseph ’16 added: “These are the kinds of classes that should be a little more mainstream.”
He stressed the need for courses that actually prepare students for the work force and meet the demands of employers in the entertainment industry.
“Our students are mentored by doers,” Young said. “We expect our folks to raise the bar.”
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