Music Business and Music Business Education

Music Business and Music Business Education

The interview below was originally published in late spring, 2010. Dave Kusek has since left his position at Berklee and is now a Chief Digital Officer providing strategic advisory services in education and digital media.

 

Dave Kusek is a musician, author and was formerly manager of the first online music school at Berklee College of Music in Boston.  Prior to being at Berklee, Kusek was a pioneer in the music software business and co-founder of Passport Designs- one of the first companies to develop MIDI recording software.  In addition to consulting and managing the Berklee Online Music school Dave co-authored the book “The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution” and created the online information service for musicians “Music Power Network”.

 

 

Music Consultant:

 

Tell me a bit about what’s going on with Berklee’s Online school these days.

 

DK:

 

BerkleeMusic.com is Berklee’s online school, and we’re currently teaching music production, songwriting, music theory, guitar, vocals, bass, drums, keyboard and growing our catalogue. The idea is to deliver really high-quality music education via the Web to anybody anywhere. So far we’ve taught 25,000 people online, and they literally come from all over the world. It’s so interesting to have these people who are by and large professional musicians, people working in the industry, that’s the majority of the people studying along with serious hobbyists and weekend warriors and people trying to get into the industry. To have this international mix of students working with us is really eye opening because we think so much about the U.S. market and what is happening here, but it’s not that way in lots of places in the world. Some places are behind us and some are ahead of us an some places have different copyright laws and issues. It’s very interesting to have the perspective of a global music-making community and all the issues they are dealing with. It’s very eye opening.

 

Music Consultant:

 

You must have a unique vantage point on what  aspiring musicians are thinking these days- what have you been seeing?

 

DK:

 

It’s amazing to me how many people still want to get signed to a label.

 

Music Consultant:

 

I had a similar revelation when determining what kind of keywords people were searching for online when I started marketing this website.  Very few people searched for terms like  “marketing my music”, “sell my music” or “sell more records”.  Amazingly thousands and thousands of people still type into search engines “How do I get a record deal?” or “How do I get signed”  I didn’t expect to find that either.

 

DK:

 

It’s true. Even after they might take three or four classes with us, and we’re teaching them about direct-to-fan, setting up your own record company, finding a publishing company, distributing digitally. Even after all that, when you’re wrapping up the classes sometimes and ask, “What are you looking to do next?” it’s astounding how many people are still looking to grab that brass ring somewhere and have somebody take care of them and make their life simpler.

 

Music Consultant:

 

I should actually clarify my position on labels though because it’s often misunderstood.  When people ask “Why are you so anti major label?”  I almost always reply “Well, I’m not anti major label, but I think if you are waiting around for one of them to call you, you’re screwed.”

 

DK:

 

I totally agree. Some people will get calls, for example, Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn, who are blowing up on YouTube with their video songs. I bet they’re getting calls from any label that has their lights on at all, just because of their popularity. They may sign and they may not, but I’m sure they’re getting the calls. But the vast majority of people are not. You know better than most people the reality of the situation. I think mistakes people made are still holding out hope that will still happen and not doing the hard work, honing their repertoire and performance skills and creating a fan base and getting out there and playing and networking with people. If you don’t do that, you’re not going anywhere, and if you’re not great, you’re not going anywhere.

 

Music Consultant:

 

What in your mind are some of the online essentials for artists? Part of the problem I have as a business person promoting my own services and part of what my clients say about their workload is that they could spend all day signing up for social networks and promoting.  Where do people put their energy? Do you have any advice on that front?

 

DK:

 

I think it’s critical that you have your own website and drive traffic to your own website in any way imaginable, and that you set up ways to do business transactions on your websites. That can be collecting names, cell phone numbers, Twitter follows, selling product, building dialogue, communication, selling tickets and merch. That’s essential. At Music Power Network and Berklee Music we teach a lot of people DIY basics. Get your act together, get a website together, have a business partner that is going to help you create a strategy and deal with promotion and distribution and touring and publishing and your finances and the business aspects of your career so you can focus as much time as possible on creating art and getting better and practicing and becoming a better artist. I think that’s essential. Lots and lots of people I’ve seen – musicians, artists – have thought, “I’ll get online and Facebook and YouTube and get a bunch of friends and spend all my time blogging and tweeting.” But if they’re not working on your music, most of the time that other stuff doesn’t matter at all. If you’re not really great, nobody is really going to care. It’s such a fine balance to strike between perfecting your art and being unique and different and having something to say and getting the word out. That’s the conundrum. We often counsel people that you have to have a business partner. On Berklee Music we teach entrepreneurship, artist management, how to start your own business, how to run a business, how to market direct and use social media to market, what copyright law is all about, what contracts are all about, how to tour, how to make money, the realities of the different levels of touring and how you can get paid and use that to be a driver of your career. We teach all that stuff.

 

Music Consultant:

 

What is the section of your coursework that always elicits the most surprised reactions from your students?

 

DK:

 

I don’t think this is going to be news to you, but one o the things that catches people off-guard is the horror stories of the labels and the reality of a label deal. For the vast majority of people that have been signed previously, what they ended up with and how the money worked really surprises them.

 

Music Consultant:

 

Jacob Slichter from Semisonic referred to it as “Rock and Roll Sharecropping.”

 

DK:

 

Yes. Exactly. The popular media has been bashing the labels lately, but prior to that the successes of being known and the dream of being a rock star was what was held up, and that was what people wanted to know how to do. When they realized the reality was that you basically had to do it yourself anyway before the label would even look at you, and then nine times out of ten the label would not properly execute on your career, and you’d be better off staying independent unless you were one of the lucky ones.

 

Music Consultant:

 

What are some modern examples? Who are some people that are doing it correctly and making noise in an entrepreneurial fashion in your opinion?

 

DK:

 

I am fascinated by Nataly and Jack who I mentioned earlier. They are creating covers and using video very effectively to show the recording process. They’ve covered Beyonce and Aerosmith and a bunch of classic songs and have written a lot of their own songs and now are getting into tens of millions of views on YouTube. They’ve created this music in their condo or apartment and coupled a real creative approach to video production and editing – it’s low budget but high impact and very interesting to watch. They have showed how they record the music, made it interesting to watch, it’s funny, the production is good enough, and they are good enough musicians that they can pull it off, and people are responding to it. I think those kids have an incredibly bright future in front of them. Their phone has to be ringing off the hook. Where they go from here is the question. If they can stay independent and keep it together and get a manager and a team around them, personally I think that would be the way to go. If they sign to a label, let’s hope it’s a smaller one that is focused and willing to make some commitments to them in that they don’t sign away everything.

 

This video product that they’ve created is very unique. I think it comes down to if you want other examples, you’ve written about a lot of them. A lot of the modern music blogs are talking about OK Go and Arcade Fire and it’s been rehashed a thousand times. Using social media to present a unique story or a unique product is the way to go. If you can stand out from the crowd somehow and know who you are and know what you want to go for and understand what success is going to mean to you, you can put a career together and have a lot of fun. With Music Power Network that is what I’m trying to do. That’s really the extension of the “Future of Music” book. A lot of people ask me to write another book or manage them or help them with their career, and I thought, “I’m not a manager and I don’t want to live that life, but if I could create a site where people could go to get the information and focus they need to put a plan together for their own particular career whatever it might be. I’m preaching to the choir here, but I can keep a site live and constantly update it as things change and as new technologies and services come into play that people can become aware of, which we couldn’t do with the book.

 

Music Consultant:

 

I can’t fathom keeping up the level of content you do in terms of multimedia. I often wonder if you sleep.

 

DK:

 

I feel the same way about a lot of other people, so it’s really overwhelming. I’m lucky with my gig at Berklee to have a lot of really smart people around me that are always telling me to look at this and that and flowing in and out of the office, and the students we are meeting are doing a lot of interesting things, so that helps. It’s an easier way to keep up.

 

Music Consultant:

 

Can you tell me a little bit more about the Music Power Network?

 

DK:

 

There are four components:  an online course that is a real overview of a lot of different aspects of the industry; video interviews that I’ve done with people all over the world doing different jobs so you can get a good perspective on all the different aspects of the music business and what has been happening in the last year or so; a business planning tool where you answer a series of questions and start to create a plan for yourself, and it’s completely customized based on how you respond and what you want to do and what your goals are and act is all about; a database of a couple thousand resources of blogs and managers and merch companies and publishers and marketing and web development so you can get access to the team you need to take your career forward.

 

Music Consultant:

 

Is there some content you could share?

 

DK:

 

Maybe I can contextualize it a little bit:  We have a tremendous amount of free content available at BerkleeShares.com and on our Berklee YouTube channel where we’ve gotten tens of millions of views. Music Power is kind of for people beginning their careers rather than more advanced people. More advanced people would tend to go to the online school because they want to go deeper and want more information and more interaction. That’s kind of how we tier it.

 

It’s a huge ambition that we have here at Berklee to try and help create a healthy music industry going forward. If there isn’t a healthy music industry, none of us have jobs, none of our students have jobs and the whole thing goes down the toilet. We have to help people be free thinkers, entrepreneurs, to break the rules.  When we started the online school ten years ago there was no iPod, YouTube, Myspace, Facebook or Apple iTunes store. That all happened in the last ten years. So if you think about what’s going to happen in the next ten years, it’s going to be completely different and almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen. People that want to be in the industry have to be willing to accept that it’s going to constantly change for the foreseeable future. There is nothing you can be sure of, and the things that work today probably are not going to work tomorrow. God willing, some kid is going to create the next big thing in music like Sean Fanning did with Napster or a new format or a new kind of virtual experience that is as good as a concert. Something like that is going to happen, and who the hell knows what it is going to be? It’s hard to predict.

 

Music Consultant:

 

My disappointment with music of the last ten years is that the revolution in music has not been the music itself but rather the methodology by which it is delivered and consumed.

 

DK:

 

Yeah. That’s somewhat true. I think if you get outside of the U.S., there is a lot of really innovative music being created throughout the world that never gets out of its little region. There are people that are starting to blend different styles and genres from completely opposite ends of the earth together. I’m not as pessimistic about that because of what we hear with the students we see and the kind of crazy stuff they’re doing. There’s more going on than most people see in the western world. There are a lot of really cool things going on in Asia, India and Africa that are still yet to hit the mainstream or to be promoted at the level where normal people would know about it.

 

You can check out what Dave worked on at Berklee with some Free Lessons from Berklee and some video from the Music Power Network.