With the music industry fragmenting into smaller and smaller niches, a new generation of artists is looking for ways to make money by selling songs online for 99 cents a pop or getting corporate sponsors for free music sites on the Web.
California State University, Channel Islands, wants to lure up-and-coming talent to its campus with an entrepreneurial approach. It has teamed with music veteran Mark Hartley to design undergraduate courses that can infuse a little bit more showmanship and an eye for the bottom line into traditional courses in music theory and composition.
“Right now it’s getting together a business plan and locking down the mission statement of where this is going to go,” Hartley told the Business Times. “The next step is to put the people in place who will guide this, and at that point its up to the university to do their magic to make this happen.”
Finding talent to help out should be no problem for Hartley, who is based in Ventura and owns the recently opened Watermark on Main restaurant in Ventura. Among others, he manages country stars Vince Gill and LeAnn Rimes as well as bluesman Robert Cray, who made the jump from niche musician into mainstream star in recent years.
The collaboration grew out of a closed-door session at the Watermark, where Hartley tapped more than 30 industry insiders to mull the idea of a music and entertainment program at CSUCI.
“We are trying to break ground and create a model for the way that higher education can utilize industry partnerships,” said Richard Rush, CSUCI’s president. “We think this would be a wonderful example of how that can take place.”
At least two others schools – the University of Southern California and Middle Tennessee State University, near Nashville – have similar programs.
As with any entrepreneurial venture – even an academic one – there is a need for seed capital. At present, Julia Wilson, CSUCI’s vice president of university advancement, is working to raise $300,000 to hire a director and start the program.
“We’ll ultimately be looking for large endowments,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the program would award a two-year, credit-bearing certificate that students can earn along with a performing arts degree. The idea is to leverage CSUCI’s location in Camarillo – an easy jump from the recording studios in Hollywood but also not too far from Santa Barbara County, which boasts recording stars such as Jackson Browne, David Crosby and emerging bands such as Ona of Santa Barbara.
The instruction will go far beyond an enhancement of the university’s current music courses, Wilson said. In addition to performance, the certificate will offer hands-on teaching for the business and technical sides of the music industry, with tracks covering audio engineering and entertainment law and management.
Wilson said CSUCI would bring in instructors and guest lecturers from within the music industry. Although she couldn’t yet say who they may be, she said the first meeting at the Watermark included representatives from “major industry – studio chiefs and talented musicians that people would know of.”
As part of their courses, students will work at commercial recording studios, Wilson said. The fieldwork is partly a temporary financial move – the funding for any on-campus laboratories has yet to be determined – but will probably persist even when the university has its own labs, in order to give the students experience in a real workplace.
“What we hope for our grads is that they’ll go through this and be turnkey for the industry,” Wilson said.
The university will also ramp up its on-campus radio station and open an Internet radio station where students can perform and produce music. The goal is to generate revenue from those efforts to make the program self-supporting.
Although the music management program is still in its early planning phases, Wilson is confident it will materialize. “With Mark Hartley behind us and some of the record labels to kind of be a champion for us and bring in the right people, it’s going to be a reality,” Wilson said.
For his part, Hartley wants the credit to go to the university if the program takes off. “I’m just a helper,” Hartley said.
If the university succeeds, it wouldn’t be the first connection between the campus – a former state mental hospital – and the music industry.
Although they’ve been disproved, rumors have swirled for decades that The Eagles’ song “Hotel California” was about the campus. And Charlie Parker’s “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” grew out of his time spent at the hospital recovering from addictions.