What Does A New Grad Do In Music Today?

John Legend

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Any thoughts that Toluwanimi Adeyemo had of making half a million dollars on his first record as a producer were quickly dispelled his freshman year at New York University's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. "I went way deep into what the music industry is, what it was and what it will be," says Adeyemo, who matriculated in 2014 and works as an administrative aide at Downtown Records, after doing an academic internship there. "From my professors and peers, I was reminded of the competition, the rules of the game."

The rules certainly changed during Adeyemo's four years at the first and only undergraduate program to focus on music entrepreneurship. In 2010, album sales fell 12.8 percent while digital sales declined for the first time in their history, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The next year saw layoffs at some of Warner's labels, with Universal, EMI and Roadrunner Records cutting back in 2012. That same year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted through 2020 a slower growth rate for music jobs than for the broader economy (10 to 14 percent) -- all in all, not the rosiest outlook for fresh-faced grads.

And yet, the slowdown has opened up new possibilities for students, according to institute chairman and industry vet Jeff Rabhan. "There's been a rise in ancillary music businesses -- social media companies, marketing companies, cross-platforms that do visual as well as audio," he says. "We've seen more people being entrepreneurial. Not sending out résumés hoping to get a job, but developing their own careers."

Davis, the record industry titan currently serving as chief creative officer at Sony Music Entertainment, founded the institute at New York University in 2003 with an initial gift of $5 million (he gave another $5 million in 2011). The program, some 80 students strong, offers a bachelor of fine arts degree (tuition is $46,000 a year) and hands-on career preparation. In their final year, students take on such projects as starting their own record label or launching a concert venue. The faculty is a mix of academics, executives and name-brand artists -- including The Roots' drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and star producer Swizz Beatz. "It was my dream that this institute come into existence," said Davis, an NYU alum, at the program's 10th-anniversary party in 2013.

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And now, it's class of 2014 grad Hannah Babitt's turn to dream. Babitt, who orchestrated a student cover mash-up of Rihanna's "Diamonds" that went viral on YouTube in 2012, "dropped everything" and moved to Los Angeles, where she was hired as product manager at the Artists Organization. "I was like, 'I have no idea what I'm going to do, but I'm going to go out there and see,'" she says.

Singer Kiah Victoria was motivated to go her own way after hearing faculty members talk about how best to navigate the rapidly changing industry, noting, "You definitely have to create opportunities yourself."