The august world of academia will be joining the throngs of troops seeking cures for the ailing music business at this year's MIDEM confab at the French Riviera city of Cannes during Jan. 28-31.
The revered Henley Business School, part of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, will be mixing with international artists, record labels, music publishers, online distributors and tech startups in its bid to launch the "world's first" accredited music-industry MBA (Master of Business Administration degree).
Called MBA for the Music Industry, the course is the brainchild of long-established British music-industry entrepreneur, publisher and author Helen Gammons, who is the music MBA's program director.
Targeted at senior executives seeking career development and future captains of industry, the inaugural academic year kicks off in September at Henley, which is already renowned for its general MBA courses.
Gammons and Professor John Board, Henley's dean, will use MIDEM music-industry surroundings to raise awareness for the new academic qualification at a time they believe the financially struggling global business requires not only savvy in creativity but also authoritative business acumen.
Gammons tells Billboard.biz: "The industry should invest in our middle and senior managers and future business leaders as well as supporting and assisting innovation and creativity. The MBA for the Music Industry might be considered just a small step in the evolution of the industry, but it may become a substantial catalyst for change."
To explain the seriousness behind the venture, Gammons says The Henley Business School is one of a small number of business schools worldwide to hold the 'Triple Accreditation' for its degree programs. Only around one percent of Business Schools have achieved this coveted status.
"Just look at music-degree courses and higher diploma music business courses. The obvious next step was an MBA for the music industry and this will be a world first," Gammons adds.
The flexible program will take two to three years to complete. The fee is £25,000 ($38,610) for the whole course.
Among the topics covered in the curriculum will be managing people and performances, managing financial resources, and strategy in international business.
Through word of mouth alone, Gammons says, the course has received more than 20 applicants for the 30 places available in the first year. The course will equally exploit Henley's access to overseas offices and partners in key countries like Germany, Denmark, South Africa, Finland and Hong Kong.
"Once we launch the original Henley course, these offices will offer the course locally and connect with the local music industry," Gammons explains.
The course is supported by a steering committee of music industry experts that include Ted Cohen, managing partner at Los Angeles-based international music-industry and technology consultancy TAG Strategic and former EMI digital honcho; Nigel Elderton, managing director of music publisher peermusic U.K. and chairman of the U.K.'s Music Publishers Assn.; Philip R. Graham, senior VP, writer/publisher relations at BMI; Anthony Hall, lawyer/legal counsel for the rights committee at U.K. industry trade body BPI; and Carl Leighton-Pope, founder of The Performing Artists Network Agency whose experiences include managing Simple Minds, Dire Straits, Bryan Adams and Michael Bublé. Vicky Bain, COO at BASCA, the British composers' trade body, took her MBA (not the music one) at Henley.
"These are people who've spent a long time in the industry, have influence in senior positions," says Gammons. "They are cutting-edge strategists and have a magnificent knowledge base from which the students can benefit."
Board notes that the days of relying on who you know to succeed in the business are gone.
"The industry is changing very fast," he says. "This is due in part to bigger, multinational and very professional labels and distributors, so performers need equal knowledge. It is no longer enough to be talented and to trust managers to deal with things; technology and law are developing and so selling vinyl and performing are no longer enough."
Artists also need to feel reassured that those handling the business side get to understand their artistic needs, argues TAG Strategic's Ted Cohen.
"A good MBA program that teaches business skills is good, but it must be balanced with a degree of passion and a feel for music and the industry," Cohen observes. "Music isn't ketchup. If the brand manager for ketchup messes up, he or she can repackage the product. Music is more like a loaf of bread; you've got to treat it like it is perishable. You must also have the skills to work with artists to continue to keep the music fresh."
London-based Jonathan Shalit, founder/chairman of leading U.K. artist management firm ROAR Group, has come on board as an advocate.
"Until 10 years ago, you could be a maverick and still become the head of a major record label with no business training whatsoever. The revenues were so considerable the business could be run inefficiently and still make money. But the business is different now. You need to be a well-oiled efficient business machine run by people with both creative and business savvy."
He adds: "This MBA will not make you a creative genius, but it can take creative people and help make them great business leaders."