Business

Education By Dre (And Iovine, Too): Music Biz Philanthropists Help Schools Rise Up

Whiteboard at USC
Courtesy of USC

A look at the many exec-driven programs at the country's top institutions.

The late afternoon sun beams into the top floor of a building at the center of the University of Southern California campus as more than 30 excited college freshmen and their parents gather with school officials in a dramatic, circular space stocked with computer workstations, 3-D fabricators and a towering vertical whiteboard. They're here not only to celebrate the start of a new school year, but also the launch of a new school. Every student wears a black T-shirt reading, on the front, "The USC Iovine and Young Academy," and on the back, "The Degree Is in Disruption."

These are members of the generation expected to create the next "disruptive" industries, businesses that overturn existing models through technology. Their school has music industry patrons, but it is not a music business school. It has wider goals.

The move to educate young "disrupters" leapt forward in May 2013. That's when Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young (better known as Dr. Dre) -- respectively the former chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records and co-founder with Iovine of Beats Electronics -- pledged $70 million to launch the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation.

It represents a new approach to instruction, says Erica Muhl, the academy's founding executive director and dean of USC's Roski School of Art and Design.

With technology driving change so rapidly, in every field, she says, "If our students are going to succeed, we have to emphasize critical thinking and creativity over specialization. The Iovine and Young Academy presumes that our students will create an entirely unique future -- probably in a field that may have either changed drastically over the course of the four years they have been with us or one that perhaps didn't even exist when they started."

Iovine described his educational views during a speech to USC graduates in May 2013.

Students accepted to the highly-competitive USC academy learned of their achievement last March in a video message from Iovine and Young.

From their tech "garage" atop the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, the academy's freshman class -- 31 students from 14 U.S. states and four countries -- can glimpse downtown Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Mountains and the future.

They're not alone. Other schools focusing specifically on music business education -- and supported by industry executives -- are also responding to the need to educate a new generation of entrepreneurs. The list includes the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts; the newly launched Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, under managing director (and Berklee alumnus) Panos Panay, founder of Sonicbids; the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville; and the Bandier Program for Music and the Entertainment Industries at Syracuse University, established with the support of Sony/ATV Music Publishing chairman/CEO Martin Bandier.

"Today's disruptive technology requires ongoing adjustments to curriculum," says David Rezak, director of the Bandier program. "The good news is that philanthropists like Martin Bandier, Clive Davis, Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre and others see the importance of quality education."

Musicians, of course, have always been entrepreneurs in developing their talents, observes Don Gorder, chair of music business/management at Berklee. "But today's trend of successful artists starting businesses that are ancillary to their studio and stage pursuits is leading educational institutions to develop new curricular offerings," he says.

While responding to the challenge of disruption, there's always an emphasis on developing core skills, says David Schreiber, a music business adjunct professor at Belmont. "The most important of those are problem solving and critical thinking," he says. "Those things are constant."

The USC Iovine and Young Academy has caught the attention of other educators. "It's an awesome idea, and I'm psyched to see how it turns out," says Jeff Rabhan, chair of the Clive Davis Institute, who also appreciates the value of a major industry patron.

"It allows you to really hit the ground running," he says. "It provides a sound foundation to create a long-standing program. That's the tangible benefit, the great benefit of having Clive Davis involved."

In recent years, the Clive Davis Institute has established stronger relationships "not just with the music industry," says Rabhan, "but with the community of artists and creatives in New York, L.A. and Nashville."

But the most striking change has been the caliber of students applying to these innovative programs. "The level of commitment that they are really allocating to their craft at such an early age ... it's mind-blowing," says Rabhan.

"I love talking about these kids," says Muhl at USC. "It's clear to all of us in higher education that we've never seen this combination of abilities and desires, in terms of what they want to do with their lives. Their confidence in their ability to learn or conquer anything is profound — and, no surprise, they're natural leaders."

This article first appeared in the Sept. 27th issue of Billboard.