Former Music Students Speak Out About Music Education -- And Why Their Alma Mater Rocks

BRONAGH HANLEY

OWNER, BIG NOISE PUBLIC RELATIONS

Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts, '90

It's a big school, but it felt like you were part of a much smaller campus. Every night, you could find something cool to do. It was fun.

The most important thing to consider when choosing a college for music education is the instructors-and I'm not just talking about the professors. Syracuse Stage was there in town, and the actors came in, talked to the kids . . . people from the [Syracuse Symphony Orchestra], too. Real people who are actually engaging in their passion and making a living out of it. It's great to think, "I can be the best cellist in the world," or, "I can be the next Maria Callas," but it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and sacrifice. Getting taught the practical life application is important.

CHRIS RAMOS

PRODUCER/DJ

Harris Institute for the Arts, '11

What I loved most about Harris Institute is the knowledge and experience the teachers handed down to us. From marketing to law, theory to math, everything is related to music, so no course feels like a waste of time.

ENGINEER; THREE-TIME GRAMMY AWARD WINNER (RIHANNA, MARIAH CAREY, LUDACRIS)

Full Sail University, '90

After graduation from Full Sail I was hired as a backline tech for Joan Baez's tour. It's almost impossible to get your foot in the door without the proper training. Great faculty and staff at Full Sail-helpful and friendly. And you train on state-of-the-art equipment.

CHRIS YOUNG

RCA RECORDING ARTIST/WINNER, "NASHVILLE STAR"/THREE NO. 1 COUNTRY SINGLES

Middle Tennessee State University: "I went for a year."

One of the things I loved the most about MTSU was that it wasn't right in Nashville, but it was so close. There were a lot of songwriters, and a lot of people who were genuinely excited about the music industry and everything I was excited about, wanting to write songs and wanting to go play shows. I wanted to learn . . . the ins and outs of the publishing process and . . . the recording process. It was important for me. The most important thing to consider when choosing a college for music education is whether or not it says "MTSU" on the building.

PHIL DEMETRO

OWNER, LACQUER CHANNEL MASTERING

Harris Institute for the Arts, '97

I loved the single-mindedness of the program-it was 100% all about music. The people I met and teachers were fantastic. The classrooms were full of people that had dreams just like mine. The school helped me distill what I wanted to pursue. The Harris Institute was great from the moment I walked in the door. Very "un-institutionalized"-wood floors, color, an aquarium and natural lighting. Very nonintimidating and conducive to learning. The instruction and vision from [founder/president] John Harris just took it to another level.

DAMIEN FAHEY

TV HOST/ACTOR

Northeastern University, Department of Music: "1999-2001; left to take job at MTV."

You have to go to the college and take the tour. Feel the vibe. It's like online dating-you can't really tell from the picture on the profile. Musically, there's a few select music schools, really prestigious ones, but that may not be your cup of tea. It's about what's going to inspire you, keep you happy, keep you going to class. I applied to seven schools, only got into Northeastern. At the time they were really focused on the co-op thing, where you do six months at school and six months at a job. I was a mediocre student, but I was really passionate about radio. One of the cornerstones of my success was getting into Northeastern.

THOMAS PRIDGEN

DRUMMER, THE MEMORIALS; FORMER DRUMMER, THE MARS VOLTA

Berklee College of Music: "I did four semesters."

I thought about every major because they're all cool. They all have to do what I love to do, which is play music, record music, make music, make sounds . . . I had gigs while I was at Berklee . . . the big one was being the music director for Keyshia Cole. I was playing drums and directing the band and being a crazy guy. I got to meet so many great musicians. Sometimes I'll be on tour, and I'm like, "Damn! We need a place to stay in New York." And then I go, "Ding, ding, ding! I know somebody from Berklee!" It's like a big fraternity . . . I had a couple of badass drum teachers, like Kenwood Dennard . . . I appreciated being able to learn from people I admire.

ELIZABETH PESNEL

AGENT, WINDISH AGENCY

Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts, '07

Forming friendships and connections with my classmates and professors was my favorite thing about Syracuse. The majority of us work together now in one capacity or another and continue to look to each other. It can be tough to get your foot in the door in this business. If there wasn't a Syracuse alum working at the company I was interested in, there was always someone to make an introduction. Because of that, I ended up having really incredible internship experiences . . .

At the time, I didn't think orchestra rehearsals were going to help me get a job, but those rehearsals taught me to collaborate and work well with a team. We were taught that you can teach a musician to be an entrepreneur but you can't teach an entrepreneur to be a musician. I may not use my music theory on a day-to-day basis, but it has given me a respect and understanding for the musicians that I work with . . .

In the music industry program, classes aren't just limited to the music school. Having the opportunity to take classes in the Whitman School of Management or S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications was something I never could have experienced at a conservatory, or smaller school.

ALEX MERZIN

ENGINEER; GRAMMY AWARD WINNER FOR EMINEM'S 'RECOVERY'

Full Sail University, '04

My first job after graduation was interning at Ron Rose Productions, an audio postproduction facility in Southfield, Miss. I just recorded and mixed "Furiously Dangerous," for the new "Fast and Furious" movie, at Silent Sound Studios in Atlanta-produced by Mr. Porter and co-produced by Eminem. The song features Ludacris and Slaughterhouse. At Full Sail, I loved learning on the industry-standard equipment. I wanted to learn about analog gear and how to incorporate it with Pro Tools. When you tell an industry professional that you have an education, they take you more seriously.