Music Biz Scholars

In the past, there’s been some discussion and concern about where the next generation of concert industry professionals will come from and how they’ll learn the biz.

Well, it looks like future industry players may be spending more time in the classroom these days, learning about the business before actually going out and getting their hands dirty. Learning a few tricks of the trade is helpful before going out among the wolves, according to Janet Nepkie, a music industry professor at State University of New York at Oneonta.

“We’re in agreement that you have to get out there and do it,” Nepkie told Pollstar, “but if you get out there and do it and already know the vocabulary and the way the business works, you’re going to land on your feet when you start to do it.”

The Bachelor of Arts degree in music industry studies has been a major program at the school since 1995. It offers courses in the recording industry, entertainment business affairs, music theory, intellectual property law, music products performance, history/literature and, more importantly, an inside look at the concert biz.

“For the next two weeks, we’re talking about booking agents, concert promoters and all the different facets of it,” professor Charlie Dahan told Pollstar. “We try to cover pretty much everything and teach them the language so they know what it means when they call up a guy who says, ‘I’ll give you a hold,’ or what is a flat guarantee versus a door deal, and how all that works.”

With a full-time faculty of 12 professors, 26 adjuncts and approximately 650 students majoring in the field, SUNY at Oneonta is one of the largest programs of its kind in the country, according to Nepkie. In a class of 100 students, Dahan said, “You may have 20 kids who want to (play music and) tour, 10 students who want to be agents and 20 students who want to work at a venue.”

The remaining usually veer toward working on the recording side of the business, he added.

Professor Joe Pignato takes advantage of Oneonta’s thriving music scene to give his students a more hands-on approach.

“We live in an area where there is a lot of live music,” Pignato told Pollstar. “And because there are a lot of aspiring performers, I tell them to get out and put on shows.”

To do that, Pignato walks the students through the process of how to plan a budget for a show, how to promote it, and how guerilla and stealth marketing works.

“The end result that I’m hoping for is that they walk away with a complete concept of what a promoter has to do, and see that a promoter is not just a person who puts on shows and has a good time with music, but people who become demographic experts in their market,” he said.

“It’s also so they understand their venue, competing venues, and what their market can bear in terms of acts, ticket sales and any type of business – like merchandising.”

With that, the program also requires each student to participate in a 400-hour internship, which is closely supervised by faculty members. Past students have interned at companies including New Jersey-based Metropolitan Entertainment, Superfly Productions in New Orleans, Clear Channel Entertainment, Westbury Music Fair in New York (now North Fork Theatre at Westbury) and Interscope Records. Some have even traveled overseas.

“When an Oneonta intern has been somewhere, the company generally wants more,” Nepkie said, adding that all student internships must have her personal approval. “I get lots of e-mails saying ‘send me more.'”

In addition, the classes – which include music and the marketplace, contemporary issues in the music industry, and music marketing and merchandising – also get frequent visits from guest lecturers.

“On any given day, there’s a likelihood of somebody from the business here mingling with our students and speaking to them,” Nepkie said.