What’s College for Anyway

One of the more frequently asked questions my students hit me with on the first day of school: Professor Green, How many absences can we have?

classroomWhat do you mean “how many can you have?”

Absences aren’t a given for the number of days you can plan to miss each semester. Having an excused absence is reserved for those family and health emergencies. And if it’s not excused, you probably shouldn’t be missing. But that’s not what many college students think. Their desire to know the attendance policy on the first day of class is so they can plan the number of days they can miss over the next 12 weeks of school.

I haven’t had a semester yet since when there hasn’t been at least one camping trip, cruise, or family vacation that some student didn’t knowingly plan at the start of school year; or on the backend of the fall or spring breaks; and even sometimes during finals week; trips that take the student out of class during the regular school schedule. Outings they either try to get excused or want you to change your schedule to accommodate theirs, and try to take the exams early, or turn in assignments late.

“My family planned this cruise six months ago,” I’ve heard. My response is, “the school calendar’s been posted online for over 18 months. Did no one think to look at when classes started?” Of course, not because they just assume all of their professors will be okay with it.

Then there are the tardies. Not the barley slip in before the door is closed or right after the roll is called type of tardies. But the walk in 10-15 minutes late regular routine of some students. That is mind boggling; especially when it’s not an early morning class. Since I teach mostly upperclassmen, I’ve often reminded them that they needed to start treating school just as they would a “real” job — people get fired from jobs for being habitually late, I tell them. I’m as sure that they all hear me as I am certain that I’m not the first person to tell them that.

I have several students who happen to have me for both a morning and an afternoon class on the same day. One day one showed up for the afternoon class, having missed the morning one. When I asked why they weren’t in the morning class, laughter was what I got; then a little honesty. That honesty was in the form of “I don’t even have an excuse.” That was the answer.

booksI was a commuting college student all four years of school, and lived about 18 miles from the campus. I had to get up early, even for a mid-morning class, because finding a parking space that wasn’t a half of mile from the building where my classes were, was challenging for anyone showing up after 9 a.m., and the school shuttle services weren’t always reliable, especially if you happen to show up seconds after the bus pulled off, and didn’t have the 15 minutes to wait for the next one.  I showed up early, hung out at the library, the student union, and sometimes in my car — with no electronic devices to entertain me, and then walked across campus to get to my class on time.

I don’t see the same “do what you can to get to class on time” commitment or attitude coming from many of my current students.  It’s usually the same two of three people who come in late, always with the “I couldn’t find a parking space,” excuse. Truthfully, there are plenty of parking spaces on the campus; they’re just not all located close to the building. Arriving early on campus would help to guarantee a better spot.

When I was in college, tuition wasn’t anywhere near the amount it has grown to now. Students are graduating with enormous amounts of student loan debt. And I guess that’s why it’s baffling to me to watch as some of them do what they can to not show up, not engage when they do show up, or talk or play on their devices in class, instead of listening to what’s being taught. The thought of me paying thousands of dollars per semester without trying to get my full money’s worth, is a foreign idea to me.

Last month, a friend of mine teaching at another university commented online that he was irritated that when he showed a video in clas,s that tied into what the students were learning, one student asked if material from the video was going to be on the midterm. When he said no, and explained why he was showing it, several students packed up and slipped out of class once the lights went down. Others, he said were on their smartphones and their laptops, and still others decided it was nap time. It was obvious that he was frustrated at the thought that there are students who only want to hear what they have to remember for an exam, and not actually learn about the business they plan to graduate in and try to find a job.

I knew exactly how he felt. Not only had I heard of that happening to other faculty members at my own school, but it used to happen to me. That was until I changed the syllabus to reflect that anything discussed, shown, or read in the class, and as assignments, including any guest speakers, videos, or articles, are all subject to being a part of the midterm or final exam. Because, as I explain to the students, I don’t give busy work. I have assignments that are designed to help them process and apply what they’ve been learning, and to give them a fuller understanding of the business. I no longer tell students what will and won’t be on exams, until we do a review for that exam.

But no one should have to trick students into learning; or even wanting to learn!

What’s college for anyway?

I paid for my own tuition. Maybe that’s why I took getting up and being there seriously. I paid for my own gas to drive the car I was blessed to have been able to use, passed down from my oldest sister. I worked a part-time job from high school through my first few years post-college (yes, working both a full-time and a part-time jobs during a period).

College for me meant learning something in a field I had an interest, and then graduating and getting a job in that field. I was an average student, taking over two years of undergraduate time before I started understanding just how to study. But I learned, and I did, and I graduated. And I got a job. Returning for Graduate School was so that I could go into another direction that I’d become even more passionate about. And again, having to pay for my own education, while working, meant taking it seriously enough to at least show up.

Now, I will be the first to say that college isn’t for everyone; and especially not a 4-year degree program! But if you’re going to bother to apply, accept, pay, and attend school, why wouldn’t you want to do all that you could to succeed?

Show up. Be on time. Read the material. Ask questions. Complete the assignments. Do your part to learn!

One time my mother told me, to paraphrase, “You’re not doing me any favors by going to college.” Her point was that whether I was successful in college or in life, that was on me.  And she was right. She’d already done her part of getting me past the finish line of high school, and encouraging and preparing me for college. What road I took from that point was my responsibility.

But there are times I seriously think that many students feel that they’re doing us, their professors and administrators, a favor being at the school; coming to class! And sadly, for many of them, they will have a difficult time finding a job. Or being able to keep one if they get hired.

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There’s No Such Thing as an Overnight Success

I spent my Friday afternoon at a workshop designed for faculty and staff development.  The speaker started off by sharing some of his background and his personal and professional journey, which was very impressive. At one point we had open dialogue about some topics, before he returned to his powerpoint to share some final thoughts and quotes.

We talked about the importance of taking care of our Mind, Body, and Spirt. But there was really just one line in a quote that stood out to me the most; almost the moment he read it. The sentence was “…the will must be stronger than the skill.”

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The entire quote stuck out at me as I immediately went from the gym and an athlete, and thought about music, and some of the students I’ve taught, artists I’ve worked with, and people who have asked me questions about how to break into the music industry. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this quote in its entirety, but oh how true it is.

Every new semester I have students in my class who raise their hands when I make the rounds of asking what each student is interested in doing after graduation, and get to the “be an artist” part. By mid-semester, my questions are more direct.

“What are you doing today to help reach your goal of becoming an artist; to be someone who can see success in the industry?”

I’m always careful to tell them that success isn’t measured by how much money is in their bank account, how many cars they drive, or how large their house is. But for those interested in being a commercially successful artist, they need to be working towards ways to make a living at what they do just as much as someone who wants to be an attorney, a teacher, an accountant, or an NBA All-Star.

But what I often find are those students who say they are artists, but their actions don’t line up with their words. When pressed, I find that they are not (and in many cases have never been) out performing anywhere. Many don’t have websites, haven’t posted any of their music online, and are inactive on social media, other than their own personal social media pages where they share photos of their vacations, and videos of pets and babies.

By the end of the semester, my message is this: You can call yourself an artist all day long. You might even have an incredible voice, and back in high school, may have won every talent competition you entered. But if you are not putting in the work today — writing, recording, performing, promoting yourself — then it’s highly unlikely that you will see any real success; because your actions don’t show that you are as serious about doing this for a living as you claim.

It might seem harsh to tell college students that they aren’t real artists, but it’s also a reality check. For those who really have “something deep inside them…” they need to understand that it’s not just the skill (talent), but has to also be their will — a willingness to put in the work — and that it “must be stronger than the skill.”

I’ve worked with some talented artists before, both at a talent agency and my own company, and in both places it wasn’t hard to tell which artists had the drive, who worked hard, did everything they could to improve their skills, increase their exposure, worked it at every opportunity they had. Versus others who sat back, doing the least amount — not willing to practice (sing, play, dance) on a regular basis; or sacrifice with less TV watching and more band practicing; doing less Instagraming selfies, and more posting updates of what they are working on, where they’re playing, what they’ve been up to. Getting out there and performing in front of audiences, working on their website, learning about style, stage presence, and branding are just as important as being able to sing, because you have the voice for it. In other word, being willing to do more of the hard, less glamorous stuff.

An industry associate of mine recently posted online a list of comments attributed to Tyler Perry, regarding building your platform; something she said her mentor had shared with her. Her mentor told her that within the list, she was not doing well in two areas. One of the things that applies here is this:

“Stop wasting your time on TV, Games, Dumb stuff, & People…”

Does that mean never watch television, never play video games, or to become a hermit and never be around other people? Of course not. But for those who are serious about achieving their goals, following their passions, and not just sitting back dreaming about what they want to do “one day,” it means making sacrifices and actively working at doing what you need to in order to help accomplish those goals. It also means taking back some of that time when you’re doing something else (sitting in front of the TV, the computer, or on a smartphone), and instead using that time to work on your craft, improve upon your talent, and get to the place you want to be — to become a “champion” in your field.

Where Education Meets Real Life!

As the calendar year winds to a close, I decided to take some time to think back over the last two academic semesters this year. This has been busy year, both in and outside the classroom.

I have always approached teaching in the Music Business program with the thought that Academia needs the Industry, as much as the Industry needs Academia. Educated graduates benefits everyone. So from day one, I’ve always looked beyond the textbook, choosing to incorporate guest speakers from the music and entertainment industry into the curriculum of every course I teach. In addition, I make it a personal practice to remain engaged in the industry, through organizational memberships, presentations at industry conferences, and attending industry events to maintain business relationships, and to continue learning and remaining current with what’s going on in the music business today. I do all that so that I’m always able to present my students not just with the knowledge of industry terms, definitions, and the basics of working in the business; which are all very important. But also in an effort to help them to be ready to walk across the commencement stage, right onto the stage of life; the real life of working, growing, and succeeding in their chosen field.

Bringing industry executives in to speak is always a real treat, as students have the opportunity to hear from Song Pluggers, Publishing Administrators, Booking Agents, Artist Managers, Entertainment Publicists, and Tour Managers.

We traveled down to Nashville for some industry showcases:

And again to Nashville to visit top Talent Agencies:

 

 

I also encourage my students to volunteer at various music conferences and attend networking events:

I’ll admit that my approach to teaching does require more of my energy, more creativity, and more out-of-the-classroom time, as I work to make every event tie-in to what we’re learning, and how to apply it to real world working. But it’s worth it as I watch some students listen more intently when they meet people who are doing what they want to do when they graduate. And pushing students out of their comfort zones, getting them to do some things they don’t want to do, or they didn’t think they could complete successfully. And then seeing the results of them making a connection, and getting that internship or job. Or getting email from former students who talk about how they didn’t realize just how much they were learning in class, until they had to apply that knowledge at work.

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An industry friend shared this graphic with a group of my students at a Tour Management Workshop.* I kept it because it applies to so much more; to life itself. It was a reminder to them that success (the iceberg) required a lot of sacrifice to achieve. Sometimes people only see what’s above the surface (the success), but they don’t take note of all of the hard work, persistence, discipline, rejection, courage, risks and other things required to achieve it. But that’s also why it’s important for people to surrounded themselves with good habits, passion, honesty, and dedication to maintain that success.

Education is important. But where education meets real life makes it even more worthwhile. Helps me to enjoy what I do even more. I can’t wait to get another year started!

 

  • Success graphic provided by Eric Kilby, Director of Touring for Compassion Productions

What Happened to Summer?

IMG_4300Wait what?!! Is it time for school already? Where did the last three months go?! Maybe I say that every year, but I don’t think I’ve had a summer quite as busy as this one. Funny thing is that while most people think teachers and professors “get summers off,” they don’t realize how much work we’re involved in during those months — research, writing, presenting, prepping classes with fresh material — and that’s not even taking into consideration that sometimes that includes teaching summer school classes. Teaching summer school wasn’t in the cards for me this year, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a packed year filled with plenty of school/work related projects filling up those weeks.

August

Was there anything else happening around the country this summer?  EclipseMTSU had its own official viewing event, including artists from our record label, astronomers and other scientists from our university, and a great place to view the historic totality event.

My job that day was to help transport the student artists to and from the stage and the “make-shift ” backstage green room area — a room in the College of Media & Entertainment! The music was presented by several artists, and me always being in the PR mindset wherever I go, I used every opportunity to also try to get them in front of any of the reporters on campus with a microphone and the time for an interview! 

At the end of the day, the event didn’t disappoint. And so it was more fun than work!

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Before the Eclipse, there was LA

The time I spent in the library working on a paper in June paid off when I had the opportunity to present that paper two months later at the MIRA conference (Music Industry Research Association) in Los Angeles. I was excited most about this opportunity because the association included a number of people from outside the music industry. MIRA’s goal is to bring together experts from different disciplines who are doing research about music and the music industry. I had the chance to meet and later speak to other academics, including some from Business Schools, as well as researchers from music platforms, like Pandora, and other music industry professionals.

 

Women in Film and Television

I also managed to squeeze in another speaking engagement, this time with the ladies of the Nashville chapter of WiFT. The topic was on how to engage students and academia into independent projects. I have enjoyed the chance to connect with other people and non-academic organizations this summer; expanding my network.

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One of the first things I say to my students during the first week of school is that while they might be enrolled in the Music Business program of a Recording Industry Department, today’s music industry is as much about the bigger picture of the Entertainment industry — music, film, television, video, sports — as it is just about songwriting, recording, and performing live music! You have to get out and meet and mingle with other people doing things that might influence — directly or indirectly — what you do, and expand your network to keep creativity at the forefront.

Looking forward to what this new academic school year will bring; new faces, mostly open minds, with their own dreams of making it in this Music Business!

Listening is not the same as Learning

Just two months before the start of another school year. I’m not counting down in anticipation of returning to work. But I am thinking about how fast life seems to be flying by. Three weeks ago I attended my niece’s high school graduation.

The thought of her being 18 and heading off to college this fall is just mind blowing. There’s the obvious…the passage of time that just doesn’t keep up with the calendar, the clock, and everything else that makes it unbelievable that I’m 18 years older this month, anymore than it does that she’s a high school graduate!

Then there’s the realization that she, like so many other teenagers, are heading off to college, ready of their freshmen year; full of knowledge, hope, excitement, and — unfortunately, already set in her way. You know, like many of us were who “knew everything already;” whose parents were old-fashion and out of touch, and couldn’t tell us anything. And even when they tried, we didn’t listen.

But these students? The ones I see in class and walking around campus. The teenage and young adults who spend the money and the time attending school, and who say they’re interested in a career in the music industry, but their actions (and inaction) doesn’t support what their words are saying. I’m still scratching my head at many of them.

The music industry is a competitive place. Getting a job in it has almost nothing to do with what degree you earn. But it does have to do with what information you learned; knowledge you gained; experiences you had; people you met; abilities and talents you have; and the drive to succeed.

I spoke at and lead a panel discussion at the Music Biz conference in Nashville back in May. The topic was on how students could increase their chances of alining internships during school, and jobs after graduation. The three-day conference cost several hundreds of dollars for industry persons attending, but less than $75.00 for students. There were dozens of seminars offered throughout the day; industry-related social activities each night; an awards luncheon included in the costs, and literally hundreds of professional industry executives and other persons speaking, sitting on panels, and walking the halls of the event. I spent months talking about the event coming up; weeks strongly encouraging students to register and attend; and even in the final days of school, had emails sent to everyone in the program. In spite of that, not even a dozen students attended.

 

So if a student or anyone else, says they’re interested in finding a job in the music industry, why would they not want to take advantage of opportunities to learn more about it; to meet people doing it; and to network with others who are also trying to get in it? Why does a student need to be pushed into finding internships, or volunteering at industry functions, or joining industry-related clubs and organizations?

Shouldn’t those who are serious about a career in the industry be in happy active pursuit and doing all they can to be competitive enough to get the job!?

My niece isn’t pursing a degree or career in the music industry. She wants to be a nurse; a neonatal nurse to be exact. She plans to spend her life helping to save babies’ lives. I applaud her for that. It’s something she’s been interested in since she was a young child herself; and it never changed through the years. But my prayer for her is the same thing that I say to my students — that their desire is not to learn enough to pass a test or get a good grade in class. But their desire should be to gain the kind of knowledge they will need to put what they’ve learned to use in the real world, and do something to make it a better place for everyone!