Rock und Roll 101
A new German 'School of Rock' hopes to churn out Europe's next generation of managers, label owners, and pop stars.
(Page 2 of 2)
The rest of the week is spent in classrooms where the glitz of their future profession is nowhere to be seen. Huddled in a too-small lecture room, students stare at overhead slides as Wandjo holds forth on the realities of the business. "Being able to sing real well is not a guarantee for making money," he says.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But maybe lectures such as "How to produce a hit," or "How to form a band," by people like the head of Universal Music in Germany, will do the trick.
After one year in the classroom, students will be turned loose to record labels and music publishing houses for on-the-job experience. Along the way, classes will require them to, among other things, work in teams to win a contract for a real pop group, learn to deal with the media, and unravel entertainment law.
Most important, say school officials, is teaching the students that their future industry is in a state of change. Though interest in music continues to rise, the future of the industry is looking shaky, as more and more listeners head online. The changing nature of music distribution, property rights, and methods are major topics for the pop academy's students.
"There are going to be new people needed to help change the business," says Wandjo, whose music business majors will pick apart artist rights' and contractual lawsuits. "At least one of the objectives of this place is to be a laboratory in which we can accelerate that change."
What students come up with are not just academic, but quite possibly practical solutions to problems faced by school backers like the Universal Music record label. The label's president is a lecturer at the academy, and the company recently transferred its education and training wing to the Mannheim school, five hours south of its Berlin headquarters.
Sponsors, the biggest one the state of Baden-Wüerttemberg, have so far pumped 2.2 million euros ($2.5 million) into the academy, with an additional 3.9 million ($4.5 million) for a new building at a newly constructed Mannheim media park.
The Pop Academy has been received with bemused interest by the small circle of academics in Germany who concern themselves with the pop-music business. Some think that the academy needs to make sure it doesn't promise its students too much in the way of stellar careers or years in the spotlight. Others wonder if a bachelor of arts degree in pop is worth as much as a business degree and an internship at a record label.
"There is no formal training to prepare for the music industry. The way in is mostly haphazard," says Thomas Mönch, a University of Würzburg professor who specializes in pop music. "That also makes sense, because those that work in the industry need a certain drive," that an academy can't always provide.
To their credit, the students seem to be able to distinguish between reality shows that promise soaring, yet fleeting, careers, and the moxie and dedication it takes to last. "So much of success [in pop] depends on bringing out the right song at the right time," muses Wittschell, before scribbling down additional chord changes for the bassist. "But I do think that it's possible to learn a lot about it up to a certain point. The rest ... is luck."