File-sharing goes to school
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The Berklee Shares lessons cover a wide range of content, including lessons on Afro-Cuban conga rhythms, double picking for guitar shredders, and cuing for turntable DJs, as well as tips on production, songwriting, and music improvisation.Skip to next paragraph
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The target audience, says Debbie Cavalier, dean of continuing education at Berklee's online school, isn't college students but high schoolers looking for tips before college or 25- to 55-year-olds interested in music as a hobby or a career.
Though Berklee's file-sharing campaign was launched quietly on Nov. 10, the lessons have spread to more than 10,000 websites and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Ms. Cavalier says.
"There have been 100,000 downloads so far, and the Berklee brand is touching people every time," she says. "We see this as a way for music education to really flourish."
Derek Slater, an affiliate at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, says file-sharing will enable Berklee to meet one of the biggest challenges facing universities today: how to distribute knowledge widely while maintaining a selective admissions policy.
"The key is that this is not an either/or, and Berklee gets that," says Mr. Slater, a junior at Harvard and a former intern at Creative Commons. "People are realizing that absolute control is unwarranted and counterproductive. To sustain its existence, it doesn't need to have complete control over its learning environment and resources."
But what about those students walking to class in the snow, paying an arm and a leg for tuition?
As Berklee considers releasing possibly hundreds of files over the Internet in the coming months, it must remember that it would be disadvantageous to share everything, says Jeffrey Matsuura, director of the law and technology program at the University of Dayton School of Law. "If a university puts too much of its material out, it could make students wonder what they're actually paying tuition for," he says.
Berklee's Kusek disagrees.
"What happens on campus in a classroom with a Berklee faculty member and other students, or what happens in our online school in an online class with a Berklee faculty and other online students ... is the essence of the Berklee experience," he says.
"We're not attempting to duplicate Berklee and give it away. It's a taste of what happens at Berklee, a window into the experience here.
"We found that our students on campus - all interested in careers in music - were downloading music [from file-sharing services]," adds Kusek.
But what surprised Kusek and other Berklee faculty is that they were also uploading their own songs, using file-sharing as a way to expand their audiences and promote their own music. "When you look at the big picture, most musicians, if they're not songwriters, make most of their money performing," Kusek explains.
"It's a great way for new artists to get exposure for nothing. This is an example of when you want to use the network to distribute, when you want access to your material to be free. That's a choice you can make that has a lot of power."
With millions of people around the world downloading music around the clock, many industry analysts and education experts believe file-sharing to be the best marketing and distribution model today.
Schools such as Berklee, ultimately interested in marketing and boosting an industry their students hope to thrive in, seem to agree, and are hastening to take advantage of an enormously popular service.
"I think Berklee is smart," Mr. Matsuura says. "Is it actually going to work the way they think it will? I don't know. But I think they're right to try."
When it comes to file- sharing, the former attorney adds, "The genie's not going back in the bottle."