Tertiary music education in a post-digital world

By Professor Richard Vella

In the late 1990s I wrote about various directions of music institutions post Dawkins reforms. My observations today are more focussed on some implications in a post-digital world. They are not specific to any genre of music. Obviously, the main changes have been funding clusters, increased student contributions and the sector opening up to include more private providers. Add in the requirement for all public and private providers to be compliant within a single national legislation, the playing field has been levelled. Indeed, 30 years on since Dawkins, the tertiary music environment now involves many stakeholders (old and new), one in which total deregulation seems inevitable.

Music programs could treat their students as featured artists similar to labels; create playlists based on classes and recordings; and teach students to use digital marketing strategies. In this way students using their own local venues, following and studios can work towards developing an international identity.

The music industry embraces all genres involving: 1) live performance; 2) production and sale of sound recordings; 3) administration of copyright in compositions and sound recordings; 4) manufacture and distribution of music instruments (including software and hardware), recording and amplification equipment; and 5) education and training. Virtually all tertiary music providers focus on 1 and 2 capitalising on student aspirations in performance, composition, production and/or song writing. To a lesser extent, but as important, is area 5: primary and secondary school teacher training. The business side of music is studied but in many situations is not seen as a core fundamental to one’s musical knowledge such as harmony. Areas 3 and 4 are usually learnt separately through related courses (for example, marketing) often involving learning on the job.  

Survival in the music industry requires being digitally connected and using digital platforms and services for audience development and distribution. Because Australia doesn’t have a large enough population base, many musicians think internationally. This can mean generating income, for example from touring, streaming, synchronisation rights, licensing and royalties.  New business models are being adopted by labels, publishers, artists and managers as a result of disrupting traditional value chains. While many musicians have a portfolio career involving areas 1, 2 and 5, Australian music is experiencing a golden age internationally. Australian music is a fast-growing export (APRA AMCOS). Fundamental is the nexus between musicians, producers, songwriters and the management and promotion of these.

Due to the internet, potential students are digitally born global having many options including a music qualification. Instead of preparing for industry, tertiary music providers must operate in exactly the same way as industry. This means aggregating tertiary education deliveries with music industry export strategies. Needed would be clear demarcation so that education providers don’t compete with industry players (labels, managers, etc). Music programs could treat their students as featured artists similar to labels; create playlists based on classes and recordings; and teach students to use digital marketing strategies. In this way students using their own local venues, following and studios can work towards developing an international identity making themselves known to potential managers, labels, festivals, and audiences.

The next disruption will be the tertiary music provider able to incorporate interactive deliveries with aggregated industry business models.

Amalgamations and downsizing seem to be a constant theme across the sector due to the student driven model. Programs are competing for the same student cohort. This has had impact such as the competition for students between regional and capital city-based providers. Capital cities have the advantage due to their larger student pools. This can be addressed in a highly connected world. Historically, regional programs have a very good understanding of their communities and the value of on-line learning. Whether regional or capital and because music is fundamentally participatory, disruptive approaches combining on-line interactive engagement strategies with music industry business models and blended learning could develop exciting industry or community relevant programs.

At the international music market, MIDEM (2016), a speaker said people don’t listen to music, they watch music. Any teacher will attest, there is nothing like a video for students’ attention. Visualisation has always been present considering the role of music notation in older pre-Dawkins curricula design or watching live performance. The difference today is that music, visualisation, participation via interactivity, and the computer game provide some exciting new learning environments involving gestural, haptic, spatial and other sensory interfaces. The next disruption will be the tertiary music provider able to incorporate interactive deliveries with aggregated industry business models. There is potential here for innovative research informed programs to develop export products in music education a la Google Creative lab.

Higher education music in a post-digital age can open doorways to a multitude of strategies that align with the music and creative industries, social and community issues or inter/transdisciplinary outcomes. But these innovations cannot be achieved with a one size fits all approach. The above ideas can be expensive. Universities Australia’s support for deregulation is understandable in a climate of minimal government funding. Needed is a funding model which recognises the economic value of a diverse tertiary music landscape.

 

Related publications

‘The Rhapsode goes to University: a discussion of Plato’s Ion in relation to creative arts research’, presented at The Politics of Music, Musicological Society of Australia annual conference , Canberra (2012)

‘Thoughts on the training of a music student at university level’ in In Sound Musicianship: Understanding the Crafts of Music. Editors: Brown AR. 357-368. Cambridge Scholars, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK (2012)

ACID Press: a New Approach to Knowledge Collaboration. Vella, R. & Drummond, J. Resonate Magazine,  http://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/resonate (2007)

‘Keeping the degree creative’, Realtime Arts, Vol 68, (2005)

Speculation and Innovation: applying practice led research in the creative industries, General editor,  Qld. Uni. of Technology (2006)

‘Artistic Practice as Research’, key note address, XVth Annual Conference, Australian Association for Research in Music Education, Kay Hartwig, Georgina Barton (eds), publisher: AARME, Melbourne (2004)

‘Tertiary Music Education since 1988’, Currency Companion to Music and Dance, Currency Press, (John Whiteoak, Aline Scott Maxwell, eds) Sydney.  ISBN 0958121311 (2003)

‘Music in Universities’, Realtime Arts, September Issue. Vol. 44 (2001)

Research in the Creative Arts, R. Vella & S. de Haan, in Evaluations and Investigations Programme, DEETYA, Denis Strand (2000)


Richard Vella, since 2007, has been Chair and Professor of Music at the University of Newcastle. As a composer Vella's compositions include works for classical, film and popular music. He is director of the Interdisciplinary Research Group Collaborative Environments for Creative Arts Research (CECAR). In 2015 his research group was awarded an ARC Linkage grant in partnership with Monash University, the Australasian Performing Rights Association and the Australia Council for the Arts. The project investigates the cultural and export value of the Australian music export.