The Most Innovative College Music Programs Changing the Industry


What will the next era of music be? Will it be electronica, or folk rock, or some wild fusion between Britpop and Latin? Not to discount the contributions of the brilliant yet unschooled originals out there in the great unknown, a big part of the future of music lies in the hands of our college music programs. Despite what you may think, music majors don’t sit around playing Chopin all day. They’re studying fascinating aspects of sound and working with amazing technology to produce audio unlike anything we’ve ever heard – whether you’re from South Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, or Utah – it’s impressive. And these 10 schools are the ones doing outstanding jobs to help them do it.

  1. Berklee College of Music:

    Innovation has helped this premier music school in Boston churn out a constant stream of Grammy-winning and other accomplished music professionals, from Quincy Jones (’51) to John Mayer (’98). In the ’50s that innovation was introducing jazz into the classroom. Today Berklee stays cutting-edge with programs like Berkleemusic, its arm for online music instruction anywhere in the world. The organization partners with companies like Noteflight — a digital music notation software company — to keep musical education up to speed with other higher ed subjects that are moving to the Web. Aspiring musicians need not even be college-aged to take advantage of Berklee educators’ experience. Through the Berklee Pulse site, kids from grades 4-12 can get online training in vocals, instruments, and ensemble performance.

  2. Stevens Institute of Technology:

    This small private school in Hoboken holds itself to a high standard with the self-applied nickname “the innovation university”. Through the Music & Technology Program, they seem to be living up to the moniker. For example, students seeking a degree in production, recording, and sound design do more than hit the record button. Through physics, engineering, and technology, they learn how the brain processes sound. Students also get real-world experience by working with the student-owned record label known as Castle Rock Records. Collaborations between the music and other departments at the school turn up projects with futuristic names like “A Transderivational Search Engine for Creative Analogy Generation in Mixed-Media Design.”

  3. Bard College Conservatory of Music:

    Operating on the belief that to be well-rounded artists, musicians need instruction in more than music, Bard has taken the innovative step of requiring every undergrad to earn a double degree in five years — one in music, and the other in the liberal arts. The school pulls it off by being small and flexible and working closely with each student. The school is also a founding member of the social change project Take A Stand that seeks to use music to “inspire children, families, and communities to realize their potential and break the cycle of poverty.”

  4. Florida State University:

    As one of the largest music programs in all of academia, FSU’s College of Music might be expected to be sluggish and resistant to change. On the contrary, the Seminoles are engrossed in some very exciting work in the field of music, thanks to its three music research centers: the Center for Music Research, the Center for Music of the Americas, and the National Institute for Infant & Child Medical Music Therapy. The college offers opportunities to study uncommon topics like piano technology, where students delve into geometrics, diagnostics, and restoration of the instruments, and sacred music, which involves coursework from across the university, including history, philosophy, and religion.

  5. Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts:

    With its system of student-directed curricula, Lang is already securely on the innovative side of higher ed. Add to that an eclectic mix of courses offered within its walls, and you’ve got one of the most innovative music programs in the country. Classes like Hip Hop, Punk and Noise, Poetics of Song, and Musical Borrowing from Plainchant to Sampling, just to name a few, require little musical knowledge but foster appreciation of a wide variety of musical styles through discussion and interaction. Through the Mannes classical music conservatory, both children and adults are able to receive training from a faculty consisting of working, accomplished musical professionals.

  6. Elmhurst College:

    Music students here have the ability to become bona fide recording artists before they even graduate, thanks to Elmhurst’s own recording studio. Although budget problems have highlighted a need for more performance venues, at the Gretsch Recording Studio student musicians can get comfortable with professional-grade mics and sound processing equipment. Elmhurst is also a leading music school for internship placement for its music majors. Depending on their degree plans, students land spots with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Universal Records, major radio stations, and more. And its faculty of symphony pros and recording artists helps the school keep its finger on the pulse of the latest teaching and practicing methods in music.

  7. Leeds College of Music:

    The largest music school in the UK is also one of its most innovative. Leeds’ Knowledge Transfer Unit arranges events for students throughout the year to connect them with industry pros and spur them to new ideas, like the “Demo Doctor” sessions where students can have their demos heard by record companies. Each year it also funds a “Proof of Concept” business plan contest with funding to the winner. Also, as the site of the annual International Festival For Innovations In Music Production and Composition, Leeds is ground zero for cutting-edge developments in the world of music.

  8. McNally Smith College of Music:

    McNally follows a similar approach to the Bard College conservatory in that it ties music in with other fields of study like liberal arts, in order to make students as well-rounded as possible. McNally prides itself on its progressive Hip Hop Studies program, now in its fourth year, that includes courses like “Deejay or Emcee Techniques” and “Language of Rap and Spoken Word.” The school is also on the front lines of promoting music to a younger crowd through its postsecondary program, which allows high school seniors access to its college-level music courses at no cost.

  9. Mills College:

    For sheer music innovation, Mills has been an all-star for decades. In 2008 the school celebrated “80 years of musical innovation.” With its environment that fosters experimentalism, the college is a worldwide destination for students who come to hear new sounds and be exposed to new modes of thinking about music, and to hopefully find their own unique voice. Since 1966, the school’s hub for innovation has been the Center for Contemporary Music, fostering cutting-edge developments in computer and electroacoustic music, especially. Students are also afforded opportunities to study exotic topics like gamelan from Indonesia, African drumming, and more.

  10. Babson College:

    Babson is known for being a top school for entrepreneurship, and a new partnership between the school and music industry think tank Rethink Music is proving Babson’s penchant for forward thinking. The two organizations teamed up to start the 2012 Genesis Project, a sort of incubator for innovative music business ideas. Two Harvard Law students won the contest with their Have You Heard? app for streaming music, earning the $10,000 prize in legal and consulting services and meetings with investors. No word yet on a 2013 contest, but no doubt Babson will continue to be a driving force in revitalizing the music industry in the future.

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