For the ninth year, the College of Media and Entertainment’s Department of Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University has landed a spot on Billboard’s international list of top music business schools.
The article, “Billboard’s 2023 Top Music Business Schools,” said MTSU offers a place “where students regularly gain hands-on experience” for professional development through live-event production, broadcast and streaming, and immersive audio for music, film and gaming.
“It’s a testament to the recording industry faculty and staff who deliver high-quality courses every day and prepare our students for the rigors of the professional world,” said Department of Recording Industry Chair John Merchant.
MTSU has been on Billboard’s best music business schools list since 2013, receiving recognition that first year for the recording industry program’s entrepreneurial turn. The magazine has published seven such lists since then, plus this year’s; it skipped a 2015 compilation and didn’t publish one for 2021 due to the pandemic.
The alphabetical listing features 42 schools, although the magazine chooses not to rank schools due to the wide variance of offerings at each university.
“I’m excited that our program is getting worldwide recognition for its efforts,” said Beverly Keel, media college dean and a former recording industry department chair. “We have such a unique program that provides our students with real-world, hands-on experience that prepares them for the changing music industry.”
Shaping students into ‘superstars they are destined to be’
Since 2014, MTSU students have gained experience at the annual Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, where they are responsible for visual, audio and event coverage. This year marks the second time MTSU partnered with Hulu to livestream concerts at Bonnaroo.
MTSU also has an active on-campus music venue, the Chris Young Café, and a student-run record label, Match Records. In November 2022, over 50 student workers from the College of Media and Entertainment were involved with the production of “The Judds: Love is Alive-The Final Concert” featuring Wynonna Judd — including a red carpet event.
“We get to spend four years helping them develop their skills and knowledge about the industry and we send them out into the world to become the superstars they are destined to be,” Merchant said.
Billboard noted courses like venue management, mixing techniques in immersive audio and concert promotion as assets to the music business programming. The university also hosts a “revolving mix of industry speakers.”
“Our faculty remains involved in the industry they so love and this continued work allows our students to learn about the latest changes in the industry,” Keel said. “I’m so proud of our faculty and students for creating an atmosphere that celebrates creativity and nurtures talent. Our students aren’t waiting until they graduate to launch their careers. They are performing, writing and recording songs that are making a difference today.”
Billboard’s nod is also a testament to the longevity and success of MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The program was founded in 1973, opened its first campus recording studio in 1980 and was the first program in the country to release a fully student-created CD in 1985. It also collaborates with MTSU’s School of Music on a “music industry” minor for students in music-industry entrepreneurship or recording industry.
Recording industry undergrads at MTSU can focus on audio production, commercial songwriting or music business. The Master of Fine Arts in Recording Arts and Technologies degree prepares MTSU students for advanced work in audio production, recording and integrated electronic media.
The department opened its new Studios D and E in 2021, giving students nearly 5,000 square feet and $2 million worth of customized, expandable space. The new Songwriting Center, located five blocks east of campus, is holding classes now and plans a spring 2023 grand opening.
‘Grammy-winner factory’ continues
NBC News began calling MTSU a “Grammy-winner factory” in 2019 in the wake of alumni, students’ and staffers’ multiple nominations and wins from the industry’s top honor.
Alumni, former or current students, and faculty from across MTSU have been a part of more than 134 Grammy Award nominations in the last two decades. The number of MTSU-connected Grammy winners since 2001 currently stands at 15 people with a total of 39 Grammys, including 10 repeat recipients, in categories from classical to pop to rock to country to gospel.
MTSU has also been a consistent force in network TV music competitions, including “American Idol” and “The Voice,” since the shows began more than 20 years ago.
Hunter Wolkonowski of Winchester, Tennessee, a music business graduate who performs under her stage name “HunterGirl,” is MTSU’s most successful “American Idol” competitor so far with her No. 2 finish in May 2022.
Alumni topping the charts include record producer and songwriter Tay Keith, country music artist Chris Young, singer/songwriter Mitchell Tenpenny, Hillary Scott of Lady A and so many others.
“We are amazed and impressed every day by our students who are making their mark in every sector of the industry at the highest levels,” Merchant said. “The sun never sets on the MTSU recording industry students. They are doing amazing work and I couldn’t be more proud of what our students achieve, both while they are here and when they graduate and move out into the world.”
To learn more about the Department of Recording Industry at MTSU and its programs, visit https://mtsu.edu/recording-industry. For more information on the College of Media and Entertainment and its programs, visit www.mtsu.edu/media.
— Nancy DeGennaro (Nancy.DeGennaro@mtsu.edu)