Auditions are already being planned at a new Bricktown venue where hundreds of musicians will book gigs that could prove career- and life-changing.
Renovations on the fourth floor of the Oklahoma Hardware Building, 25 E. California, are under way for the Academy of Contemporary Music " a school organizers say will educate musicians and band, setting the stage for young business leaders eager to rock the music industry.
The school will open in the fall of 2009 under direction of the University of Central Oklahoma and a partnership with the original British Academy of Contemporary Music. The OKC school will be the first United States academy affiliated with the prestigious school.
Flaming Lips manager Scott Booker will direct the new academy, which he said will help channel the energy of "a thriving local music scene" and provide a nontraditional way for students to learn business skills from industry insiders.
"There are a ton of local bands and musicians with real talent," Booker said. "But a lot of that creative energy is directionless, and talent gets wasted with young artists who just find themselves spinning their wheels. We're going to make something happen."
Booker, who earned an education degree from UCO before he started managing the Lips in the early Eighties, said the academy will employ instructors who have toured and recorded with rock bands or music business professionals with relevant, real-world entertainment industry experience.
The British school was founded 12 years ago in Guildford, England, a town of about 67,000 situated 40 minutes southwest of London.
The acclaimed school is known for molding professional rock and pop performers and is regarded as a one-stop-shop for both students and industry professionals interested in siphoning off young talent.
The music academies, including the one opening in OKC, offer intensive guitar, drum, bass and vocal classes and teach courses on recording and sound design, but Steve Lavington, the academy's international business manager, said every student is given business education.
"If you don't, there's not a lot of point in teaching them to play better," he said.
The British academy started with 120 students. When Lavington joined the faculty two years later, he said more than 300 students were enrolled. The school is now home to about 1,200 full-time students and 900 part-time students taking evening and weekend classes.
Lavington said instructors at the British academy are specifically chosen for their direct experience and ties to the music business, giving the school's curriculum flexibility to match an ever-changing entertainment industry.
"Record sales are not what they used to be," he said. "But people are downloading, and live music is coming back. Since we are out there actively talking to the industry, we are in a unique position to adapt."
Booker said bands and young musicians often need insight to guide careers through new business models emerging in the industry.
"It's a very different world out there for bands," he said. "In many ways, it's better. There are changes that, if you were in a band 10 or 20 years ago, you'd say today, 'I wish we would have had that when I was playing clubs and making CDs.'"
Changes with record labels and established methods of mean some universal business lessons " like how to network and market talent " are more important than ever, both Booker and Lavington said.
"Relationships and networking are critical," Lavington said. "Many bands don't know that. Who you know means everything, but it's more than that. Musicians need to work with " and invest in " others in the industry so they know where the opportunities are."
And it's Booker's extensive industry contacts and professional relationships that will benefit OKC students the most, Lavington said.
Much of the music industry is hinged on timing. Lavington said this crucial career element frequently passes students at traditional colleges. To keep rock from rolling past students saddled with classroom commitments, the British academy is an accelerated, year-round program that allows and encourages students to defer studies for opportunities on the road or out in the field.
Roger Webb, president of UCO, said the OKC academy will employ a similar education model.
"We're breaking some new ground here," Webb said. "I'm concerned with the fact that higher education has been using the same model that it has been for the last 100 years or so."
He said the OKC academy, like its British counterpart, will "go against the grain" in assessing student success " namely, moving away measuring the program's effectiveness solely on the number or percentage of degree completions.
The academy is still pending approval from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, but Booker and Webb are confident the school will be ready for the fall 2009 semester. Details on accreditation and instructor criteria are still being worked through " decisions that Webb said will determine the school's degree options.
Webb said the academy will have traditional two- and four-year degree programs for students who study long-term. Students who meet certain academic requirements will earn academy certificates similar to those issued in other professions, he said.
"ACM certificates carry a certain cachet," Webb said. "They are just as important as degrees for many students looking for jobs in this industry.
The school's tuition rates are still under consideration, but Webb said the academy would likely be more expensive than UCO, but less than the $25,000-$30,000 annual cost of similar schools.
Webb and Booker want the school to serve the needs of local and national bands, musicians and students, but hope it will become the hub of a new OKC entertainment industry. Webb visited the British academy in June 2007, and likened the Guildford campus to "a Silicon Valley for creativity," where he noticed students darting in and out of rehearsals, classrooms and computer and recording labs.
He said the British school's contacts and reputation will give OKC students access to a "placement portal," and potential "international exposure" to industries looking for musicians and savvy entertainment entrepreneurs. Students at the British school are routinely recruited for high-profile touring gigs and session work, Booker said.
Despite UCO's campus home in Edmond, the academy will stay in OKC, likely in the downtown area, according to Webb and Booker. The Oklahoma Hardware Building will host the school for at least a year, but academy organizers are fielding building offers from several owners, Booker said.
"You can feel the energy," he said. "Oklahoma City has so many talented bands and musicians. Hopefully we can give them a focus point here, so instead of having to leave for L.A., New York, Austin or whatever, they can get the creative tools they need right here.
"Who knows? We just might see talent leaving those towns to come to Oklahoma City." "Joe Wertz