What you can learn from Purdue Fort Wayne's approach to education
Typically, the requirements to apply to universities as a music major consist of two parts: the academics, which gets you into the institution, and specific music-related items. When it comes to Purdue University Fort Wayne School of Music, apart from being an outstanding student, you also need to excel in the audition, which varies in context, depending on the program.
Purdue Fort Wayne's Holiday Concert (Orchestra and Chorus)
"In the classical realm, you would play classical pieces on [an] instrument, sight read, and those sorts of things," Gregory Jones, the Director of the School of Music, describes. While most of the auditions are held that way, Purdue offers two new degrees, this being their second year, which have a very different approach. One of them — popular music — focuses the audition primarily on original songs and improvisation. "It is not so much the fundamental skills of can you read classical notation, [but] can you improvise, do you understand chord structure, how songs work, and can you read tablature or Nashville numbers," he explains.

When choosing popular music as your program, you have the opportunity to try one of its two concentrations: Popular Music Performance and Songwriting or Recording and Production. The degree that doesn't require an audition at all and is the easiest degree to get into, however, is the Music Industry degree. On top of that, it has the most flexibility because there are 24 hours of electives in music that you take with the help of your advisor.

As Greg states, the philosophy of the school in crafting their new degrees in this area was flexibility: "We believe that the music industry is so vast and multi-faceted that one set curriculum does not adequately serve all career fields." It is hard to argue because of the plethora of jobs that exist in the industry — if you want to write contracts for artists, that requires a drastically different preparation than if you hope to have a career in distribution.

What truly distinguishes these two degrees is their partnership with Sweetwater, which is the largest online retailer of musical instruments and pro audio equipment in the United States. Located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the giant's collaboration with Purdue paved a lot of opportunities for students to have "hands-on" experience in the real world. "There are a lot of guests coming into Sweetwater," Greg says, mentioning Jean Simmons (Kiss rock bass player), ZZ Top, Cheap Trick, and Charlie Daniels as examples. "They came to see all the gear and work with the sales people, and often interact with our program." Undergraduates have the chance to ask questions and learn what it's like working across various disciplines in the industry.
Pink Droyd Concert (Pink Floyd Tribute) organized by the music industry students
"I can't think of any other music school in the country that has this close of an association with a music industry," Jones continues. "This means that all of our students who graduate with our degree in that area have great promise for a job at Sweetwater." With the wide range of jobs presented at the company, it is nice knowing that you already might have a job offer before you even graduate.

Because the school's main goal is to give its musicians as much real-world experience as possible, Purdue Fort Wayne does a lot of projects and initiatives, both inside and outside the classroom. Last year in February, for example, the music industry students had to organize a Pink Floyd tribute concert as part of their class. "I gave them a [$30,000] budget," the director notes. "They rented a theater … wrote contracts for the venue and the band, and [did] all of the advertisement." Moreover, they had to make sure they stayed at least revenue-neutral, so that the money wouldn't be lost. Fortunately, it was a big success and the students managed to meet their requirements and even earn income.

Another event that students created for the spring break was a five-day student rock band tour. Apart from the band members, there were people who promoted the event, arranged transportation, and did live sound — the rock band traveled through Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Indiana. For its second year of projects, the school is creating a media group, which will be a separate entity in the university. "The students will be able to record, produce, [and] distribute recordings, because they will own recordings, rights to songs, publish songs, deal with Spotify, Pandora, and everybody to negotiate contracts for streams," Greg elaborates.

The institution doesn't want to be a place where you just sit in a classroom, read a book and get a degree; the professors want their students to be out there dealing with life situations that people face in some facets of the music industry. "If you came here, maybe you would be following up an artist as they record their original songs in our recording studio. We produce it, market it, stream it, write all the contracts, and see how the revenue comes in," the director mentions. "You would learn all that from the perspective of the artist rather than just reading about it in a book."
Popular Music / Music Industry brochure cover. Photos provided by Gregory Jones
In order to accomplish that, the faculty is meticulously picked to teach the topics in which they are experts in. "I just hired a guy who worked for Universal Music in Nashville, and all he did was negotiate contracts with artists" Greg adds. "Now, he's the guy teaching those courses." While he believes that the big opportunities in the future are for people who provide music for music to online streaming, he also talks about the array of ways in which musicians can make a living in the music industry. "Our job is partially to help you try to do [what you want to do] and, in some cases, to tell you we don't think you are going to be able to do that," Jones thinks.

Apart from all the opportunities Purdue Fort Wayne offers, there are a lot of possibilities to explore and collaborate beyond the school's grounds. The town has a full-time professional orchestra, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, that rehearses and plays half of their concerts in the university's facility, and their members teach the music school's students. Purdue Fort Wayne is also able to host masterclasses with the artists that come to play with the orchestra. "We had Renée Fleming, the singer, and we got to have a music therapy presentation by her," Greg gives an example. Moreover, the scene is always bustling with choirs, ensembles, and empowerment groups.

Since the school is undergraduate-focused, young musicians get amazing attention and experience that primarily-graduate music institutions can't meet. "One of the schools I went to for my master's degree was the University of North Texas, [which is] one of the biggest music schools in America," the director tells me. "I was a trumpet player, and they had two trumpet professors. 30 students took with the professors, and there were 120 trumpet students, so only the graduate students got to study with the professors. The undergraduates studied with graduate students." Jones, who just finished his bachelor's degree at Florida State University at the time, had 12 music majors studying with him. "I didn't know what I was doing, I was 22 years old! I wasn't an experienced teacher, but that's the way big schools do it," he recalls. Looking back on the experience now, he doesn't feel this is the best undergraduate experience for a musician.

Of course, while the school opens doors to endless cooperation opportunities and real-world experiences, each person's future is still in one's own hands. "To me, anybody going to school should be always thinking about how to differentiate themselves from all the other people in school who are also doing required work," Gregory says. "If you really want to position yourself for a great career, and you're someone who is really hungry for knowledge in the field, you will do great and you will be in lots of projects." The slogan for Purdue's music program is "because music is your life". And it certainly is that way for its students, graduates, and faculty. Being into his 37th year of teaching, Greg still wakes up with the same excitement about his career, and can't wait to do more music.
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