How Innovation and Design Thinking Boost Music Industry Careers

The new Bachelor of Arts in Music Industry Leadership and Innovation program is training students to imagine and create the music business of the future.

September 8, 2021

This summer, Berklee announced the Bachelor of Arts in music industry leadership and innovation—the first degree program in Berklee’s history that doesn’t require being a musician. But that's only part of how it breaks new ground in training students for enduring careers in the music industry. In order to put “innovation” in the program name, the program itself has to be innovative.

But what is innovation when it comes to how a college program prepares students for a career?

Given the constant flux within the music industry—as well as the broader technology and entertainment industries—the new business-as-usual is that nothing is usual. The Bachelor of Arts program gives students the strategic skills needed to create change, rather than just keep up with it—something that Berklee is uniquely positioned to offer. “Berklee was born out of the spirit of innovation,” says Tonya Butler, chair of the Music Business/Management Department. This program, Butler says, is “designed for students with a strong desire to impact, change, and even disrupt the music industry of today, while making a meaningful contribution to the industry of tomorrow.”

The aspects that define this new program’s curriculum—and differentiate it from those offered in the Bachelor of Music in music business/management program—are design thinking, strategic leadership, and innovation. Below, we take a closer look at each element in order to better understand how the program can give students a boost as they enter a career in the music business.

Learn more about the new program in this video:

Design Thinking

If you think of creativity as an engine, then design thinking is the fuel that runs through it, powering and actualizing the engine’s potential. While the concept comes from the graphic design world, it can be applied widely, acting as creativity’s answer to the scientific method. According to R. Michael Hendrix, global design director at IDEO and a faculty member in the B.A. program, design thinking is, at its core, “using the mindset of a designer to unlock possibilities through certain methods like observation, prototyping, remixing, synthesizing, and expressing new ideas.”

In that way, design thinking provides a framework for creativity and innovation. Hendrix says that being well versed in this mindset prepares you to “help bands innovate the way they market themselves and the way they create their stage experiences. You can help labels imagine new ways to get their music out in the world, or help develop their artists as entrepreneurs themselves.”

But it’s not limited just to artist development and music labels. “You can also think about adjacent industries like how we listen to music, the kinds of devices we use, the way we equip our homes now to be surrounded by sound,” he says. “All of those kinds of industries need innovation too, and that's the excitement of being in the digital world where everything is constantly changing.”

Strategic Leadership

While it may sound obvious at first—what form of good leadership doesn’t require good strategy?—strategic leadership refers to a vision-based approach to leadership that centers on adaptability, agility, competitiveness, and relevance. “Leadership” here can certainly refer to leaders—from managers to CEOs—but the skills of strategic leadership are applicable to any career stage.

“You can use these methodologies in any one of those jobs,” says Christopher Wares, assistant chair of the Music Business/Management Department, adding that this helps train students to be "future-oriented" as they embark on their careers. In addition to the growing number innovation-specific jobs, Wares says that "all the standard music business jobs will also be available to you.” Those jobs could mean artist managers and booking agents, for example, or newer positions becoming more prevalent at major labels, such as business development consultant and innovation strategist.


Unchecked, words like innovation and creativity can be deployed to the point of buzzword status. But Hendrix makes it clear that both can also be rigorous disciplines, and that this new program will teach students how to make their creativity a sustainable part of their career. “I think often people think creativity is like magic,” he says. “It's actually highly disciplined. When you start to pursue creativity as a profession, it's important to recognize that…it takes rigor, that there's a lot of value in being able to call upon your creativity regularly.”

"[B]reakthroughs of thought are coming from people who aren't thinking in the box…they’re coming from people who are imagining what new future possibilities can be.”

— Michael Hendrix

In fact, being able to lean on an innovation skill set is often what leads to some of the most radical advancements in any industry, not just music. “That’s the kind of thinking that leads to all of us switching from one kind of fuel to a new kind of fuel. That's the kind of breakthrough that causes us all to go from buying these things in a store to streaming them online. Those breakthroughs of thought are coming from people who aren't thinking in the box…they’re coming from people who are imagining what new future possibilities can be.”

In order to create the equitable and sustainable music industry of the future, it’s going to require more than just having the occasional new idea. It’s going to take careers of ideas by people who have been prepared to go into work every day thinking not about expectation, but potential. Or, as Hendrix puts it, the new program is “not a methodology used to ask what's been done, it's a methodology used to ask what is possible."

Related Categories