Heavy Weather and Higher Ground

In his November 2017 state of the college address, President Roger H. Brown outlined how Berklee plans to meet challenges confronting higher education institutions. “The world of higher education in general is facing some heavy weather,” Brown stated. “There are two choices. You can get to the mountaintop so that as the water rises, you’re at the top. The other is to build an ark and leave where you are.” Brown outlined measures Berklee and the Boston Conservatory at Berklee are taking to reach higher ground. “Seeking higher ground means becoming the best in the world at what you do and being able to say that we can do things better than anyone else.”

Brown described how many institutions now offer majors that were once unique to Berklee. “In the 1960s and 70s, if you wanted to study jazz, you only had a few options,” Brown said. “Now suddenly everyone is teaching jazz and contemporary pop styles and music production. That makes it harder for us to stand out and attract students.” Brown mentioned a possible new major that would build on the strengths of both Berklee and the conservatory. “We are considering a major that will be a hybrid between the conservatory’s music theater program and Berklee’s electronic production and design and music production and engineering majors,” he shared. “It would be a live performance design track that would train people to use modern technology to run amazing shows.”

Brown addressed college affordability. “In the United States, higher education has become outrageously expensive,” he expressed. “The city of Boston is expensive, we pay our teachers well, and we offer many services to our students that are expensive to deliver.” Brown outlined some strategies to lower the cost of a Berklee degree. “We are looking at alternatives to the traditional student’s linear pathway to degree completion at one institution,” Brown said. “Berklee online tuition is about one third of the cost of the college’s tuition, and students can live at home and save money while they take these courses. The pathway for students to study at a Berklee Global partner institution in their home country offers ways to save money while getting a great education and then transferring those credits to Berklee. We have 245 students at Berklee who have done this.”

Brown also detailed how the collapse of recorded music sales has made it more difficult for young artists to develop financially viable careers. As well, emerging technologies will continually do more of the work done previously by trained musicians. “We may soon have composerless music; music recorded by artificial intelligence. IBM’s Watson has written some popular songs and string players don’t get the gigs they used to because of the improvement in string samples.”

Brown predicted that while artificial intelligence may reduce some work opportunities, there will be a demand for those who can create new technologies. “Toward that end we will infuse more computer science into our curriculum to enable musicians to harness technology,” Brown said. “There will be new opportunities for musicians in virtual reality because artificial reality doesn’t seem real if the music isn’t as good as the imagery. The sound will have to be just as interactive as the visual imagery is.”

The most exciting news Brown shared was that the city of Boston has authorized Berklee to construct a building up to 30-stories tall at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street. Plans are speculative at this point and costs could hit $250 million. “To do this, we would need to raise about $80 million,” Brown said. “We have some trustees who want to see this happen.” The proposed building would house a world-class performance venue equipped to stage musical theater, dance, and acoustic as well as amplified music programs.

“There are very few venues in the world that work for both an opera singer and a drummer,” Brown said. “We will tour venues in Los Angeles, New York, Hamburg, and Singapore that are doing a good job at handling all types of performances.”

Brown recommended visiting www.berklee.edu/vision/pathways-2017-2020 for a more detailed look at the college’s strategy to reach its future goals and remain competitive in a changing landscape. “We see technology challenging the world of recorded music, journalism, and the way people move money,” Brown said. “The same will happen in higher education. We need to be the people at the top of the mountain so we can endure and thrive.”