New mission for AEMM

By Heather Scroering

With fully functioning film, music, marketing and other departments, and an endless supply of creative minds, Columbia has the potential to run mini-industries right out of its campus buildings. With every industry, an ambitious management team is a necessity for success, and with the transformation of the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department, the college is already developing more opportunities for the cross-collaboration of programs.

With the number of majors growing 40 percent since 2003, the AEMM Department was in need of regrouping, according to Philippe Ravanas, chair of the AEMM Department. Since 2009, the department has gone through a major transformation, including changes in approach to pedagogy, reconstruction of curriculum and expanding its mission to include training for not only arts managers, but also growing artists working in similar fields.

“Our mission previously was really focused on preparing managers,” Ravanas said. “The shift for us was to realize that we should be of assistance to all Columbia students. Not just be a department that trains professional managers, but a department that equips any future artist with essential skills to a sustainable career in their field of choice.”

The goal of the transformation is to give artists and managers a chance to collaborate, Ravanas said. This is exactly what students in the class of Gary Yerkins— senior lecturer in the Music Department—are doing.

Students in Yerkins’ Recording and Performance Ensemble class have the opportunity to form bands, write songs and perform. Throughout the semester, they also work alongside the Marketing Talent Agency class, a branch of AEMMP Records, the first student-run record label in the U.S. founded in 1982, according to Ravanas.

The bands in the Recording class, which is a yearlong course, are required to construct a three to five-song EP, a 50-minute showcase, a music video and other media materials, Yerkins said. Students in the Talent Agency course, which was launched in spring 2011, pair with the bands and deal with the managerial side.

“Music students spend all year developing a product, and then nothing happens,” Yerkins said. “That’s kind of a waste of resources; but if they develop that product in coordination with students who know how to exploit it, well, the sky is the limit.”

Cody Scheppers, senior AEMM major, was one of the first to take the Talent Agency course in the spring and is also enrolled in it this fall. He is one of two main managers of the pop-rock band Idealist that grew out of last spring’s Recording course.

According to Scheppers, this semester’s Talent Agency class presented a proposal to the AEMM Department that outlined funding for Idealist to record an EP.

“Not only is it a great opportunity to meet new people in the department, but you can have a product to pitch outside of Columbia,” Scheppers said. “By the time that I graduate, I’ll know what it’s like to have worked with a band for almost a year-and-a-half now and [have had], for instance, licensing opportunities. It’s a chance to do all that within the umbrella of Columbia.”

In order to offer more industry-specific courses to non-AEMM majors, the department adjusted some of its curriculum and removed many prerequisites when possible, replacing them with a requirement of a specific number of credits, Ravanas said.

“We have completely redefined the curriculum along two principles—openness to non-majors and experimentation before concepts—allowing students to learn by doing, providing them a safe place for experimentation before they get the maturity that would allow them to understand that they need broad management framework,” he said.

The department also analyzed its teaching methods and realigned the order in which courses are to be taken, Ravanas said. Students are now allowed to begin with industry classes and progress to broader core management courses, according to Ravanas.

By partnering with Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, the department has developed other student-run projects, such as the Hokin Gallery, operated by students in the Exhibition Management class.

According to Ravanas, the AEMM Department is the largest minor-providing department at Columbia. With 160 minoring students this semester, the number of minors has grown 28 percent since fall 2009. The department is also the largest cultural management center in the U.S., he said.

“It speaks to how all of our students need the talent of the rest of our student body,” Kelly said. “Everyone needs marketing students and arts management students to help them bring their creative projects to fruition.”