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August 27, 2009

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America rocks to a British tune

BRITAIN'S prestigious Academy of Contemporary Music has crossed the ocean to launch courses in the United States for aspiring music industry professionals, writes Murray Evans.

For five years, Chris Schaefer worked as a disc jockey and he'd studied nightlife enough to know he wanted a career in the music industry.

The 25-year-old Oklahoma City man had his immediate future planned out: He'd move to Britain and attend the award-winning Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM), a school noted for developing industry professionals, and use what he learned as a springboard into a music-related job.

Then he found out he could do the same thing in his own backyard.

Last year, the ACM partnered with the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) in Edmond to open the music school's first United States venture.

Known formally as ACM at UCO and informally as the School of Rock, the school offers two-year degrees to students wanting to enter the music industry and recently opened its doors to about 160 students.

Schaefer is so excited about the opportunity that he helped this summer as officials scrambled to set up for the first semester.

"It was one of the weirdest coincidences, because it's such a prestigious school in the UK and they're bringing it to Oklahoma City, of all places," Schaefer says. "There was absolutely no question as to if this was my direction or not."

Director Phil Brookes founded the ACM 12 years ago in Guildford, England. It now has about 1,200 students and has partnered with universities in Italy and South Africa. Through industry connections, ACM leaders became acquainted with Scott Booker, who has spent more than two decades managing Oklahoma City-based alternative rock band The Flaming Lips, and he knew of ACM's interest in expanding into the United States.

Booker also knew Oklahoma higher education leaders, including UCO President Roger Webb and Phil Moss, the state's vice chancellor for academic affairs, who seemed interested in an ACM-style program. At a music festival, he brought the interested parties together and the idea quickly took root.

Webb figured a different approach to education required a different kind of CEO, so he asked Booker to fill that role as well (he will continue to manage The Flaming Lips).

"My thought was, I could always go back to teach," says Booker, who planned to become a high school history teacher until a chance meeting with Flaming Lips band members in the 1980s. "I just never thought it would be like this."

State of the art

The school's curriculum will be an Americanized version of the one taught at the ACM in Britain.

Students will be taught not just about music or production, but more serious subjects such as contracts, taxes and copyright law, along with "simple things such as getting on and off stage quick," Booker says.

The tuition and fee costs for a year at the school for an in-state student will be about US$6,800, the same as for a regular UCO student.

Schaefer and his fellow students will work on state-of-the-art equipment, much of it sold to the school at discount prices by music manufacturers, some of which are sponsoring rooms at the school.

"It's absolutely amazing," Schaefer says. "I looked at some of this equipment and been a little bit overwhelmed. It's just so complicated. All of this stuff is state-of-the-art. It's stuff you'd find in a production studio."

That's the idea, Booker says.

"We're teaching you your different options" within the industry, Booker says. "I wanted to be a guitar player and I ended up managing The Flaming Lips."


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