Steinhardt Study Abroad: In Brazil, Music Business Class Experiences Market on the Brink of Explosion

Sam Howard-Spink knows a thing or two about global music markets.

Born and raised in the London, two years spent in Hong Kong, then ultimately landing in New York City, the clinical assistant professor of music business at NYU Steinhardt has experienced, purchased, and studied music on almost every continent of the globe.  In 2006, two years into his doctoral studies, he developed a fascination with the vibrancy and potential of the Brazilian music market that continues to this day.

“Brazil is poised to invigorate the global music industry, not purely because it’s South America’s juggernaut economy in terms of population and resources, nor due solely to its rich musical traditions, but because conditions are ripe for growth,” says Howard-Spink.  “Brazilian investors are finally looking beyond exploitation of natural resources in favor of leveraging the country’s cultural assets.  In terms of possibilities, it’s like Silicon Valley in the early 90s.”

This thinking led Howard-Spink to create an intensive on-site course for his Music Business graduate students, Emerging Models and Markets for Music, in Rio de Janiero in cooperation with Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), one of the top business schools in Latin America.   The goal was to enable students to learn the theory and current research on emerging music markets, while gaining first hand, practical experience that could provide them with both enhanced knowledge and on-site networking opportunities.

Response was overwhelmingly positive and immediate.  Within weeks of announcing the class, there were 37 applicants for 30 spots.  Students spent the day in classes at FGV, where guest speakers included music industry executives from such organizations as Som Livre, the music arm of Brazil’s largest media company Globo, and Queremos, a Rio start-up that crowdfunds concerts.

“Prior to signing up, I knew at the very least I’d enjoy being in Brazil, but I was genuinely struck by how quickly we came to understand the vast distinctions in music business practices,” said Isaac Stonberg, who worked in A&R for Warner Music Group before enrolling in the Music Business program in September 2014.  “In Brazil, performances are more participatory; touring practices – and therefore sponsorship opportunities – are significantly different; and the market hasn’t experienced the widespread dominance of a few major distribution players, such as iTunes, Amazon or Spotify.  It’s a completely different game.”

Cultural activities for the class included a visit to a samba school practicing for Rio’s famous Carnivale celebration, a percussion lesson for the entire group, a visit to Sugarloaf Mountain, and networking parties with music business professionals.

According to Howard-Spink, the J-Term course is just the first step in what is slated to become an ongoing partnership with FGV.  The course, which will be offered on alternate years, will later include Brazilian-based FGV students learning alongside NYU Students.  And later in 2015, FGV will send a group of music executives to NYU Steinhardt for an intensive music business course at the Greenwich Village campus.

“In Brazil, it’s still uncommon to educate students in the business of the music and media industries, and FGV intends to be at the forefront of that scholarship,” said Erich Dietrich, Associate Dean for Global & Academic Programs and Assistant Vice President for NYU Global.   “NYU and FGV make natural partners, because both have well-established and proven pedagogical approaches, as well as locations in the world’s most exciting music markets.”

Until training in music business practices is more widespread, Howard-Spink believes that entrepreneurial-minded Steinhardt music business students will be well positioned to make the most of this and other emerging market opportunities.   And for their part, the students agree.

“I’d always pictured myself getting a job in New York or Los Angeles,” said Stonberg.  “But I could definitely live in Brazil.”

-Shonna Keogan