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Classroom as Company, Company as Classroom

We are enthralled with the idea of classroom as company, company as classroom in the virtual environment. We believe think we can make this work as a model for making “industry” out of the creative enterprise. It’s simple: songwriter writes song, it’s recorded, both artist and song are monetized, artist gets career, song creates revenue streams, more music/visuals get made, more communities are created, and worker/stockholders share profit. The model is scalable and replicable.

This is virtual free enterprise built around the exploitation of various rights: copyrights, trademarks, contractual rights, and personal rights. The data resulting from the process and the activities themselves creates value and will reveal the roadmap for sustainability. If you pay attention to it, manage it, administer it, and if all functions are more or less done efficiently, you will have a virtual media company, created from a classroom. In fact, the classroom always attaches to the company.

The company is a product of education and it is a purveyor of it. Education is, in fact, one of its products. The name of the game is to LEARN how organizations work and how the functions of that organization mesh to produce specific, intended, innovative, and creative results as you engage in that very behavior. It’s not just a matter of learning by doing, it’s doing by learning.

The class is organized in groups, in departments: company management, creative services, production, A&R, marketing, distribution, sales, merchandise, special products, international, finance, legal/business affairs, aggregation/compilations, broadcast (audio, video, etc.), education, customer relations, HR, etc. The point is to start with the core functions, the core departments, have the students sign up for their choice. Ning functionality pertains to the groups, the groups do their job with respect to the creative work that comprises the company’s productions and services.

These departments can take on outside business as well. The marketing department should act entrepreneurially and seek business, growing as necessary, although not autonomously. We seek a corporate character that is entrepreneurial and creative in every respect. Combined with respect for those in company itself as well as respect for “customers”. But when customers are members of a community, that’s a different level.

Each group could have its official, employed members and that group could, in addition to doing the work of the enterprise as related to their field, and outside work as time and resources allow, they could also create other groups of “interns” or “volunteers” from the Internet at large. These “interns” wouldn’t share in the profits as the members would, but they are being trained to eventually join the community, so they receive value for their participation. In this way, the “classroom/company” is not closed, although it does have three levels of participation: administrative, members, guests.

Music creates fans, short for fanatics, and that is one inspired customer. The power of this community of fanatics is clearly unlimited. Suppose you were to be able to organize those people according to their individual talents. And suppose there was this three-dimensional quality to it. For example, the designer in the creative services department has her own business on the side as a photographer. Well, the community celebrates her photography by visiting the gallery of it on the site. The focus is on the company’s “products”, but since all participants have their own user page, they may engage in their own enterprise.

You learn it as you do it, like a machine assembling itself from the actions of the community, of the participants. In this way the business evolves organically, from essentially nothing. The only real requirement for this business to be created is for a songwriter to wake up and pick up her guitar. Do you see it? It’s all about the INDIVIDUAL power, and the business part comes with communities of individuals aligned by common purpose and shared values. This is just a fancy way of saying, “I like your music, dude.”

An industry pro oversees each “department”. The culture of the organization is built around music. The people in the company/ classroom will live with the music and the artists and give thought to their responsibilities to them. How do you think about this need that this product creates? I want the videos and the music to be omnipresent on the site. I want the virtual community to be a creative community.

The thin air is the creative act. And this makes business – it makes a beeline to business. It is instant business. No capital is required to make this business. It may cost a little money to engage in it, and a lot of money if the economy of scale warrants it, but there are no barriers to entry to this business.

In this virtual company will be individuals with their own user pages for their own stuff, including radio and tv broadcast, their own players, their own materials, their own blogs. In this social community, the members have roles and responsibilities, and share the acceptance and the allegiance to a common goal. Mission, values, goals align. “I may not make the music but I sure as hell love to market it. In fact, I am the John Lennon of marketing.”

I think we can get 50 dedicated people to populate this “company” and actually make something happen. It is far more efficient than every artist and would be artist trying to reach every other person through their MySpace page.

Right now it’s hard enough to convince artists/musicians that they are walking businesses. And the next challenge is to teach them to treat it this way. They are entrepreneurs, they are small businesses, in the very act of what they do. They have the essential trait of all entrepreneurs: they are completely convinced, and they have a way of improving their skills and approach and a way of measuring it. They understand method in the way that a child understands their native language: it is just natural, a neural wiring that will never go away. For the musician, it is called practice or rehearsal. Musicians can work on a problem for 6 hours straight and never lose concentration or the overwhelming desire to attain a certain, specific proficiency, one that is so refined that the uninitiated might not even be able to identify it. There is no ADD in the practice room.

But not all artists, as small businesses, need engage in the SAME activities to monetize their work. That is, rather than all artists being all things (creator, producer, manufacturer, distributor, marketer, PR, broadcasting, etc.), why not encourage the nonperformance entrepreneurs to provide those functions. These too are called businesses, and there are a LOT of them in the constellation of the entertainment industry. In the classroom as company there will be all functions and all aspects of the media business, a 360 degree approach. All sectors may be dealt with.

For every healthy artist there are ten jobs. And what is the fuel of this economic engine? Talent and the act of creation, it is as simple as that. In our model, talent is not just the songwriter or the artist, it is every person in the organization. Every individual will be prized for the same uniqueness and originality, the same dedication and passion, as the artist and the songwriter. The songwriter/artist creates the businesses but someone has to manage those businesses, and that can either be the artist or someone the artist has contracted with, the entrepreneur, the nonperforming business oriented person who loves music and share the values of the artist and the others in the enterprise. Our idea seeks to elevate these people as we elevate artists to embrace the reality of them being businesses.

Employment is created out of the either of creativity. What is music if it is not the ultimate act of innovation, of individuality, of uniqueness? And it’s not just music that makes enterprise. Ideas in all fields make enterprise. Engineers are revered for their creative leaps, not their drawings. Architects are known for their aesthetic sense, not the plumbing of the building. Surgeons are brilliant because of the elegance of their work, not their ability to sew.

Our philosophy is sound. What we’re working on is the implementation of it in a virtual environment, in a social community made up of people who share the same values, who are in the same “tribe” as it were – the tribe of music and creativity. It is a way of turning the business model on its head. It’s not about prizing structure and doctrine, its about prizing creativity and innovation. The structure and doctrine is there, and in my little classroom/co world it’s a sidebar world, a sort of reference library for the entrepreneur. Leaning the rules is something you do by doing something and bumping into the rules.

Like broadcasting music. We want to broadcast music. And we bump into the rule of paying ASCAP and Sound Exchange. Do we ignore these rules? No, we don’t, because they are founded in law and adherence to them makes the world go around. These are good rules, and they actually work for us. They provide us with economic advantage. We then learn about how to be in compliance and why.

And we do this a brick at a time. And the whole group is observing the work of its parts. And we are a community, a group of individuals participating in this virtual reality game. Only it’s not a game. It’s business built around the creative acts of all involved, from the musician to the business affairs person. One can be just as creative in the latter as in the former role.

This idea and structure is built on pre-existence and the future of what we know. Music, business, social networking, the advantages of the Internet, the workings of a virtual community, these are preexisting and existing conditions. The idea of a virtual enterprise uniting these “existences” is just a matter of aggregating resources and tools, not a matter of actually creating either one. The resources and tools already exist.

The glue that holds the enterprise together is the shared desire of the participants to be a part of it, to care about it, to find meaning in the philosophy and actions it reflects and engages in. It will only be possible to work in this company if you care and you elect to accept the responsibilities participation incurs.

The trick is to create a structure and a process template in which every position has a detailed job description and a specific function in the larger enterprise. The trick it so create the environment and the process check lists to make the gears mesh so that the machine works efficiently and in harmony. It’s company as symphony orchestra. Such a structure accommodates all levels of proficiency and expertise. But as is common in other areas, the beginners become intermediates and the intermediates become experts, with all gradations in between, depending on time, resources, and training.

In this model, since the work force is virtual, the choices are unlimited, and presumably the quality will be high on every level of the enterprise. We can use diagnostic tools to channel applicants (or students) to the appropriate positions.

We will engage a dozen industry “mentors” to monitor and interact with each “group” or department. And we should have a “teacher’s blog” or “instruction blog” for every department. Each group is charged with creating its own culture of communication and interaction, and the development of an approach to their responsibilities that not only meshes with the other departments but achieves unique and innovation methodology in respect of those responsibilities.

If you think of this as an academic “program”, the departments become courses, on going courses, and the mentor is the teacher, and the courses are taught simultaneously, concurrently, rather than consecutively and without direct reference to what precedes it and what succeeds it. In this new model, the connections are obvious and all part of the same enterprise, all part of singular, shared goals.

Classroom Inc. is a way of learning organically, of creating commerce organically, of using the power of social networking to create groups based on shared values as part of a large enterprise, a larger group. The idea is to find talent, not just musical talent, but all talents related to the enterprise of monetizing creative work. The idea is to “train” this talent to make it aware of its opportunities not only individually but in relation to the group.

There’s another component: the production training component that involves cameras in the production suites in the AECG facility in LA. AECG provides all sorts of post-production services, including licensing, audio/video post-production including new music, voice-overs, and preparation for all media broadcasting. From graphics, to music supervision, to audio recording and mixing, to film scoring and to all forms production music applications, almost all areas of AV post production are provided.

The learning is in the real environment and it is directly connected to the job market. We have access to the employers in a way that most people do not. This has value. There are sites that already teach every single program under the sun (http://www.lynda.com/) so we don’t need to recreate that wheel. What we will offer is the virtual participation in the real world as it is happening. This is the Virtual Apprentice sector of Artists House Classroom, Inc. (classroom as company, company as classroom).

In summary, the Classroom, Inc. approach to learning and doing provides the student with a way to enter the businesses of popular culture in a way that combines the instruction and the theory with the practice of it and its experiential exploration. Remember, this is an introductory course, one that touches on all of the elements of business (marketing, accounting, economics, management, marketing, planning, entrepreneurship), as well as the legal, copyright and contractual rights issues involved. Every topic in the Intro course has a course or courses in the curriculum.

The idea is to show the structure right up front to the students and cause them to participate in it. They will see it. They will work in it. They may even see some results. But more than anything they will see what is necessary, what is involved, and where everything fits going forward. But the system is more than an index of what’s to come. It’s a context for what’s to come as well. It allows the structure to emerge from the goals, from the “big picture”. It allows the student to understand where everything fits in relationship to everything else.

Simply put, the classroom as company, company as classroom idea is the horizontal reality and practice of the vertical “fields” or “courses” in a typical curriculum. Typically, subjects are taught in a train. In our concept, they are taught and learned concurrently, as they inter-relate, as they each affect the totally mechanism, the overall organization.

Further to this, we accomplish these results by using the social networking, group organizational technologies that young people currently employ on the Internet. Our course basically operates like Facebook plus Blackboard, like a social networking site and a course management system co-joined, creating an actual media company as a structure for these methodologies. The educational component is presented in the form of “topics”, and these topics are organized in the same way that things are organized in a course management system: subjects, objectives, assignments, props (PPT, etc.) texts, media, discussion boards, student posts, testing/grading mechanism.

If we can perfect this model, that is, be able to make each of the “groups” organized according to responsibility and product/services/administration flow; if we can connect them to one another; if we can perfect the organizational structure and the structure of responsibilities as they relate to the processes necessary for the organization to work, we will have a model that not only gets the job done but it encourages creative solutions. The challenge is to create a structure that is tight enough to cause a work flow to happen but loose enough to allow for creative solutions to achieve the ultimate purposes of that work flow.

The idea is a structure for virtual apprenticeship as a step to virtual entrepreneurship. The students would be learning as apprentices would learn but they have a teacher and a reference library in the back room, always on standby to help, to explain, to provide the context for the activity. And the student can roam free in these libraries, in these departments, in the entire enterprise, even as they have specific responsibilities – a job – in respect of it.

Topics are covered “in class”, which is 3 hours a week. The company is a 24/7 operation that happens asynchronously for the most part, although the groups could meet via video conferencing as they see fit. Students will be dealing with different “topics” at different times depending on their department and the work that they are doing. For example, the business affairs department will get to the topic “legal issues” before the marketing department, and the reverse is true.

In this way the class is learning more organically, less linearly, creating many more points of view and various ways of looking at the same issues. This is a much richer way to learn and much more individualistic as well. It causes the student to develop as an individual more quickly by playing to their own strengths and shaking their “interests” like a snow globe, so that they are all floating around them at once, making it easier to choose where they want to start, but always aware of where they are in the bigger picture, including the other elements/topics that they need to know about in order to fully understand the world they are in.

Classroom as enterprise and enterprise as classroom makes both better places to be, and they both improve as a result of the reflection of the other. Academic integrity is enhanced and respected and enterprise is elevated to be more thoughtful, fully integrated, and better organized. Theory is tethered to practice and practice is made perfect by the application of theory and accumulated knowledge. This makes for a humane and efficient world, where learning is prized and art and commerce co-exist to the betterment of the economy and the culture.


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Published: 07/29/2009

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