TA music school makes a play for business

The first Israeli institution of its kind will teach musicians and other members of the industry how to navigate commerce.

gal and nitzani 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
gal and nitzani 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
So you want to be a rock ’n’ roll star? Then listen now to what I say Just get an electric guitar Then take some time and learn how to play And with your hair swung right And your pants too tight It’s gonna be all right Then it's time to go downtown Where the agent man won't let you down Sell your soul to the company
Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware And in a week or two If you make the charts The girls’ll tear you apart
– The Byrds, 1965
Some things are still the same and some have changed in the 45 years since The Byrds offered their sardonic flow chart in their 1965 hit “So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star.”
True, you still need to come up with a song and the right appearance surely won’t hurt.
But the whole bit about agents and companies and charts are rapidly becoming relics of the past, according to Yair Nitzani, veteran member of seminal Israeli rock band Tislam, and the co-founder of Media Buzz, the brand new Tel Aviv college for music management which just opened its doors for its first semester.
“You no longer need a big record company, a million dollar studio or a multi-year contract to get your music heard. Recording equipment became inexpensive and you can now record at home. The whole A&R business, deciding who is signed or not – has become irrelevant. You can go and record yourself, it’s very easy,” explained Nitzani last week at a neighborhood eatery in the Montefiore neighborhood of Tel Aviv near his office, a few days after returning from performing with Tislam in Los Angeles.
“I didn’t say that getting your record heard is any easier,” he said. “There’s also a different model – in a way, we’ve gone back to the era of the single. You don’t need an album, you record a single, put it on the Internet, on the cell phone, on YouTube, and suddenly you have five million views or something.
Of course, the million dollar question is where is the money from that?” Media Buzz hopes to provide some answers to that and to other questions. The first Israeli school to offer a nuts and bolts course for musicians as well as individuals interesting in working in the entertainment industry in management, booking, production and promotions, the school is designed to help an artist or industry professional maneuver through the new media mine fields of contracts, record labels and self promotion.
“You can’t ignore the fact that someone like Justin Beiber has millions of hits on YouTube. It’s a viral thing, girls all over the world like him, they don’t need a record company or radio to tell them. It’s a new game,” said Nitzani, who also has vast experience in the business side of the music industry as head of the Hed Artzi label in the late 1980s.
While insisting that today’s artists still need some of the conventional framework, like good PR, marketing and promotion, some of the criteria and needs have changed dramatically.
“Take the sound issue,” said Nitzani. “In the ’60s and ’70s, artists and labels spent millions of dollars on studio time, trying to get the perfect sound quality. Today kids listen to music on cell phones, in mono, on a speaker the size of a coin. I’m not saying if it’s good or bad, but they don’t care how it sounds.”
The 51-year-old Nitzani says he was inspired to launch Media Buzz after years of being asked industry-related questions for inquisitive musicians and people eager to break into the entertainment field.
“For many years, I’ve gotten phone calls and queries asking for advice – ‘I want to be a singer, writer, composer. I want to work in the music business. I want to work in a record company. What do I do?’” said Nitzani.
“And all those years, I kept saying to myself that it’s really too bad that in Israel, there’s no school to learn the entertainment business. One day, I got up and said, ‘Let’s start one.’ The catalyst for the venture took place when Nitzani mentioned his plan to his friend Alon Gal, the widely known “coach” of Channel 2’s “Mishpaha Horeget.”
“He’s really a big music fan and has worked as a coach for artists and at labels. When I told him I was going to start the school, he said, ‘I’ve been dreaming of this for years. I want to be your partner.’ He’s a real pusher and a guy who knows to move things, and now we’re a reality,” said Nitzani.
The school is initially offering a six-month course involving once-a-week, four-hour sessions on subject ranging from public relations and booking to music production and contract negotiations.
“What’s happened is that with the change in technology, there’s a lot more freedom in the new model of people recording themselves, owning their own rights,” said Nitzani. “But that means that they need to know a lot more than they knew in the past. Back then, you had a record company that took care of everything – and took some of the money, sometimes a major part of the money. Now you can be independent, but you need to know what you’re doing.
“The record company used to deal with distribution, promotion, marketing, manufacturing. Today, you need to know who to work with regarding distribution on the Internet and cell phones, marketing through Facebook and Twitter, that’s what we’re trying to teach.”
To achieve that goal, Nitzani and Gal have rounded up some of the top local industry pros to come in and lecture the students – including Alex Giladi, the chairman of Keshet TV, singer Izhar Ashdot, managers and promoters Michael Tapuach and Asher Pikansky, and promoter Gad Oron, who has brought Elton and John and Rod Stewart to Israel.
But perhaps more useful than the lectures will the hands-on experience that Nitzani said the students will receive. During the course, students will also go on field trips and be assigned projects that simulate realjob challenges. They’ll also be exposed to companies that work in the fields they hope to enter.
“We’re in contact with radio stations, production companies, entertainment channels, recording and dubbing studios, everyone we know in the business, and our students will be sent out for internships with them,” said Nitzani. “There’s a lot of ‘buzz’ around the school in the industry – companies are saying we need people who can speak the language and know the terms.”
An end-of-course open house will bring heads of companies to meet with the students in the hopes of matching up employers and employees for those interested in pursuing careers in the entertainment field.
According to Nitzani, 25 students have signed up for the school’s first term, with credits from the course being applicable to university BA programs.
“Our course could be for anybody who wants to be in the business as a manager, as a producer, music producer, anyone who wants to know the business side of the entertainment business, not just the music business,” said Nitzani.
“I think it will also help musicians be aware of what they’re getting into and what they’re being asked to sign. I’m not saying they’re not going to sign it, because people are signing things they know they’re not happy with, but at least they’ll know what they’re signing,” he said, adding that his goal wasn’t to turn artists into businesspeople “I don’t want them to lose their artistic energy and freedom – the desire to be an artist. Sometime, an artist is so aware of the business side, that you talk to them and think ‘do you really want to sing?’” Despite the vast changes that he’s seen in the music industry since he signed his first record contract as a young musician more than 30 years ago, Nitzani said that he was content with the way things worked out for him and Tislam.
Tislam did it quite well. There are things that could be done differently, but I’m not sure we would have been as successful. I wouldn’t change anything,” he said.
“Were we cheated? Oh yeah, sure we were. We had our share of bad contracts, but it was part of the process.”
For more information on Media Buzz, go to www.mediabaz.co.il