Music is Everywhere

As a classical and jazz musician, Darko Velichkovski has performed with celebrities such as jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain and soprano Leontyne Price. Born in Yugoslavia, he began playing clarinet at age seven and came to the United States on a scholarship to Juilliard. After graduating, he toured nationally and internationally for a number of years as a performer while making contacts in the music business and building his management and production skills.

On the business side, he has organized and produced events, concerts and productions for individuals and groups that included everyone from Placido Domingo, Faith Hill and Alison Kraus, to The Chieftains and the Vienna Boys Choir.

Darko Velichkovski in conference room Darko Velichkovski portrait Darko Velichkovski talking with student

It was during his touring days that he developed a love for teaching music industry. Today, it is his love for music and his desire to empower the next generation to use their knowledge and skills to bring music to the public that motivates him as he directs the Music Industry program in the WVU College of Creative Arts.

There are a relatively small number of universities across the United States that have graduate programs in music industry or music business. Even fewer have online programs like the Master of Arts in Music Industry at WVU, which is offered exclusively online.

“I started out performing and then began teaching music industry gradually,” Velichkovski said. “When you are touring, one of the natural things to do when you go to a new city or a new country is to do a master class, a seminar, or perform for the students at a music academy, conservatory or college in the area.”

“Then you get feedback from the students and faculty at those institutions and you begin to feel that you’re leaving something important, something really meaningful with them. The more you teach, the more you want to teach and people start to call you and ask you to teach. In addition, I believe that we who are in the music industry are responsible for building the next generation of leaders in our industry. Today, that’s my motivation—that my students become the next generation of leaders in the music industry and that their involvement in and understanding of the industry is deeply rooted in their love for music.”

“One of the mantras that I keep repeating to my students is ‘Business because of music, not music because of business’ – meaning that we shouldn’t do music so business can prosper, but we should do business so music and artists can prosper and continue to enrich, move and inspire all of us.”

After building music industry programs at several other universities, Velichkovski came to WVU three years ago to create the School of Music’s music industry program. One reason he came to West Virginia was because this area of the United States is traditionally underrepresented in the music industry. He wanted to create an opportunity for young people in this region, many of whom probably never think of entering the music business at all.

The online Master of Arts in Music Industry at WVU prepares students for careers in music business by providing them with an understanding and mastery of the regulations underlying the business, as well as courses in management, production, legal issues, and emerging technologies.

The students also participate in a variety of management activities, often related to WVU’s student-run record label, “Mon Hills Records.” Through the record label, students work with different performing artists in the region so that they can gain hands-on experience.

“I believe that we who are in the music industry are responsible for building the next generation of leaders in our industry. Today, that’s my motivation—that my students become the next generation of leaders in the music industry and that their involvement in and understanding of the industry is deeply rooted in their love for music.”

“We started our record label with traditional, regional American music, because West Virginia is the cradle of some of the oldest American music, including traditional country, old time, and bluegrass,” Velichkovski said. “We wanted to start with that and build the foundation on that. We have signed local artists such as Country singer Steve Smith, the WVU Bluegrass Band, the High Street Jazz Band, old-time musician Rachel Eddy, the acoustic string trio 18 Strings, local hip-hop artist Chris Allen, and a few others.”

“This year we are beginning to branch out into other genres, but we still feel strongly about American musical traditions and the artists who rely on those traditions. Regardless of what genre they are in now—whether it is pop or rock or hip-hop – we want artists we work with to have that,” he said.

The WVU Music Industry Master of Arts program accepts students from all backgrounds and all majors. It is not necessary that they play an instrument, although Velichkovski says that is helpful because it allows them to understand deeply the origin of the product they are going to be dealing with.

“I would say that the most important prerequisite for entering our program is a deep love for music and for the music industry,” he said. “If you love it, you don’t work a day in your life, although you are immersed in it constantly because it requires and consumes all of you.”

At the end of their coursework, students complete a Capstone Project, which is a real-world professional project that allows them to use all of the skills they have learned.

“They may create an album with a local artist, or organize a tour, or create a music festival, or make a score for a movie,” Velichkovski said. “Then they have to protect it legally, license it, sell it, distribute it. All of their skills come together and this is really the beginning of their new career. It’s not just a school project, it’s a professional project that has their name on it.”

Velichkovski emphasizes that he is building an entrepreneurial mindset in his students, but that this mindset and the relevant competencies are different in music industry than in other industries.

“Our product is music and music is a very subjective thing. It’s illusive and emotional. It’s not just a can of Coke. Our product is a deeply personal expression of the artist.”

“Music is a vast, multi-billion dollar, international business, but it’s an extraordinary business because music is really a miraculous thing. We don’t understand why it makes us smile or cry or dance, or how exactly it changes how we feel. It’s very different than any other business.”

“Music is everywhere—on our phones, tablets, computers, TV sets, movie screens. There is no commercial without music, there is no TV program without music, there is no movie without music, and there is no video game without music.”

“In the master’s program, we cover all of these areas, and all the other platforms where music is present, because music is everywhere around us and so are opportunities for our students.”