Berklee College of Music Puts Music Education In The Palm of Your Hand

Posted October 8

There are a lot of jerks out there with videos showing you how to play guitar. Searching for “guitar lesson” on YouTube turns up more than 1.6 million videos. Some of those are bogus, and some of those belong to the Berklee College of Music, one of America’s leading music universities.

Why is Berklee, with accolades and alumni that include Esperanza Spalding, Steve Vai and John Mayer, putting out YouTube videos? Those videos, and a slew of other content, are a gateway drug to grab new students who are maybe struggling with that minor 7th chord or simply browsing for an interview with Karmin (also Berklee alums). And, recently, Berklee made it even easier for those prospective students to find what they need with the launch of a mobile app, Berkleemusic, which syncs up to the university’s rapidly growing online education program, also called Berkleemusic.

The Berkleemusic app is a sleek little number, which, for free, delivers a tasting menu of the online school’s lessons, interviews, videos and news. Launched just a couple of weeks ago, the app has about 4,000 downloads with 9,000 video plays and 53,000 section views. Not bad, but also not great for a couple of weeks on the market. But the raw numbers aren’t a big deal for Mike King, the online school’s Director of Marketing. “I want this to be an engagement tool, I want to blow this thing way up,” King says over the phone. “I want people to be at a party and look this thing up and start talking.” (King is also Berkleemusic faculty, teaching music business.)

Short of hitting up campus parties, King thinks it’s working. The Berkleemusic online school was created in 2002 as a way to share the college’s education with a wider community of musicians. The division offered just four courses when it started. Berkleemusic now offers more than 150 different online courses and certificate programs from music playing to production to business and more. “In many ways, we’re tasked with the growth of Berklee,” King says. The school is limited by geography, so expansion has to go digital.

The Berklee College brand has helped pull in new recruits. Need some playing tips? King thinks that a video with the Berklee stamp of approval is more likely to get traffic than some random pro with a camera. It’s a decent bet; Berklee’s YouTube channel has more than 35,000 subscribers and more than 17 million views. Videos are also far and away the most popular section in the Berklee app. Of the top seven, five are guitar-based. (The number one video is how to play that minor 7th, incidentally.)

It’s unclear if the app is driving people to enroll in the online school, but the program certainly isn’t hurting for students. The Berkleemusic program offers 12-week courses of no more than 20 students. Each class is taught by full-time Berklee faculty using a number of online tools (video and audio, discussion boards, private messages, interactive exercises, etc). Some classes actually come with certificates (certified through NEASC, the same organization that approves Harvard’s programs). Even though the mobile app is free to download, online courses run from $1,200 to $1,400 with additional fees for certificate programs.

It’s been pretty easy to get the faculty on board, says King. While digital eucation has been a tough sell for some traditional university, Berklee’s transition has been smooth: It’s a little easier to convince a professor who can shred that the Internet is a good thing.