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About Berklee Online

Berklee Online brings the best of Berklee College of Music to students around the world. Study Berklee's curriculum, with Berklee's faculty, in a small and supportive online community.

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Ron Kadish

The Joy of Entrepreneurship: E. Michael Harrington’s Quirky, Erudite View of Copyright and the Music Business

“I tell my students that they have been in business their whole lives,” exclaims E. Michael Harrington, instructor at Berklee Online, Music Business Program Faculty Chair at SAE Institute Nashville, and music business renaissance man, “they just didn’t know it.” Harrington knows what being in the business means in this time of transition. He ties together the art, craft, and commerce threads that give context in uncertain times.

One of the world’s leading experts on music copyright, Harrington has used his broad knowledge to act as consultant and expert witness on a dizzying array of cases involving everyone from the Dixie Chicks to Tupac Shakur. He has pondered how copyright affects Pintrest, how medieval composition practices speak to contemporary rights issues, and how to keep copyright as a force for encouraging, not quashing creativity. Using music history as a guide, he has advocated for more thoughtful approaches that better reflect the way musicians make music, including a blanket license for samples.

“Artists are leaving money on the table or simply lining lawyers’ pockets. It’s not that people who sample recordings can’t create things themselves; sampling is part of their creative process,” explains Harrington. “You can trace this back to the parody mass of the Middle Ages. The tenor line had to be note-for-note from someone else’s piece. That was the law, which could not be more different from what we have now. The Dixie Chicks, for example, got sued over three words.”

Harrington’s varied interests spring from where music and technology inform one another. Technology has long been apart of his creative process: He was an early adopter of computer-generated notation, and one of the first to use it in a doctoral composition project. He continues to be a curious and passionate user of social media, fascinated by the digital world’s social and artistic repercussions. And he savors teaching online.

“One of the great things about teaching online is its asynchronous aspects, matched with live interaction. You can cycle back, reexamine what’s been discussed,” Harrington reflects. “In a physical classroom, I can be there from one to three in the afternoon, and leave nothing behind. You need both, the on- and off-line relationships, to empower people.”

The students Harrington works to empower hail from all walks of life: “A hip hop guy from Virginia, a woman who’s a manager in London, a guitarist in Tokyo,” to name a few. “The diversity really adds to the conversation, and the knowledge base is astounding. I get their input on, say, how a guy can sell band merchandise better in Buenos Aires.”

Harrington harnesses this divergent backgrounds to generate new and intriguing ideas for students’ projects. “The fun comes from the diversity,” he reflects. “If someone knows nothing about hip hop, I encourage my students to let them hear that hip hop track and listen to their left-field input about sales. It’s not their world, and for that reason, they have fresh suggestions."

Harrington relishes his students’ projects and encourages out-of-the-box thinking. One example: A student working with a Philadelphia classical ensemble decided, with input from his classmates, to push the group to make merchandise. The classical musicians resisted the idea of shirts and mugs at first, but then began to think seriously about it.

These shifts in thinking, the openness to trying something new lie at the heart of entrepreneurship, and Harrington’s broad and deep thinking proves an excellent guide. “I tell students, these are the greatest times,” he enthuses. “You may not come to the same conclusions an hour from now. There are all these disparate resources, but they can all go so well together. You can’t imagine just doing one thing professionally anymore.”

Watch Dr. Harrington discuss the wild world of copyright and its history, as part of Berklee Online’s Faculty Open House series

About Berklee Online

Berklee Online is the online continuing education division of Berklee College of Music, delivering access to Berklee’s acclaimed curriculum from anywhere in the world.  Berklee Online’s award-winning online courses, multi-course certificate programs, and degree programs are accredited and taught by the college’s world-renowned faculty, providing lifelong learning opportunities to people interested in music and working in the music industry.