- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Chris Schaefer worked five years as a disc jockey, and he studied night life enough to know he wanted a career in the music industry.

The 25-year-old Oklahoma City man had his immediate future mapped out: He’d move to Great Britain and attend the award-winning Academy of Contemporary Music, a school noted for developing industry professionals, and use what he learned as a springboard into a music-related job.

Then he found out he could do the same thing in his own backyard.

Last year, ACM partnered with the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond to open the music school’s first American venture. Known formally as ACM at UCO and informally as the “School of Rock,” the school will offer two-year degrees to students wanting to enter the music industry. It opened its doors on Monday to about 160 students.

Mr. Schaefer is so excited about the opportunity that he helped as officials scrambled to set up for the first semester.

“It was one of the weirdest coincidences, because it’s such a prestigious school in the U.K., and they’re bringing it to Oklahoma City, of all places,” Mr. Schaefer says. “There was absolutely no question as to if this was my direction or not.”

Director Phil Brookes founded ACM 12 years ago in Guildford, England. It has about 1,200 students and has partnered with universities in Italy and South Africa. Through industry connections, ACM leaders became acquainted with Scott Booker, who has spent more than two decades managing the Oklahoma City-based alternative rock band the Flaming Lips, and he knew of ACM’s interest in expanding into the United States.

Mr. Booker also knew higher education leaders in Oklahoma, including UCO President Roger Webb and Phil Moss, the state’s vice chancellor for academic affairs, who seemed interested in an ACM-style program. He brought the interested parties together at a music festival, and the idea quickly took root.

Mr. Webb figured a different approach to education required a different kind of chief executive, so he asked Mr. Booker to fill that role as well. (He will continue to manage the Flaming Lips.)

“My thought [when starting out] was, I could always go back to teach,” says Mr. Booker, who had planned to become a high school history teacher until a chance meeting with Flaming Lips band members in the 1980s. “I just never thought it would be like this.”

The school’s curriculum will be an Americanized version of the one taught at ACM in Great Britain. Students will be taught not just about music or production, but more serious subjects such as contracts, taxes and copyright laws, along with “simple things such as getting on and off stage quick,” Mr. Booker says.

Tuition and fees for a year at the school for an in-state student will be about $6,800, the same as for a regular UCO student.

Mr. Schaefer and his fellow students will work on state-of-the-art equipment, much of it sold to the school at discount prices by music manufacturers, some of which are sponsoring rooms at the school.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Mr. Schaefer says. “I looked at some of this equipment and [have] been a little bit overwhelmed. It’s just so complicated. All of this stuff is state-of-the-art. It’s stuff you’d find in a production studio.”

That’s the idea, Mr. Booker says.

“We’re teaching you your different options” within the industry, he says. “I wanted to be a guitar player, and I ended up managing the Flaming Lips.”

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