One of the things that became abundantly clear to Dave Kusek after he created and ran Berklee College of Music's online school 14 years ago was that degree, and even certificate, programs were financially out of reach for far too many people looking for a future in music.
"So there was a need, a very clear need, that folks around the world wanted to acquire a high-quality music education," said Kusek, a former vice president at the Boston music school.
By the time the Cohasset resident left Berklee in 2012, he knew he wanted to create an alternative to costly music degrees that would embody the new landscape of self-marketing through social media.
Kusek invested less than $500,000 of his money (he declined to specify the exact amount) in 2014 to launch an online music school, New Artist Model, that serves as a one-stop platform aimed at teaching independent artists to think of themselves as startups, not students. He runs the company from Cohasset and has a staff of three people.
"You no longer get picked by a record company to have a career; you have to create your career yourself, develop your audience, create a business around yourself in order to move forward with your art and your music," Kusek, 60, said. "I wanted to focus on how can I help people create a business around themselves that would allow them to pursue their dream of being a successful musician, however they define that."
Although it calls itself an online school, New Artist Model does not award degrees. Instead, it offers students the option of completing two education tiers, Essential and Master, that teaches artists to be better entrepreneurs, develop a fan base through social media, and ultimately turn those fans into their marketers, Kusek said.
"I think it's very true today that you don't need a degree to have a career in music," he said. "What you need is talent — that's number one — and the business savvy to be able to pull it off in this environment. . . . If you do have the talent and you understand the business side, you have a chance of creating a meaningful career for yourself."
In the two years since New Artist Model was launched, enrollment is approaching 1,100 members from 60 countries, with another 1,000 or so expected to enroll this year, he said. The two programs cost $500 and $2,000, respectively, and offer a year's worth of material, including webinars, live workshops, and downloadable guides that students may consume at their own pace.
The one-time fees also give students lifetime access to teaching content on the site and a forum where they can share ideas with other artists on anything from music licensing to creating merchandise, Kusek said.
"The worst thing you can do as a musician is pay $100,000 for education and then have no money left in the tank to invest in your career," he said. "It's not our goal to get you a degree you can hang on your wall; it's to get you the skills and the connection with people in the business that can help you move forward."