Student Spotlight: Mary Connor on The Popakademie Experience

Student Spotlight: Mary Connor on The Popakademie Experience

Left to right: Kaitlin Logan (CCC student), Mary Connor, Amy Crowther, and Angus Bates (both Leeds School of Music students who Mary visited after the program)

Popakademie is a music business simulation experience that’s part of the Music Industry Immersion: Music Business Workshop Study Abroad course (BUSE 337) where students from around the world travel to Mannheim, Germany to start a record label from the ground up.

The Popakademie experience is gameified, so as part of the exercise, every hour’s worth of time is equal to one month. During that time, an international team of students from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, London, Ireland, and the United States learn how to start a record label, and about all the responsibilities that come with doing so, including negotiating a recording contract, interacting with artist managers, developing detailed marketing plans, negotiating with sponsors, dodging paparazzi, and navigating legal issues that arise along the way.

We had the opportunity to connect with Mary Connor, a junior in the Music Business Management program who participated in the experience this semester. Since her Popakademie week in Germany, Mary has actually had the chance to return to Europe to reconnect with the students she met.

Tell us about yourself!

Growing up, I always had a love for music. I was a competitive athlete throughout high school, and because of this, I never really had much time to learn how to play a musical instrument. However, I did invest a lot of my free time in going to concerts and festivals. This is what made me want to study music business and aim for a career in this industry. I’m still not 100% sure of what I want to do career-wise, but I know that I want to work with live music in some way, shape, or form, whether that is planning live events and tours, working at a venue, being a music journalist, or anything, really. I would be happy doing any of it.

How would you describe your experience with Popakademie?

My experience with the Popakademie course was incredible. There is so much that I could say about my time in Mannheim and the program itself, but we’d be here for hours. Short and simple, it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but by far the most rewarding. I learned so much about the music business, and I learned so much about myself. When you are put into such an intense environment and with a group of people who you don’t know–who, on top of that, are from different countries and speak different languages–it can be a bit scary. But I think it is really beautiful how in that environment and situation, it is nearly impossible not to form intentional and lasting friendships. We quickly became one big team and family, and I couldn’t have done it without them. The program at Popakademie was only four days long, but I left it having gained an unbelievable amount knowledge and experience in the music business.

What was it like working with students from different cultural backgrounds? Did you ever find barriers that you needed to work through to get a job done?

This aspect of the course is my favorite! Getting to work with students from all over Europe was so awesome to me. I don’t think I stopped smiling for the entire first day of being there because of how cool they all were. In the simulation, the record label that I was a part of included students from Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Everyone in the program spoke English, but I quickly realized that certain words we use in America don’t mean the same thing as the English that the students from Europe practice. On top of the language barrier, trying to understand some of the other students’ accents was extremely difficult at times. While there were moments when it was difficult and rather frustrating trying to communicate with each other, figuring these things out only made us a stronger team.

What types of assignments were given to you and your team?

Oh gosh, I was not at all expecting to receive some of the assignments that were handed to us. Without giving too much away for anyone reading this who might want to apply for the course in the future (do it!), we were given assignments on anything and everything music business related. First, we had to create our record label, and from then on we worked with artist managers to sign artists, we created budgets, sponsorship deals, planned single and albums releases, organized tours, created publishing deals and held press conferences, amongst other things. Truly anything that comes to mind when you think of the music business, we did it.

How has this experience inspired you in your future career goals and aspirations?

This experience has inspired me in my future career goals and aspirations tremendously. It has made me want to try harder and work harder. I have wanted to work in the music industry, preferably with live events and touring, since I was 15 years old. I chose to pursue my education at Columbia College Chicago because of the endless opportunities that this school offers. This experience at Popakademie made me fully realize why I want to work in the music industry. While I don’t want to deal with budgets or financials in this business, I am glad that I faced the tasks involved with those jobs and that I was able to experience what goes into those particular jobs. I also know that I want to explore handling live events and tours more, as well as marketing and publishing. This experience has inspired me to do more and try harder so that I can achieve my dreams in this career.

Since your experience, you chose to visit some of the friends you made in Europe. What have you learned from forming connections with the other students?

Ahh yes!! I’ve got a case of the travel bug. I was lucky to get to back to Europe about a month after Popakademie to visit two of the students from the course, who live in the city of Leeds in the United Kingdom! I got to shadow them at their college, Leeds College of Music, and engage in class discussions in a few of their lectures. It was very interesting to see how we are learning the same subjects and taking very similar courses, but also how different their curriculum is than mine at CCC in the music business program. I have learned so much from forming connections with the other students. They are all doing such amazing things already in the industry and to this day, I am constantly learning from them.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I talk to multiple students from the program every day. And what’s crazy is, I have developed a few friendships with other students from the program since leaving Germany, who I really didn’t get the chance to know while there. It’s wild how you can meet someone for just a few short days and feel like you’ve known them for so much longer. Being around people in such an intense environment, who have the same or similar goals as you career-wise, is a beautiful thing. They all inspire me so much and help fuel my desire to excel and succeed in the music industry.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I feel incredibly blessed to have been selected to take this course at Popakademie and mean it when I say that it changed my life a little. If you’re a student at Columbia, studying music business or even music performance, consider applying for this course. It is the best decision I have made so far in my time at Columbia College Chicago.