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Visible Music College: 15 Years of Music Education & Innovation

After 15 years of business, member Visible Music College has become a leader in innovation for the music education industry. Dr. Ken Steorts, founder and president, shares advice on finding the right idea, striving for innovation and embracing success.

1. Where did the idea come from for Visible Music College?
My personal experience in music school, in church, and on the road touring with my band Skillet. I saw a need for the spiritual, professional, and academic mix that Visible does - taking young people through a program of study that included mentorship, practical vocational experience, and academic study of music or business. Every night on tour with Skillet, the opening bands exhibited either average music with sweet Christian ideas, or amazing music but lackluster spiritual lives and purposeless relationships with the church. The two needed to go hand-in-hand – and there needed to be a place that could prepare musicians for spiritual life and music careers.
2. What do you think has made the college and this concept successful?
The need was great! Spiritual kids who want to study for a career in music or ministry had no accredited, edgy, practical, relational place to study hard and get a degree for today’s music industry or church. Plus, we’ve built Visible with staff who have really committed their lives to the students every year since we started. The integrity of doing business as a service to others has shown to be profitable, even as we started with nothing and have been blessed to grow into a group of campuses serving young people with this idea.
3. In the past 15 years, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Vision drives investment and relationship keeps it.
4. What kind of obstacles have you encountered? How did you overcome them?
We had 10 years with little to no investment from the community, as we hardly knew how to ask. A very few people sustained us and we tightened out belt when we had to – it was very difficult and we lost friends and students over the tough decisions. Staying true to vision wasn’t easy, but coming downtown was ultimately the right thing to do and very, ahem, Visible! I’ve been able to overcome problems by working alongside dedicated staff who had the energy and drive to see much accomplished with young people, and gave years to their vision as it aligned with Visible’s. Good people, even when times are tough, make things possible. Obstacles including increased college choice competition, our underfunding, and national attitudes towards college have been back and forth, but we’ve sustained through that ebb and flow thanks to our distinctive service model, low cost, no fees, over-achieving, and by caring for people as we do it. Very hard work, but what else succeeds?
5. In what ways has VMC been a leader in innovation? What made you decide to do so?
From the beginning, our vision was different to the industry of higher education. We have had a lot of pressure to do things the same way as other schools, but we keep trying to focus on the needs of the students. The way the music industry has crumbled over the past 15 years and shifted to favor independent music is right in our comfort zone. We led in mobile campuses, WiFi integration, some work/study ideas, multiple teaching sites with small artist communities, staying true to the vision of relationship and collaboration driving success – not just money, slick marketing, and high numbers running through the mill. We’ve been true to the identity of Visible. It’s either immediately appealing to people, or they move on.
6. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to make their big idea a reality?
Build a team early - I saddled that horse while I rode it! Envision a team and interview people who can endure. Who understand the work required. It is more than you think. You need a variety of skills and flexibility beyond your imagination in order to succeed. Keep the vision, write it down, tell people, take any help that leads you closer to it, and care about people as much as you can as you pursue it. Work ON your business, not just IN it!
7. Anything else you would like to add?
Well, we have been very blessed to have Memphis as our home. We love bringing hundreds of young creatives to Memphis and over half of them stay here and start families in our city. We have been excited to be a part of renovation and restoration of buildings in Lakeland, Cooper-Young, and on Madison Avenue. When you look 50 years into the future of Memphis, the work I’m doing today for Visible Music College will be the foundation that makes Visible one of those top 20 can’t-miss places for visitors and citizens alike. We plan to be a vibrant, giving, joyful, positive, and cultural force. Our record label, Madison Line Records, will be pumping out great new artists in every genre of music. Our Visible Community Music School will be teaching hundreds of kids music and working with the school system to provide even broader access to music education. And Visible Music College will be a downtown landmark of Memphis music, spiritual life, and innovation.

Posted: 2/16/2015 11:19:07 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: Anniversary, College, Education, Innovation, Members, Music, Q&A, Visible

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