Founded originally as The Guitar Institute of Technology in 1977, Musicians Institute (MI) has broadened and expanded its offerings and evolved into one of the premier music education programs in Hollywood if not the country. In addition to music instruction, MI now offers various degrees in performance as well as industry programs such as audio engineering and music business. Notable past or present faculty and alums include bassist Stuart Hamm, Steve Vai, Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott and Jennifer Batten, guitarist with Jeff Beck and formerly Michael Jackson.
Music Connection caught up with Charles Chemery, MI’s Program Chair: Independent Artist and DJ Performance and Production. An alumnus of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, he’s able to provide insights into what sets MI apart from other music education programs such as Berklee or, indeed, The Juilliard School. “MI is extremely flexible,” he says, “in as much as it’s run by musicians for musicians. The main thing is that we look at contemporary music whereas Berklee has a strong foundation in jazz; Juilliard focuses primarily on classical.
“The college is very dynamic,” Chemery continues. “Another advantage of MI is that, as a chair, if I want to start an elective for something new––vocal production, for example––I can get that created in two weeks. I just have to find the right instructor. The following term, the course can be there. Being on the quarter system, we’re able to implement changes quickly; faster than schools that are on semesters. We’re nimble, small and able to cater to the needs of every student. Giant schools like USC or UCLA move slower and changes take forever.”
Another of MI’s strengths is that it is located in the heart of Hollywood, mere blocks, in fact, from legendary spaces Capitol Studios and Sunset Sound. “Shows like American Idol and The Voice come to our school to find vocalists,” Chemery explains. “Debra Byrd, one of our chairs, is the main vocal coach for both shows.”
MI’s latest advance includes the addition of the electronic music and DJ program wherein things such as vinyl turntablism, beat-matching and various DAWs are taught. “We made our bread and butter in guitar but more and more kids are listening to hip-hop,” Chemery observes. “We adapted and created a six-month program dedicated to DJing, production and performance. The other program that’s picking up steam is the Independent Artist Program. It’s basically a well-rounded real-world offering that touches on all the topics that a young current artist would need to know.”
Another recent development is MI’s online school. Currently six courses are offered in areas such as ear training and harmony. There’s a strong focus on it for future programs as well.
On the performance side, students engage in a range of live ensembles. “We have about thirty bands––contemporary country, punk, fusion jazz and so forth––that are led by faculty. Every week students have to learn a song and then perform it.”
MI is now operated by ESP Company, Limited, a Japanese outfit that manufacturers guitars, primarily. It continues to invest in MI and to expand its offerings. ESP runs various music schools throughout the world including ESP College of Entertainment, Tokyo. MI, however, remains the largest educational institution among its holdings.
Contact Musicians Institute via mi.edu