Dave Kusek On Exiting Berklee, Digital Cowboys & What’s Next [Interview]

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After 14 successful years, Dave Kusek is stepping down as VP at Berklee College Of Music to pursue business consulting and angel investing in digital music and media. We caught up with Kusek, who also co-authored the iconic "Future Of Music" to learn his plans.

HYPEBOT: You’ve had a very successful run at Berklee, founding it's online school and more. Why leave now?

image from www.hypebot.comDAVE KUSEK: I have been thinking about moving onto the next stage in my career for a while, and this really is a great time for me to do it.  Berkleemusic just had its best year ever.  We spent the past 12 months rounding out a fantastic team of people to lead it into the future.  Debbie Cavalier is taking over and is incredibly capable and experienced.  Berkleemusic is preparing to deliver online degrees which is what we have been working on for several years.  The timing is good.  I am helping in the transition and am very proud of the business and what we built together.

When you work somewhere for 14 years you get to do just about everything you wanted to.  At least I did.  I've had a blast at Berklee and it is one of the most amazing places on earth to study music.  You know my work there has given me a lot of exposure to other things that are going on in the world of music, online education and digital media and there are many exciting opportunities out there.  I want to leverage my experience to do more cool things.  I have lots of ideas about where to go next and the connections to make things happen.

HYPEBOT: Your new focus is on consulting and investing. Are there any sectors, particularly within music and music tech, that particularly interest you or where you see the most room for growth?

DAVE KUSEK: Online education is one of them.  This is an area that is already transforming how people learn and gain job skills and it is only going to grow as time goes on.  There are big opportunities here that will effect tens of millions of people around the world.  Online training is going to be huge.  Job requirements are shifting and people need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances that can benefit them.  The traditional model of higher education is already under pressure and there are many people and companies exploring alternative models that are very interesting.

The other area I am bullish on is live music and live events.  The live concert experience cannot be digitized, yet can benefit enormously from technology.  There really has not been much innovation in live music or in music merchandising beyond ticketing.  I think there is a lot more that can be done with mobile technology and am actively working in this area.  My investment in Tastemate is one way of digging into this potential in a meaningful way.  We will be bringing our service to a venue near you, very soon.

I also think that there is potential to expand the reach of live performance using remote technologies.  I am interested in ways to cut the costs out of touring to make it more profitable and to reach broader audiences.  It is amazing to me that there has not been more activity in this area either, so I am looking for companies and people to work with that are thinking differently about what live music is all about and how to make it even more lucrative.

image from www.hypebot.comHYPEBOT: What are some of the things that Digital Cowboys has done in the past or is looking to do now on the consulting side?

DAVE KUSEK: We are focused on business development, marketing and product development, particularly in online and mobile services.  We also do strategy consulting for businesses wanting to expand or enter new markets or make acquisitions.  I say we, because while I am the managing partner, I also leverage a network of people around the world and with different specialties that I bring together to form a team to address the issues.  For example, with a lot of the product work that we have done I brought together a team of visual designers and user experience people to execute on the product vision and do the testing.  With business development projects I sometimes work with friends that have particular contacts or relationships that are beneficial to my clients.  Sometimes I put together a couple different investors or strategic partners to provide capital or distribution or some other need.  The main thing is to get the work done and show results, while trying to have some fun and work on interesting projects that are pushing the envelope.

HYPEBOT: There’s some talk of another tech bubble.  Do you see think we’re approaching one in music and media technology?
DAVE KUSEK: I do think that some of the deals we have seen recently are off the charts, like Instagram – but who knows?  That has all the earmarks of "bubble" written all over it.  But Facebook is also about to go public and at their level, what's another billion dollars? 

But really I don't think overall that we are at the point of frivolousness and excess that we witnessed in the earlier dot-com bubble, at least not yet.  I believe that people are just beginning to figure out better ways to communicate and interact and learn via technology.  That is having massive implications on the future of society around the world.  Take a look at the stock market trend over the past 100 years and you will see that things tend to move up and people get smarter and more prosperous.  I am an optimist.

There are a lot of music startups getting funded these days and certainly they are not all going to make it.  I think we will see some consolidation in the DIY space as there are probably more companies addressing that market than the market really needs.  The same is true for music streaming and distribution and music discovery.  I think the real breakthrough companies will be formed by trying to do something completely different, rather than mimicking the past with technology.  We'll see.

HYPEBOT: Any plans to write a follow-up to “Future Of Music”

DAVE KUSEK: I plan to spend a lot more time posting things to my blog and on digitalcowboys.com.  This is a much better way to continue to update original thinking and way more efficient than writing another book.  The music industry has gone digital and online outlets like Hypebot really do work as conduits in this business.  That is a real bright spot in the transformation of the music industry.  So, look for more at futureofmusicbook.com.

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