Cape Breton program engages aspiring music moguls

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Ever wondered what it would be like to manage a band and make money in the music industry? Well now you can have a taste of that life, thanks to a free app produced by a successful Aboriginal youth business program.

According to Brian Smith, the National General Manager of In.Business at Cape Breton University (CBU), the app, called Music Mogul, was developed as part of the university’s business network for Aboriginal youth and school mentorship program.

Growing in popularity, the app is actually a tool used in this innovative program that integrates social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter so that students can collectively learn through a familiar technological medium.

In.Business began four years ago at CBU as a mentoring program for Aboriginal students in Grades 10, 11 and 12. It started with just 30 students and so far 90 have completed the program. With support from the federal government, the program is now expanding across the country in partnership with the University of Winnipeg, Yukon College, Nipissing University and Vancouver Island University.

According to Smith, In.Business creates mentorships between students and Aboriginal business people. However, save for a few conferences that the participants have to attend, much of the learning is done virtually.

Though each student is assigned a mentor, much of the work is done in groups. Together the students tackle challenges that are straight out of your average business textbook but applied to scenarios that the participants research on their own.

“We could have the students go out and find a product and discuss its promotion, like what would be the best way to promote it and what would be the target market or demographic. It could be something as simple as giving them a scenario in the newspapers and having them write a paragraph on whatever the business aspects are of whatever the story is,” said Smith.

According to Smith, these challenges can take anywhere from an hour to a day to accomplish. Once a group has finished, their work is posted in the designated social media group where it is discussed with their peers, mentors and peer-mentors (previous participants of the program).

Smith said the participation of peer-mentors is an added bonus as the students get the perspective of someone who was once involved in the program and has now moved on to either a college or university program.

Smith said the program is usually about six months long with new projects assigned every few weeks, covering marketing, the stock market and banking for business. The fact students get to play a game as part of their assignments is an added bonus.

music-app2“One of the things that we really noticed is that students are really familiar with the tools that they are using like Facebook, so we started thinking about what we could come up with that they would be interested in. Many are interested in music, smartphones and playing games, so we developed the Music Mogul app. It’s a game that allows the students to play the role of a band manager,” said Smith.

With Music Mogul, the player starts out with $1000 with the objective of increasing the band’s fan base in Canada, something they do through a series of mini-games. As its fan base grows, the band needs to play larger venues. But in order to do so the band must upgrade its equipment so the player needs to figure out how to advance the band.

“There are learning objectives throughout the game. You can go to the bank but as a high-school student you may not know what interest is so you learn about that. If you borrow $1000 from the bank, you will have to pay back $1100. The app addresses what interest is and how you would have to pay it back. So now you can borrow money to buy new gear as well as merchandise and decide how much of a markup you want on the merchandise,” said Smith.

The game is integrated into the program as students are given challenges that allow them to see how real-life scenarios would play out when making adjustments to how they carry out business for their band. An example of this is how the game shows players how markup can work and how to maximize profits through making the right price adjustments.

Students will then be asked to post screen shots of what happened in the game when they were asked to use low, medium and high markup so that they can see how a market responds to different kinds of pricing.

“So there is a sweet spot where you can mark it up to the point where you are maximizing the benefit of that product and this is supply-and-demand knowledge,” said Smith.

Based on how managing an actual band works, the game is very realistic. For more authenticity, it features music from successful Aboriginal artists like A Tribe Called Red, Joey Stylez and Elisapie Isaac.

The more fans a band gains, the more money they earn at concerts and with that money they can pay back loans faster. It’s the player’s responsibility as the manager to pay the musicians’ salaries. This gives them an understanding of how to manage employees when it comes to salary increases while looking at things like the cost of touring for a month and preparing income statements.

Smith said there are actually two ways to win the game – either by having their band tour all 39 cities in the game or by making a million dollars.

So far the program has seen results. Of the 90 students who participated, 69 finished the program. As that group had 30 students that were in Grade 12 and graduating, 26 have gone on to pursue post-secondary studies at a university or community college with 13 out of that 26 pursuing business programs. By this fall, the program will be up and running for 300 students across Canada and 50 mentors.

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