A feature article from the 21CM.org magazine

Among the challenges facing university leaders today is the confluence of two trends: a double-digit rise in the cost of a college education and a saturated marketplace. “Value accountability,” the informal formula every parent and student uses to make college decisions, now includes career success. Hit hardest by the accountability formula may be schools of the arts, with a music school, like the one at DePauw University, facing survival. And that’s where it gets interesting.

Recognizing the challenges inherent in competing with more established institutions, DePauw has taken a different approach to remain viable, developing what has the potential to become a completely alternative music school category for the entrepreneurially minded aspiring musician. Named 21CM for 21st Century Musician, this curriculum/incubator program is not only a change in educational philosophy but also a reimagining of the School of Music as a hybrid organization, somewhere between a not-for-profit and a business.

A Virtual Community for Young Music Entrepreneurs

In 2014, DefCult led research to define the 21CM prospective reader and understand the career and continuing-education needs of music school graduates. Early recommendations included redesigning institutional aspects to foster an environment for innovation and positioning the school as a leader and convener in the space.

Along with the Studio Fuse design firm, the DefCult team conceived and led the development of 21CM.org, a website and community platform that reflects the entrepreneurial and artistic spirit of the school’s evolving new culture. “We wanted to connect the established music community with talented iconoclasts and innovators while providing a ‘best practices’ resource for all musicians interested in learning to create their own professional paths on their own terms,” said DefCult president and 21CM.org’s founding editor Elizabeth Hinckley.

Since launching three years ago, the site has enjoyed positive attention from the industry and critics alike. “It’s the kind of publication people have wanted for a great while,” said music critic Allan Kozinn. Readership has increased exponentially with an average of 15,000 unique monthly visitors. The site’s success has allowed DePauw to attract advertisers which helps defray costs for the university.

A number of world-renowned organizations have also partnered with the site, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic and St. Louis Symphony. The group A Far Cry, may have said it best, “So much of what [we have] been doing…is intertwined with the mission of 21CM, a groundbreaking organization that aspires to be part of the redefinition of what the role of a musician might be in this new century.“