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Pop music is an art worth studying

Students practice in the drum labs at USC's Thornton School of Music

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Renita Jablonski: American Idol announces its "Final Ten" tonight. Those 10 go on tour with the show for a year. A thumbs up from Simon Cowell isn't the only way to launch a career in pop music. Time to register for American Pop 101. Marketplace's Eve Troeh explains.


Eve Troeh: Ah, The Supremes's "Baby Love."

The Supremes: Baby love, my baby love . . .

The man who wrote that -- and 53 more number one hits -- is Lamont Dozier, a Motown legend. So what was his training?

Lamont Dozier: Oh god, none at all. No classical training. I've been self-taught.

Dozier took lessons in the school of life. He eavesdropped at his grandma's beauty shop.

Dozier: And I hear one of the girls, and she's heartbroken about some guy come to find out he was a cad. I would write down these little ideas, the true-to-life stories.

Pay attention. That's advice Professor Lamont Dozier might give a songwriting class this fall at the University of Southern California. It's the first university to offer a Bachelor's degree in Popular Music Performance.

Robert Cutietta: Many schools have played around with this, but been afraid to like really call it what it is: American Popular Music.

That's Robert Cutietta, Dean of USC's Thornton School of Music. He says it's time pop joined the canon. It's a big part of music, and the music market. After all, there's not much demand for a concert bassoonist.

Cutietta: You'd be better off running for the U.S. Senate, because at least there's 100 of those jobs.

And students -- spending more than $30,000 a year for tuition -- can study the music that interests them.

Chris Sampson: We can approach it with the same discipline, the same rigor as someone studying a classical instrument.

That's USC associate Dean Chris Sampson. His BA is in classical guitar, but he's really a rock drummer.

The 20 students in the pop program Sampson helped design will study music. But they'll also learn to book tours, read contracts, and market their work.

Sampson: That's the nature of the profession. It's fundamentally entrepreneurial.

Seventeen-year-old James Ghaleb auditioned for USC this year:

James Ghaleb: Little world, sift through my hands . . .

He's an ambitious singer-songwriter, but wants more options than music.

Ghaleb: At a school like this, you can get all of your academic needs as well as your musical needs.

If he doesn't get into the Popular Music program, Ghaleb says he'll study English.

In Los Angeles, I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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