The DJ Sessions


A Day in the Life at LIU Brooklyn’s Roc Nation School of Music: Culture, Class & Camaraderie 

Billboard | May 22, 2024

It’s a balmy late April day on the Brooklyn campus at Long Island University during the week before finals, and Roc Nation School of Music, Sports & Entertainment students are presenting songs they recorded throughout the semester.

Students vulnerably pressed play on their creations, ranging from a grungy rock backdrop to a rap song with Playboi Carti-esque ad-libs and an airy R&B singer, all surrounding the socially conscious theme of the assignment weaving the tracks together. 

The songs will be packaged as part of an EP crafted by each student for their songwriting class final project — which definitely beats penning an eight-page research paper or completing a 50-question multiple choice test on a Scantron.

“[There’s] opportunity here for them to look at contemporary popular music as an artform worth studying,” Dr. Carrie Erving – a professor at the Roc Nation school – explains to Billboard. “That is very much worth [it]. It’s still pretty rare. Compared to a lot of programs, it’s more difficult to find.”

One of the school’s pillars is a focus on the practical rather than the theoretical in the ever-changing music industry to properly arm students with the skill sets needed to hit the ground running and thrive.  Roc Nation School Dean Tressa Cunningham was approached about an idea of brokering a partnership between Roc Nation and LIU in 2020 — and the team navigated the turbulence and uncertainty brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic to launch the Roc Nation School of Music, Sports & Entertainment in the fall of 2021. 

The school boasts about 300 students, in six different bachelor of arts programs (three from music side: applied music, vocal performance and music technology, entrepreneurship and production). Around 52 percent of those students are from New York state, while there’s a balance of kids coming in from across the country to see what the Roc has to offer. 

Cunningham made the Roc Nation School a superstar acquisition when she recruited Jay-Z’s longtime engineer, Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton, into the fold. The Grammy-winning engineer came on board in June 2022 and he serves as the Director of the Music Technology, Entrepreneurship & Production program.

“I thought it was a really good chance for me to help design the curriculum. We pride ourselves on being current and up-to-date,” Young Guru explains to Billboard. “That’s something I love about where my industry is. It consistently updates and you have to stay up with the times. Our goal is to graduate students and have them be successful. There’s so many examples of people that are successful who don’t just look at wanting to be No. 1 on Billboard.”

Tuition currently stands at $32,000, but 25 percent of incoming freshmen at the Roc Nation School of Music, Sports & Entertainment are granted Hope Scholarships, which allows them to explore a tuition-free education. Additionally, Tressa Cunningham relays that 99 percent of the student body in the program receives some form of financial aid. 

Young Guru hopes to add a masters of arts degree in the near future, as the sports program already offers a masters in sports management. He’s also helping oversee the state-of-the-art Pro Studio being built, which is on pace to be finished for student use this fall. 

It’s a “full-circle moment” for Guru with Dave Malekpour (Pro Audio Design) integrating the audio, who also designed NYC’s famed Baseline Studios where Gu essentially lived and made recording history. The Dolby Atmos enabled studio comes equipped with four isolation booths, a control room and a live room.

Ashlynn Guions is a 21-year-old junior student at Long Island University Brooklyn. Her mom actually told her to look into the Roc Nation School of Music after hearing a radio ad that piqued her interest. “I didn’t see a program like this, which I think led me to it,” she tells Billboard in conversation on campus. “Being surrounded by like-minded students in the same space, but also so diverse and different, I don’t think I can find that anywhere else.”

Guions will be part of the Roc Nation School of Music, Sports & Entertainment’s inaugural graduating class (about 100 students) when she receives her diploma in the spring of 2025, which will look to shape the future of the music industry. As a Music Technology, Entrepreneurship & Production major, she’s an aspiring choreographer/creative director inspired by the likes of Charm La’Donna and Parris Goebel, who hopes to one day find a career in the live performance realm. 

Guions loves the sense of community in the program on the campus sandwiched between Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene. She recalls a “big cypher” on the first night of college that set the tone for the next three years. “The fact that everybody has different but niche talents is so cool,” she muses.

She found a lane in performance and currently works at the Brooklyn Paramount theater in backstage concert design, which sits adjacent to the LIU Brooklyn campus. While Guions and the rest of her peers are much more confident in their abilities these days, that wasn’t always the case. 

The 21-year-old recalls a lack of confidence in students exploring their potential career aspirations early on, whether that be as producers or singers, and how now their mentality has done a complete 180 with a strong belief in themselves and their crafts.

“Coming in, I feel like a lot of us would over-humble ourselves,” she admits. “We wouldn’t say, ‘I’m an artist. Oh, I’m a creative. I’m trying to do this.’ [Now] coming into junior year, everybody was like, ‘This is what I do, come to my performance!’ There’s a confidence and excitement to graduate. [To] get out and do our thing. It’s super cool to see everyone confident in what they’re doing now.”

She continues: “It’s reflecting back to when we first came in, everyone was like, ‘I rap a little. It might work out.’ Now people are like, ‘This is plan A.’ That’s the biggest difference I see from freshman year to now.”

Written by Billboard


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