Popular music pedagogies: Personal transformation through entrepreneurial and international real-world learning.



The traditions of music education are quite different between India and Australia. The West has an ostensibly ‘scientific’ approach to education since the turn of the 20th century and tends towards homogeneity, standardisation, and a deeply literate ‘mind’. India retains much of its oral past and is far less standardised and homogenised.

While Australia has a strong conservatoire tradition in higher education, there is a comparable master-apprentice tradition that sits outside of mainstream higher education in India, these educational models lack industry engagement and don’t encourage an entrepreneurial approach, often leaving students ill-equipped for their future careers.

It is no longer sufficient for music degrees to teach students virtuosity on their chosen instrument. The larger challenge is teaching students how to make their way in the world as professionals. They also need to think globally, connect globally, and be aware of opportunities on a global basis. 

This paper reports on a project that has been ongoing since 2015, between A.R. Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory (established in Chennai, India in 2008) and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia. The project aims to assist music students in equipping themselves for the global economy, through a collaborative initiative that aims to internationalise and entrepreneurialise music education, at both institutions. The project is also supported by industry partner, Earthsync (organisers of Chennai’s IndiEarth Xchange, a trade event for independent music, film and media).

The institutions have presented the Indian version of QUT’s highly successful Indie100 program at IndiEarth XChange annually since 2015.  The event each year, involved staff and students from KM Music Conservatory and QUT, and high-profile Australian and Indian producers. Twelve local Indian independent bands were recorded and produced throughout the conference and delegates had an open invitation to attend the recording sessions.

The final stages of the project involved QUT and KM Music Conservatory students working together online to launch, promote, and distribute the recordings on both local and international platforms using the extensive networks of all project partners.

At the same time the Higher Education sector’s ‘internationalisation’ agenda recognizes that globally focused experiences and literacies are central to developing culturally competent professionals, capable of operating in diverse communities and environments. According to Goldstein et al. (2006) students are demanding study abroad that offers greater scope for exploring broader international career possibilities.  

While HE music courses are acknowledging the shifting requirements for graduates entering creative careers, (the development of both professional and intercultural competencies), there are few empirical studies offering pedagogies and experiential learning, which address the gap for how to build international processes into the curriculum.

In response to this agenda, QUT expanded the project as a study tour in 2018 and 2019 to include 15 Australian students who spent two weeks collaborating and recording with Indian musicians, as well as developing their entrepreneurial skills through curation of live events, and management of the Indie100 project and its subsequent promotion and online album launches. There are significant benefits resulting from this project, including the establishment of an ongoing exchange program that will feature parallel programs running at both QUT and KM Music Conservatory. Both programs are in constant dialogue allowing the programs to evolve, cater to both local and international needs, and facilitate ongoing student and staff exchanges. Ongoing data collection of participant experiences also show how deep immersion and a short time frame for delivering a successful project, is both confronting and rewarding for students, revealing how they adjusted their perspectives to operate both effectively within themselves and in interaction with others.


Dr Kristina Kelman is an academic, teacher, community music facilitator and jazz musician from Brisbane, Australia. In her recent book, ‘Music Entrepreneurship: Professional Learning in schools and the industry’, Kristina designs an experiential music curriculum model for student-run enterprise. Most recently, Kristina has developed a student record-label at QUT, www.vermilionrecords.com launched in 2018. Her work also takes place in community music settings. Her work with First Languages Australia on a language project through original song, Yamani: Voices of an Ancient Land, resulted in a full length album, Australian curriculum materials, and a documentary featured throughout 2016 on QANTAS in-flight entertainment. Since 2015, with successful grant funding, Kristina has coordinated an intensive recording program and music entrepreneurship education project in Chennai, India, which produces an album of original music by emerging independent artists each year. Kristina is also a Brisbane based musician, who has had a successful 25 year career performing and recording as a jazz singer, and working as both a music director and conductor for various Australian projects. Kristina is currently a senior lecturer in music, music education and music industry at the Queensland University of Technology. 

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