Press Release

November 27, 2018

Local entrepreneurs chosen as panelists at SXSW EDU 2019

Dublin, Ohio (November 27, 2018) — Local entrepreneur Brian Penick, CEO and founder of The Counter Rhythm Group, Musicians Desk Reference, and co-founder of Soundstr (acquired by VNUE, Inc. in 2018) didn’t finish college. Instead, he dropped out to tour internationally as a drummer with his band. After twelve years as a musician on the road, Penick carved his own path in the music industry through a series of start-ups. But now Penick’s efforts are focused on fixing a systematic problem which impacted his career: music education and employment.

“The current higher education system is largely inefficient. Tuition costs are rising, especially for top-tier music programs, with annual costs upwards of $50k-100k. Additionally, there is a severe disconnect between employers and education programs, often leaving graduates with a less-than-direct path to career development. The result is graduates buried in debt with limited options for a career, or taking an alternate route from the arts-based education or the arts in general. There is a solution to the problem, and it starts with conversations like this panel.” – Brian Penick

Now in its fifth year and having received international praise, Musicians Desk Reference continues its growth in the music education sector, with more universities and specialty schools adopting their educational standard. The product suite is also set to expand in 2019, with the release of music education-focused courses, event programming, and a career marketplace. South by Southwest (SXSW) will serve as the activation for the new offerings, with Penick’s SXSW EDU panel, “Music Education & Employment: Bridging the Gap” serving as the focal point for addressing the current industry issues.

Also on the panel is GROOVE U Music Career Program’s founder and Director, Dwight Heckelman. Heckelman, a Navy veteran with a Bachelors degree from Belmont University and 20 years of experience working in the music industry has been calling for national conversation on this subject since he left Berklee to open GROOVE U in 2010. Heckelman recalls a light bulb moment he had in Nashville in 1999:

“The ink on my music business/music production degree from Belmont University is hardly dry. I am sitting in a meeting room at the Renaissance Hotel where Hillary Rosen of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is speaking to a few hundred Nashville music industry professionals. She is talking about this new Internet file-sharing site called ‘Napster,’ the technology behind it called “.mp3”, and how the RIAA is going to shut it down. I feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck as I start to realize that I am completely prepared for an industry that in very short order will no longer exist. My college instructors, looking backwards, had failed to grasp what the ‘music industry’ really was.”

And while 1999 is nearly 20 years ago now, Heckelman’s experience with out-of-touch educators was not unique to him and nor was it his last:

“The gulf between what the current higher education system teaches the market ‘is’ and what the market actually ‘is’ is expansive and virtually insurmountable given higher education’s current approach.”

GROOVE U music career program, now in its seventh academic year, boasts 96% job placement in-field among its graduates. As part of curriculum, students enrolled at GROOVE U attend SXSW Music Conference each year to form valuable industry connections for their future internships and careers. The cost of the trip is included in tuition.

“I am pleased Dwight accepted my invitation to join the panel. I fully support GROOVE U’s mission and their modern approach to music education and student employment. All panelists are disruptive thinkers in the music education space, and I am honored to discuss these topics and represent Columbus, Ohio, and the Midwest in general at the national level at SXSW EDU.” – Brian Penick

Joining Penick and Heckelman on the panel is Dr. Ulf Oesterle – Chair, Music and Entertainment Industries Department at Syracuse University, and Jen Appel, Professor in the Commercial Music Business Department at Florida Atlantic University. Dr. Oesterle is also the owner of Aux Records, a record label he started while a student at Syracuse University, and Ms. Appel is the CEO and founder of The Catalyst Publicity Group. Penick describes Oesterle and Appel as “exemplary” music educators and notes the panel’s diversity in opinion from educational institutions (traditional universities, specialty schools, and independent learning environments).

SXSW EDU is a four-day conference for forward-thinking leaders in education and takes place immediately preceding SXSW Interactive, Film and Music conferences in Austin, TX. SXSW EDU is in its ninth year and typically has 15,000+ attendees in addition to the 70,000 registrants who attend SXSW Interactive, Film and Music.

For more information on the panel “Music Education & Employment: Bridging the Gap” and it’s speakers, visit:

For more information about SXSW EDU visit