July 11, 2019
If you want to become a lawyer, you go to law school. And if you want to be a doctor, it's medical school. How about if you want to be a music industry professional? That was the question Dwight Heckelman grappled with for years during his own successful career in the music industry. Dissatisfied with educational options for young people, Dwight decided to create his own. At Groove U, Dwight's ambitious two-year entrepreneurship and apprenticeship oriented program, students learn what it really takes to break into the music industry and build a successful career. I had the chance to catch up with Dwight to talk about his career journey on our From the Dorm Room to the Board Room podcast. The following excerpt from this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Andy Molinsky: I love the idea of Groove U. Can you give me a quick snapshot of like who might go to this program?
Dwight Heckelman: About half of our population comes straight out of high school. And we also have students who treat this like grad school — students who have their four-year degrees in different programs and come here and do two years here. Our unique position is that we put careers in the industry front and center. We’re training you for a career first.
Molinsky: I noticed in your bio you were in the military for a time. What, if anything, did you learn from being in the military that has been useful for starting Groove U?
Heckelman: In terms of myself, and my maturity, and my understanding of what I wanted to do, the Navy was incredibly valuable. As an entrepreneur, it taught me a lot of discipline – the need to be very detail-oriented. In the military, you make a mistake on something, and somebody dies. That’s taught me incredible attention to detail, which really helped me later on when it came time to do my own business.
Molinsky: Many entrepreneurs describe light bulb moments for when they had the idea to do something new and different. What was your light bulb moment?
Heckelman: The light bulb moment for Groove U actually started 10 years before I was at Groove U. I was just out of college, writing for Music Row Magazine, and was at a conference in Nashville. The ink was hardly dry on my college diploma, and I'm having this sort of mini panic attack because I’m at this conference where they're talking about the advent of MP3s, or file compression, and trading, file-trading technology, and I’m completely unprepared. I was angry because I had just spent a lot of money on my college education, and not once had any of my professors mentioned any of this.
Molinsky: And that inspired you to create Groove U?
Heckelman: Yes, but not immediately. I went on to work for 10 years and kept feeling the same thing. The music industry was changing, but we weren’t teaching the students what they need to know. I told myself that I can figure out a better way and that I'm going to start my own school.
Molinsky: You’ve had an interesting career journey so far. What misconceptions do you think college students or young professionals have when kind of trying to make their way in the workforce?
Heckelman: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is the idea that you're in college now and your work starts later. Your works really starts the day you enter as a freshman and say, "I am going to pursue this career path." Stop treating studying as the outcome, and start looking at other things as is equally good outcomes like making great relationships with your peers.
My first job in the music industry, my first serious job, I should say, came from my college roommate because we were both studying the music industry, and he found out about something cool, and he passed it on to me. And later on, I heard about an opportunity for him, and I passed it back.