The Business Traveler

The long and winding road of a music industry master.
December 12, 2002

How does a fast-tracking Latin American economist with a Ph.D. from Oxford wind up at Berklee? The answer requires some historical context. As well as some appreciation for the Beatles.

Born in London, Peter Alhadeff grew up in Argentina in the immediate aftermath of the first Perón regime. As a teenager he studied classical guitar, but never considered music a viable career. "In Argentina," he says, "you have fewer paths to take to make a living." As the eldest son, he felt a sense of responsibility after the death of his father. So in the mid-1970s he took up economics at the University of Buenos Aires, intending to join his uncle's textile business afterwards.

At about the same time, Juan Perón returned to power in Argentina and "political madness erupted," recalls Alhadeff. With his family's blessing, he left for the U.K. to complete his formal studies. He focused on Latin America, using his education to better understand "who Perón was and what that era was all about."

While he was writing his Ph.D. thesis, Alhadeff played guitar in his free time. Here's where the Fab Four come in: "I kept trying to replicate the Beatles' sound and figure out why they sounded so good." He had no Beatles' songbooks. So he trained his ears to pick out even the bass lines, and transcribed the songs himself. This, he acknowledges, is what got him through the intense pressure of a "make or break" academic period.

By 1985 Perón was long gone. Argentina's political situation had eased. Then married and in his 30s, Alhadeff returned to Argentina to join two prestigious research institutes. By 1988 he'd written reports for high-level officials, including then-president Paul Alfonsin. He was on the faculty of the University of Buenos Aires. He and his wife had a two-year-old daughter.

And he couldn't stop thinking about music.

The Road to Berklee

Alhadeff began reading Berklee materials, seeking a way to bring music into his professional life. He had a plan: to come to Berklee as a student and stay as a faculty member. At the time, however, there was no music business major at Berklee, so he figured he could teach general education courses.

He also recalls reading advice from a professional musician that warned against entering the music business past a certain age. He doesn't remember what that age was-just that he was beyond it. "I decided to ignore it," he says. "That's how much I wanted to do it."

After a year at Hollywood's Musicians Institute, he enrolled at Berklee in 1990. He wasn't sure which direction he'd follow, but was open to any possibility. "All I knew was that I could play guitar and that I was a quick learner," he says. "And that Berklee was the right place for me." He ended up majoring in Music Production and Engineering.

In 1992 Berklee launched its Music Business/Management Department. Chair Don Gorder tapped Alhadeff to join the faculty to teach economics and statistics. It was a perfect fit. There was just one problem: Alhadeff had sold his entire economics library. Today he shakes his head in regret, but at the time he couldn't conceive of doing anything else. It wasn't just the expense of shipping the books to the United States. I was also intent on starting over," he explains.

The Digital Domain

Intellectual property issues caught Alhadeff's attention in the mid-90s while he sidelined as a writer and editor for Recording en Español, the Spanish-language edition of Recording magazine. With the Internet explosion and the rise of streaming media in the late 90s, he realized that Berklee had to be at the nexus where music, business, and technology came together.

He responded to the challenge by teaching himself HTML and Javascript so he could teach his students to develop their own websites. He has also authored numerous articles on e-commerce and the music industry, focusing on both business and technology issues.

"The danger of free music," says Alhadeff, "is that it diminishes the idea that music has monetary value. Yet we need to coexist with the idea that free music is here to stay." Record labels, he says, have to "take the pirates on and beat them at their own game." This means dealing directly with consumers. It means selling the relationship between the artist and the music lover: concert tickets and special privileges via Internet-based communities.

The Power of Connection

Relationships also drive Alhadeff's teaching philosophy. Citing his own academic experience, he views education as a way for both teacher and learner to "connect what we do to reality and stay engaged with what we need to know."

Alhadeff came to terms with this early on in his Berklee career. He started out with the same approach he'd always used to teach economics: theoretical concepts first, then case studies. But one month into his first economics course at Berklee, he knew it wouldn't work unless he changed his plan. "I plunged the students into the data and engaged them with case studies right off the bat," he says.

Students respond well to this approach. Music Business/Management major Caz McChrystal '03 describes one of Alhadeff's typical strategies: to launch students on a heated discussion about a music industry issue that touches them. "As he sums up the discussion," says McChrystal, "he relates it back to the subject by using what we've said to illustrate the points he's trying to make." To Alhadeff, cultivating this kind of open exchange is what teaching is all about. His greatest thrill: to step back and let one of his students explain a difficult concept to a classmate.

Alhadeff recognizes that Berklee students are a special breed. "They haven't just sat back and enjoyed the comforts," he says. "There's an element of personal sacrifice in coming to Berklee that I relate to. I'd like to support it however I can because I've understood it myself."

Peter Alhadeff's Top Fives

Top Five Albums

  • Offramp, Pat Metheny Group
  • The Beatles (White Album), The Beatles
  • Smokin' at the Half Note, Wes Montgomery with Wynton Kelly
  • Libertango, Astor Piazzolla
  • The Well-Tempered Clavier, J.S. Bach