Britain's Academy of Contemporary Music is opening its first U.S. branch in Oklahoma City, with ambitious plans to enhance touring opportunities in the region, as well as educate students for a career in the music business.

Based in Guildford, southern England, the ACM was established in 1995 and educates 1,200 students annually, producing successful artists like singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner and Sugababes singer Amelle Berrabah, as well as many music business executives. It already has branches in Italy, South Africa and Japan.

ACM classes at the University of Central Oklahoma, or ACM@UCO, began Monday (August 17), with first-year student enrollment totaling 160. The ACM hopes to open additional U.S. franchises in the coming years.

UCO executive vice president Steve Kreidler said the university first learned of ACM through Scott Booker, veteran manager of the Flaming Lips and a Central Oklahoma alumnus, who has been appointed CEO of ACM@UCO.

It's easier for people to take chances in a place like Oklahoma than it is in California, New York or Chicago, Booker said. Our community leaders all know each other and are willing to take the time to listen to new ideas and concepts.

ACM@UCO occupies 12,000 square feet on the fourth floor of the historic Oklahoma Hardware building in Oklahoma City's Bricktown entertainment district. The facilities include a recording studio, a computer lab and classrooms specially equipped for guitar, bass, drum and vocal instruction. To help secure funds for the renovations, the UCO Foundation is halfway toward its goal of raising $2.1 million in donations by the end of the year, Kreidler said.


The school initially will offer two-year associate degrees in performance and music production. The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd are among those who will teach master classes at ACM@UCO during its first year, Kreidler said.

The ACM must compete for students with the established likes of Boston's Berklee College of Music, which also has been expanding internationally. But Booker believes ACM@UCO's emphasis on contemporary music genres like rock and country will give it an edge.

In addition to educating a new generation of artistic talent and industry executives, the school hopes to attract music businesses to the region and eventually plans to move to larger facilities that will also house a 600- to 1,000-capacity performance venue.

That's very much the size of venue Oklahoma lacks at the moment, ACM international business manager Steve Lavington said. They've got the bar scene and (arenas like) the Ford Center, but that midsized venue a band touring its first album would be looking to play just doesn't exist.

British tour production/management company Cato Music, which has partnered with the ACM in Guildford on its academic program in tour production and management, plans to open a U.S. office on the UCO campus in May 2010 and encourage touring acts to visit the region.

It's a great chance to develop U.K. and European acts in the middle of America, which hasn't really been done before, Cato company director Glen Rowe said. I wouldn't put my business plan in jeopardy if I didn't believe in Scott Booker's vision for making (Oklahoma) the next Seattle or Nashville.