Meet Digital Media Management Program Director, Bret Sweet
Bret Alexander Sweet was born in San Francisco, California. He was raised between Oakland and Sacramento, settling in San Francisco in 1997. Bret graduated from Berkeley High School in 1995. He is the son of prominent Bay Area civil rights attorney and social entrepreneur, Clifford Charles Sweet.
Bret combined his passion for music and entrepreneurship at a young age by earning himself an internship at PolyGram Group Distribution’s San Francisco office in the summer of 1995. Three months later he was an artist development rep focusing on the company’s urban division associated with Island Def Jam artists. He left PolyGram shortly after the merger to focus more on his college career at San Francisco State University and open his own label. Throughout his studies, Bret invested his time working in various community development organizations as well as running his own independent record label, House Kemetic Suns. Although House Kemetic Suns never reached platinum status with its artists, Bret had established the first online music distribution channel when he was 19; 6 years before Steve Jobs would bring iTunes to market.
In 2002, Bret began teaching entrepreneurship to youth and young adults from under-developed communities. In 2003, he signed on as Lead Entrepreneurship Instructor at BUILD, a non-profit organization in Menlo Park that uses entrepreneurship as vehicle for college admission for first generation students. In 2004, Bret was awarded Certified Teacher of the Year by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. In fall of 2007, Bret retired from teaching to pursue his life-long dream of an MBA at the University of San Francisco. In 2008, Bret began certifying new cohorts of future NFTE instructor as a NFTE CETI (Certified Entrepreneurship Teacher Instructor). Bret graduated from the University of San Francisco in May 2009 with his Master’s of Business Administration with a dual emphasis in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. In December 2008, he received the USF School of Management’s Dean Circle Scholarship for exemplary service in his community.
In 2007, Bret founded the Dualism Group which is early stage venture capitalism firm and consulting arm geared toward helping underserved entrepreneurs launch and expand their companies in order to bring jobs to lower income communities. One of his clients is Robert Simpson of Back A Yard Corporation which led to Bret being instrumental in the founding of Coconuts Palo Alto and the expansion of Back A Yard into San Jose. In addition he established his own property management firm called Sweet Rentality which creates tech innovations for the property rental market. Bret is currently the director of Digital Media Management programs at Cogswell College.
Q & A About the Program
Cogswell: Managing an entrepreneurial business that manufactures or provides a service probably does not pose the same challenges as managing a digital arts venture. Can you provide a definition of ‘entrepreneur’ as it applies to the expanded Digital Media Management Program?
Sweet: I think the term entrepreneur has become really co-opted over the last 10 or 20 years. In regards to the Digital Media Management Program here at Cogswell, it’s really the fusion of creative thinking, business systems and self-awareness within four concentrations: audio artist management, entertainment media management, game design and business modeling, and finally, interactive marketing.
Cogswell: I’d like to know if this program is designed just for people who want to go out on their own after graduating?
Sweet: This program is for those who want to work both independently and for those who want to be prepared to work for companies like Disney, Sony and EA. We’re teaching them the fundamentals of how to have a larger position in business, whether it’s starting their own business or working in a high level position at a global company.
Cogswell: That’s great, because not everyone wants to go out on their own right after graduating and even the ones that do usually work for a larger company before making that jump.
Sweet That’s right. ‘Fundamentals for the digital arts’ is a key descriptive here. Let me give you an example. We had a Dean of a business school speaking to us recently. His brother had gone to an Ivy League school, was a practicing attorney, but wanted to get into the animation field. He had to go back and make coffee at the animation company for four years before he got hired into management because he knew nothing about animation. Imagine if he attended a law school integrated with digital arts. I don’t believe he would have been making coffee.
Cogswell: Sounds like he needed our Digital Arts Management program, he could have probably secured a degree in less than four years.
Sweet: Indeed, but what’s really going on out there is that you have a generation of individuals who are running media companies, largely a result of consolidation and mergers, who don’t know the fundamentals of the digital arts business. You have the artists who work in these companies who don’t know business because it’s out of their comfort zone, and then business managers who don’t know anything about where the art comes from.
Cogswell: What specific sets of skills will digital artists learn in this program that will help them be more successful?
Sweet: Digital arts students understand how content is created, but they may not understand how to monetize it, create a working business model around it, protect it, keep it legally viable, market it, or determine who the target customer is. It’s not like there’s a How to Run a Studio for Dummies out there. We provide the core skills of what is needed to run a digital arts enterprise and present the information in the context of the arts, where our students are most comfortable.
Cogswell: Aren’t some skills universal, don’t all businesses need some of the same core skills regardless of what the industry is?
Sweet: Yes, but the digital arts have a unique core skill set. If you talk to most of our students and you ask them why they’re at Cogswell, what they are not going to say is ‘I want to be a business person.’ The students look at the business world and say, ‘that’s not something I am good at.’ Cogswell’s Digital Media Management program places students at the intersection of business and the digital arts. We use the term ‘entrepreneurship’ as a vehicle to teach business to our students. The irony here is that the attitude of a game designer or someone who wants to manage musical artists is decidedly anti-business, but many of our graduates have gone on to work at Pixar, which is owned by Disney, one of the largest companies in the world. They end up with most of the same skills, but learned in a very different environment. They find out that the business skills they used to fear actually come quite natural to them.
Cogswell: Can you share a specific example of this?
Sweet: Sure. This summer we are offering Hip Hop: America’s Narrative Platform. It’s a humanities class, but the idea is to teach students how to do a S.W.O.T. analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) by looking at urban music. We’re teaching a core business skill through an art form.
Cogswell: What you’ve described certainly demonstrates a larger need in the industry for this broader base of education in the digital arts community.
Sweet: Absolutely. Just imagine that you work for an entertainment company, but the person who signs your checks worked at a television network for 20 years selling soap ads. They were great selling ads, but when the network bought your record label, they got moved, placed above you on the ladder and do not know anything about music. To them, everything is business and corporate culture. To the recording artists, everything is music and culture. The Cogswell Digital Media Management graduate becomes the conduit in between. We’re finding that there has to be a happy medium between the people who are creating the content and the people who are monetizing it. This is what our program is all about.