IMI lab bridges the gap between theory and practice

Dancing, deliberating, dreaming and doing – enroute to a healthier music industry

International Music Industry Lab bridges the gap between theory and practice

The International Music Industry Lab of Inholland University of Applied Sciences is committed to realizing a ‘healthier’ music industry. To this end, the Lab is working together with the music industry on the challenges it currently faces. Presentations pertaining to such challenges worked on in the IMI Lab during the past semester were given during a recent event themed on Building healthier music ecosystems. On 16 January the Lab threw open its doors to enable plenty of dancing, deliberation, dreaming, and, above all, doing. And all this in conjunction with international partners and stakeholders from the Dutch music industry.


Making the music industry healthier means working on a music ecosystem that is sustainable, inclusive, resilient, versatile, and innovative, insists Koos Zwaan – associate lecturer and ‘lab lead’. This encompasses everything from fair payment and a safe working environment, to the influence of innovations, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, for example. These are significant and often abstract themes, which in the Lab are reduced to tangible and manageable issues. ‘In that context, we think big and act small, which we feel can only be done properly if done together with partners from all across the industry. It’s for that reason that students in the Lab are already fully involved in a practical sense. And we also want to emphasize that we see them as equal partners. Not just students, but young professionals too.’

The design process is key

The IMI Lab is populated by these young professionals, who are following Inholland programs that touch on the music industry, continues Zwaan. These are mainly from the Creative Business program, but also from Business Innovation, Tourism Management, and Leisure & Events Management, for example. During the recent event, they presented the ‘results’ of their lab track at IMI around four themes. ‘The word ‘results’ is between quotation marks because, in a lab like ours, the design process is actually more important than the results. Incidentally, what these students presented is not set in stone; it’s merely a departure point or train of thought that has to be further developed in the real world. For this reason, their presentations were followed by workshops to stimulate collective thinking, dialogue, and the exchange of ideas about the various topics.’

All-in-all, it made for an enjoyable afternoon in which dialogue was stimulated and some critical issues were probed. The central discussion, for example, was about mental health in the music industry, a project that has been carried out in collaboration with the C/O Pop convention in Cologne, Germany. It led to some frank anecdotes about mental resilience. The project team, which together with Prospect Eleven explored how the musical culture in Amsterdam Zuidoost (Southeast) can be stimulated, explained to the audience how a new network has been set up in this district of the city. The critical questions and feedback that ensued provided new insights for the team. Ralph Christoph of C/O Pop believes that the IMI Lab meets a clear need in the music world. ‘It functions as a laboratory, a place to experiment,’ he stresses, ‘by filling the gap between the theoretical world and the day-to-day realities of our business. It represents a fantastic opportunity for students to develop in a setting that so closely emulates reality.’

Ideas factory

Utopia Music enquired about the future of social listening. During one of the workshops, the young professionals presented one of three ideas they have in this area: namely, virtually attending a concert that’s taking place remotely yet still having the feeling that you are physically present. There was ‘dancing at a distance’ to jungle and disco and ‘rhythmic writhing’ on seats to a cool rendition of a piece by Bach. For its part, festival organiser, elrow, led participants to a metaverse, a virtual 3D space where visitors can savour the afterglow together. ‘In the context of our collaboration with the IMI Lab, we see the projects that these young professionals are working on as an ideas factory,’ enthuses elrow’s Renzo Puccini. ‘We are therefore using their concepts, either fully or partially, and then further developing them ourselves where necessary. It’s terrific to see them applying their creativity and fresh perspective to our industry. It would be great if they could follow up their education and time with the Lab by becoming actively involved in implementing their ideas within our company.’

What the IMI Lab has already achieved in a relatively short time is a source of immense pride for Koos Zwaan. For the first eighteen months, he explains, the doors of the Lab were only slightly ajar, giving the outside world an occasional glimpse of the design process. ‘And that’s a shame because what goes on behind our doors is of interest to the whole music business! What this event has taught me is that we are doing something really special here and that this Lab is an ideal way for the professional music environment to connect to Inholland University of Applied Sciences. We can play a key role in educating aspiring professionals for the music industry.’

Next steps

Zwaan goes on to explain that a next step will be to set up a research programme, which is something the Lab is already working on. He took the initiative in this by participating in an on-stage panel discussion at the end of the event and listed several challenges that the music industry will have to tackle during the coming years. This too stimulated the participation of people from the everyday music world. They included Ralph Christoph of C/O Pop, George O Janssen of The Gospel Agency and Richard Zijlma, director of the Conservatory of Music in Haarlem (and co-initiator of the Haarlem Vinyl Festival). ‘During that discussion it became obvious that there is still a lot that needs to be done,’ concludes Zwaan. ‘However, at the IMI Lab we are more than happy to take on the challenge, and with this event we have taken a few decisive early steps in the right direction.