It’s one thing to read the stories of how people got their starts in the music business. It's another thing to hear it in-person. And it’s yet another thing altogether when music professionals translate their experiences into practical advice to those looking to break into the worlds of production, performance, management and the other myriad components comprising the music industry.
The UGA Music Business Program’s guest lecture series brings students face-to-face with music professionals offering just that sort of actionable insight.
Underneath glossy albums, chart-topping hits and heart-pumping concerts, is the business of music itself. The guest lecture series peels back those layers of glamour and illuminates the inner workings of the industry. Further, lectures are designed to give students valuable insights to help guide them in their own quests to join the ranks of music professionals.
For example, it’s one thing to know what a demo tape sounds like. It’s another thing to hear the unreleased demos of famous, established musicians and listen to producer Ben Allen demonstrate how the essence of the demo is transformed—through a sometimes painstaking process – into a hit song … that is instantly recognizable from its use in a national advertising campaign.
With students in rapt attention in a lecture hall typically filled by MBA students, Allen plays part of the demo of a well-known band. “This is what they showed up with,” he says. “There are no lyrics, there's no melody in this track.”
Then, he plays the final track. In there, somewhere, one can hear a semblance of the original demo that was just played. Music Business Program Director David Barbe and Associate Director Tom Lewis can’t help but groove along to the music from their perches at the side of the lecture hall. Among the students, a few toes tap, but most are still as they strain to learn all they can from the song snippets.
Allen stops the song.
“A little different right?” he says. “That's not to say that I’m personally responsible for that transition. But it’s my job to make sure that it gets to that…the only thing that matters to me is getting to that destination.”
During his lecture, which is more of an interactive song sampling and Q & A, Allen relates his path from growing up in Athens to becoming a sought-after engineer and producer.
It’s the same when front-of-house mixer and production manager Chris Rabold visits the classroom. His credentials also impress the students, with a client list including Stockholm Syndrome, P. Diddy, Widespread Panic and Lady Gaga.
Also an Athens native, Rabold relates that he once was in the same situation as his audience. Sure, he spent weeks on the road in a station wagon with his dog, following bands he loved. But he also got involved “in anything and everything. If some dude walks in from a club, who cares what kind of music they do,” he says. If they ask you to help run the sound because someone didn't show up, do it, he says. It happened to him. “I had no idea what I was doing,” he recalls. When someone with the band asks you to help load trucks after the concert, do it.
Both Rabold and Allen emphasize the importance of getting out there, getting involved. It’s something every aspiring musician or music industry professional hears. But there’s something different when it comes from them. They add more specific advice after the blanket “get out there and get involved” statements. Allen notes that anyone with a laptop and inexpensive music software can start learning about sound engineering, and gives examples of kids living in their parents basements who have become breakthroughs. Rabold notes that formal training or education will only yield a competitive edge, no matter what aspect of the industry interests students.
In an industry as tough as the music one, lecturers offer some much needed pep talks, too. At the beginning of every class—including prior to lectures—students share news about upcoming music events and relate recent relevant experiences.
Rabold smiled as he prepared to deliver his lecture. “Just in your announcement portion alone,” he says, “that just shows me that this place is teeming with opportunity.”