When Charles Kelley and David Haywood graduated from the Terry College, they had aspirations that might sound familiar to most college students: Get jobs and follow their dreams. What they didn’t expect was that those goals would land them on top of the country music charts and lead them to selling more than 11 million albums under the name Lady Antebellum.
On a recent return to Athens, the duo delivered a Terry Leadership Speaker Series talk at the Chapel, where they played songs and fielded questions from Music Business Program Director David Barbe. The freewheeling conversation ranged from their move to Nashville, the music industry, and why their business education was a crucial to their success.
“Our path was probably a little different from most people’s,” said Haywood. “After we graduated from Georgia, I was in MIS and Charles was in finance, I was in Atlanta doing internal auditing for a consulting company. I had no beard and a lot of khaki pants. And Charles has a long list of hilarious stories from his jobs working at a waste-hauling company. But through all of that we were writing songs together.”
After the pair moved to Nashville, they took odd jobs and filled their free time the only way they knew how – putting in the long hours required to succeed. Haywood used his MIS knowledge to build a website and the pair played shows and used MySpace to network with musicians and record companies.
“I knew Dave was talented, but I also knew that he’s a workhorse. And I’m a workhorse,” Kelley said. “When Dave finally committed to moving to Nashville there was a good three or four month run before we met Hillary (Scott, the other member of Lady Antebellum) where we were doing our own thing, playing in coffee shops where the espresso machine was louder than our music. But we treated it like a business because we had this background. We knew we needed business cards. We knew we needed T-shirts. Dave would call places and say, ‘Hey, I represent Charles Kelley.’ And they didn’t know he was in the band with me, but he’d get us gigs.”
It was that level of commitment, Kelley said, that separated them from the rest of the music industry hopefuls.
“Honestly, there are a lot of people in Nashville a lot more deserving of success than we are,” he said. “There are people who are more talented. But we just outworked them.”
In addition to the millions of albums they’ve sold, Lady Antebellum has charted nine No. 1 singles and won seven Grammy Awards. For Haywood and Kelley, though, those figures are a representation of the long hours they spend, nearly every day, perfecting their craft.
“Let me do some numbers for you. We’ve written probably 50 songs for every record we’ve done. We’ve made five records, so that’s 250 songs and you’ve probably only heard about 40 of them,” Kelley said. “There are so many songs that are absolutely awful that you never hear. It’s a numbers game, almost. We write a lot. We write every day.”
The Terry Leadership Speaker Series presented by the Institute for Leadership Advancement brings well-known leaders from a variety of organizations to the Terry College of Business and the University of Georgia. In these student-oriented forums, leaders are asked to discuss their unique leadership styles and experiences.