ATHENS, Ga. — Having just told a class of music business students stories about the glamorous and intriguing people and places that are part of her experiences as a music industry insider, Michele Caplinger then told the UGA students how much she envied them.
"I had to make a lot of mistakes to learn the business," said Caplinger. "You guys are so lucky."
Caplinger, executive director of the Atlanta office of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), was echoing the sentiment voiced by so many of the artists, producers, promoters and other music industry professionals invited to speak to students in the new music business certificate program: I wish they had offered this class when I was in college.
Bruce Burch and Steve Dancz, the program's codirectors and music industry veterans themselves, structured the coursework with that mantra in mind, their primary motivation being to help UGA students avoid some of the pitfalls they endured while breaking into the industry. The program is interdisciplinary, utilizing the combined resources of both the Terry College of Business and the Hodgson School of Music.
Dancz's résumé includes writing scores for 15 National Geographic television specials, as well as for the hit TV show Designing Women. But in order to get started in the business, he slept on a friend's couch in L.A. for weeks at a time. His days were spent sneaking past security guards at the Warner Brothers and Paramount studio lots in Hollywood.
"I wanted to score films and learn the recording business, but my beginnings were like the blind leading the blind," said Dancz, a member of the School of Music faculty since 1992. "Eventually, I met a woman from BMI, I sent her a tape, and I got picked from hundreds of applicants for BMI's Film Scoring Program." Dancz is the certificate program's academic director.
Burch, the program's administrative director, has written a pair of No. 1 songs for Reba McEntire and a string of hits for the likes of Faith Hill, George Jones and Wayne Newton. His early years in the Nashville were anything but glamorous, however.
"After I wrote my first No. 1 song for Reba McEntire, I told her we'd actually met years before when she was first making a name for herself and I was a desk clerk at the Hall of Fame Motor Inn," Burch said. "She didn't remember me."
Both UGA graduates, Burch and Dancz came to separate realizations that a music business program could really take off at their alma mater.
"Atlanta is the new Motown," said Burch. "The whole urban RandB industry is centered there, and the list of mainstream artists who recorded recent albums in Atlanta includes Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey and Gwen Stefani."
Terry College Dean George Benson liked the Burch-Dancz proposal from the outset, but a number of hurdles had to be overcome before music business classes appeared in the course catalog this past fall.
"George said we needed to find a champion in the Terry College - who turned out to be (management professor) Allen Amason," Burch said.
"And I was the advocate inside the Hodgson School of Music," said Dancz, "so at that point we had all the pieces put together."
Funding was also an issue, however, which is where Texas-based record executive and Terry alumnus George Fontaine (BBA '76) entered the picture. Fontaine, who founded New West Records - one of the most successful independent labels in the country - donated $750,000 in seed money for a program that has attracted a great deal of attention from students, as well as a stellar list of weekly guest lecturers who pull no punches when it comes to telling students what it's really like to work in the music industry.
"It's been such a blast," said Dancz. "It's so exciting to see the interaction between the students and guest speakers." And Burch and Dancz have had no trouble at all keeping the lecture schedule filled, he said.
"A lot of people want to give back. They say 'I'd love to do it' because it's important," Dancz said. "This is the next generation of the music business."
The music business certificate program, which will be open to juniors and seniors from any school or college on campus, consists of seven courses, a mix of basic business and music courses, including the two "music business" courses designed by Burch and Dancz.
The music business classes consist of more than just guest lectures, however. Students gain real-world music industry experience through internships with record labels, promoters, studios and other companies. "You can sit in a classroom everyday for years and not learn what you can on an internship in two weeks, sitting next to someone who really does it for a living," said Dancz.
Students are also asked to find local artists with potential and promote them through their own "record labels." The catch: They only get a $200 budget. Plans call for a live showcase featuring the chosen artists at the end of this semester.
One of the more important lessons students are learning is that the music industry is not all Grammy Awards and MTV parties, said Dancz. It's also a life of uncertainty, long hours and hard work.
"They're finding out how hard people work to do this," he said. "If you don't love it, it's a better idea to do something else."
One of the most valuable pieces of advice students have heard so far came from the lecture of Athens music producer David Barbe, who echoed what Burch and Dancz have told students about needing a burning desire in order to succeed.
"I don't think you choose the music industry," said Barbe. "I think it chooses you."
(This story is reprinted from the March 2006 issue of the Terry College's faculty and staff newsletter, The Terry Ticker.)