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Bruce Burch and the business of music

A former hit songwriter develops a new program at UGA that teaches students how to succeed in the music industry ... without being musicians


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In desperation, they decided to write a prospectus and find investors. It worked. "We printed up 5,000 copies of the CD, and had enough money left over to hire a publicist for three months and to buy an old van to go on the road," Hood says. "We hit the road, and we had to book ourselves because we'd just fired our manager."

The band got its first mainstream attention when the album received rave reviews from Rolling Stone and other music publications. Yet the band was mostly selling the CD at concerts. "We'd hit a wall," Hood says. "And we still owed the investors." The Truckers eventually hooked up with a small independent label. Southern Rock Opera finally made it into record stores.

The students want to know more details about the band's novel approach. "How did you identify potential investors, and how did you convince them to invest?" someone asks.

"It was pretty moving, actually," Hood replies. "We had a tiny fan base at the time, but they really believed in us. We went to them. We told them not to loan us anything they were scared to lose, that we'd pay them back within 15 months at 15 percent interest."

The students want more specifics. "How much money did you have to raise to put the record out?" someone asks.

For a moment, Hood seems taken aback by the directness of the question, and he briefly stutters before he answers. "We needed $30,000 and raised $24,000," he tells the class. "That was the bare minimum we needed to print up 5,000 copies. And the first run sold out so fast, it almost scared us."

Burch, 54, grew up in Gainesville with a passion for football. He even played a year at East Tennessee State on a partial scholarship. The team finished 0-9-1 his freshman year and, as Burch tells it, things got so bad that two assistant coaches got into a fight on the sideline during a game. He left school and spent a summer in Atlanta, where he heard Kris Kristofferson and fell in love with country music. That fall, he moved to Athens to go to UGA.

He worked behind the front desk of an Athens motel called Kay's Inn, and kept his guitar there so he could work on songs during the down time. One night, an old friend from Gainesville named Johnny Jarrard stopped by and saw the guitar. They realized they were each budding songwriters. "The next thing I know, we've set up a little recording studio in the bathroom with a reel-to-reel recorder," Burch says. "We fed each other's fire. I moved up to Nashville in 1977, and he moved up after that. He came up because of me, and I stayed because of him."

Jarrard found success first. He penned hits for Don Williams and George Strait, and fed Alabama a string of chart-topping songs. Meanwhile, Burch spent five years knocking around Music Row trying to get his foot in the door. Hope flickered when a friend passed his tape to someone who worked at Combine Music, a major publishing house, but Burch never heard from him.

On a Sunday afternoon two years later, Burch received a call. It was the guy from Combine. "Hey, I just listened to your tape," he said. Burch drove over to his house, played every song he'd ever written and was signed that afternoon.

Burch penned two top 10 hits: "Out of Sight and on My Mind" by Billy Joe Royal, and "The Last Resort" by T. Graham Brown. Then Reba McEntire recorded a song Burch co-wrote called "Rumor Has It," and it became a No. 1 hit in 1990. The irony is that Burch had met McEntire in 1977 when she made her first Grand Ole Opry appearance and checked into a motel where he worked as the front-desk clerk. A few years later, McEntire came into a restaurant where Burch was working as a waiter; he waited on her table and used the opportunity to chat her up. Two years after that, she recorded his song. And two years after that, she had a second No. 1 with "It's Your Call," another song Burch co-wrote. "I tell the kids that one person can make your career," he says. "And you never know who it is going to be."

By the time he reached 50, Burch was creative director at EMI's publishing house and also ran two publishing companies of his own. He'd write in the morning, then pitch songs in the afternoon.


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