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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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But the music business was also wearing him down. Burch went through a divorce. His two kids enrolled at UGA, and he returned to Athens often to see them. "I was living by my wits so long," he says. "Pitching songs is a tough job because you're told 'no' 99 percent of the time. It was getting harder and harder. I was coming back down here, and reconnected with a lot of friends."

Burch was surprised to discover that UGA – sitting in the middle of one of the epicenters of the indie-rock scene – didn't have a music-business program. He had taught classes on publishing at the entertainment and music program at Belmont University in Nashville. "I'd learned everything from the school of hard knocks," he says. "I knew that if you put together academic discipline and real-world experience, it would make a great program. And what better place than Athens?"

Steve Dancz grew up on the UGA campus. His parents led the Redcoat Marching Band for 37 years. Dancz, a pianist, moved to Los Angeles shortly after he graduated from the university. He naively thought he could forge a career scoring films and television shows. "Looking back, it was nuts moving to L.A.," he says. "My third year out there, I was having a deep understanding of why people commit suicide."

Dancz, 50, eventually wrote scores for National Geographic and "Designing Women." He returned to Georgia in 1999 and became director of UGA's jazz-studies program. The first thing he noticed when he returned was that nothing had changed in the music school since he'd been a student. Dancz thought the school would be better served if it offered students the chance to learn how to survive as a professional musician.

He floated the idea of creating a music-business program in 2003, and was sent to meet with George Benson, then dean of UGA's Terry College School of Business. "About 15 seconds into my pitch, he's nodding," Dancz says. "I'm thinking either he has palsy or else this is the easiest sales pitch of my life. What I didn't know is that he'd been talking to Bruce for a year about the same idea."

Burch and Dancz met for breakfast a few days later. "We basically crawled into the same boat," Dancz says. "Here, you've got one oar, I've got the other."

The program was set up as a joint venture between the business and music schools. Dancz and Burch were named co-directors, and Burch's charge was to find the money to fund the program.

A friend of his knew a UGA alumnus named George Fontaine, who had made a fortune distributing Red Bull in parts of the United States. Fontaine is also a self-described "freak for music." He owns New West Records; the label is home to three of Athens' most significant artists: the Drive-By Truckers, Randall Bramblett and Vic Chesnutt.

Fontaine visited the university to meet with Burch and Dancz. "I liked the idea," he says. "I had the wherewithal and they had the vision."

Fontaine donated $1 million to get the program off the ground. Burch and Dancz then set up the parameters of the course work.

It would, at least initially, be a "certificate" program, not a full major or minor. The students would take seven classes, including two taught by Burch and Dancz, an accounting course and a music-theory class geared to non-musicians.

They didn't expect the students to be musicians, but they did want them to be passionate about music. They wanted to give them as much practical experience as possible through internships in the industry.

They also would divide the kids into groups. Each group had to work as a record company and concert promoter. The team would find a band, oversee a recording session and help set up a marketing plan. And it would produce a concert. The students would do everything from promoting the show to setting up the P.A. system to stocking the dressing rooms with food and beverages.

"We wanted," Burch says, "to provide a boot camp for kids who want to be in the music business."

As today's class with the Drive-By Truckers winds down, a student raises his hand with the question that burns in every student's gut. "How do we go from where we are now," he asks, "to the point where you are, of making it a permanent career?"

Hood smiles for a moment. "You make it in music by being stubborn and relentless and not giving up," he says. "We're all poster children for not giving up. I'm 43. And I've made a pretty decent living only in the last three or four years."


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