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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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Burch has spent the class seated in the back, asking an occasional question but mostly listening. He reserves the final question of the class for himself. "This is for everybody in the band," he says. "Give us some advice. What would you tell these students about the music business?"

The band members look at each other. Brad Morgan, the drummer, has sat mostly silent during the class. Finally, he speaks up. "My advice? Don't be an asshole. Have ethics. Don't try to rip people off. People get into the business and want to take and take and take, and it can get ugly."

Hood picks up the train of thought. "It can get brutally ugly," he says. "There are people who rip artists off. They know artists love to play, that we'd do it for nothing. And they use it for exploitation. It makes us ripe for the picking."

After the class, a dozen or so students mill around the band, handing out cards and chatting them up. After all, you never know which person will make your career.

One of the kids, Taylor Lindsey, a senior from Washington, Ga., says she never imagined a career in the music business when she first enrolled at UGA – even though her older sister co-wrote Carrie Underwood's No. 1 hit, "Jesus Take the Wheel," and is one of Nashville's hottest songwriters. "Everyone in my family thought music would be my sister's domain," she says. "But all of us have a passion for music."

Now Lindsey's dream is to start her own publishing company. She's already had two internships – including one at ASCAP, the music-licensing company – and has used them as a learning lab and a networking opportunity. "This program has given us a security blanket," she says. "We're not walking out there blind."

After class, Burch strolls over to his favorite watering hole, just down the street from the Georgia Theatre in downtown Athens. He's excited because he's just learned that the program received the half-million-dollar pledge from the Atlanta businessman.

The pledge isn't only significant for its size, but because it comes from a high-profile businessman and can help bring the program credibility with the Atlanta business community.

Burch and Dancz eventually want to turn the program into a full-fledged school of entertainment and music business, and that will entail major fundraising. "We want to be one of the premier programs in the country," Burch says. "That's a pretty lofty goal. But between Athens and Atlanta, we're located in the fastest-growing entertainment scene in the country."

Ultimately, the program will be judged by how many of its students succeed. So far, Burch and Dancz say, 17 of the first 22 students to graduate with a music-business certificate have gotten jobs in the industry.

Burch reminds his students almost every day how wide open music is today. He points out that the two most recent innovations for bands to build their fan base – YouTube and MySpace – were invented by people in their 20s.

"Our job is to produce the music leaders of tomorrow," Burch says.

But it's also important to him to have his students go into the business for the right reasons.

"I tell the kids, if you don't love the music business, don't do this, it's not for you," Burch says. "People who are successful in music have perseverance and drive. It's not a job. It's got to be something you love doing."


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