School That Rocks
Fortunately for Boone, Shields and others like them, they have an edge on the competition, having majored in the music concentration in the arts management program in the College’s School of the Arts. In one of the fastest-growing majors at the College, students learn how to navigate this new music economy. Instructors like Mark Bryan, lead guitarist of Hootie and the Blowfish, and Heather McDonald, a former record industry executive, show them how to make it in this increasingly entrepreneurial realm. The College even has its own student-run record label, 1770, that has put out a couple dozen singles by local artists and even released a vinyl album this past semester.
“Having Heather and the other arts management professors as a resource in college was hugely beneficial,” says Shields, who is from Philadelphia. “I had no knowledge of how the industry worked or managing yourself as a business. I had the artist brain, not the business brain. Getting linked up with Heather was like having a pseudo manager we could go to with all of our questions. I still reach out to her with questions regularly.”
Bryan, who co-founded Hootie after hearing Darius Rucker’s soulful baritone emanating from a shower stall in their residence hall at the University of South Carolina, can’t believe the difference in the industry between now and when he first started out in the early ’90s.
“It’s the Wild West in the music industry right now,” he says. “There’s no middle ground, and you have to caution kids about that and teach them how that happened. Everything we’re teaching is involved with streaming now and the advent of that.”
In today’s streaming world, the old rules no longer apply. It’s a much more democratic process than before. We, the audience, have much more say in artists’ success because algorithms monitor every time we stream a song, share it or add it to a playlist.
Critical mass will prompt other algorithms and official curators at Spotify and other streaming services, such as Pandora, Apple and Amazon, to further promote it – the holy grail of playlisting.
“There were far fewer paths to success in previous generations for musicians,” says Ross, who was a classical music major. “There were far more gatekeepers, much more exclusivity. The information age has dissolved all of that.”
That’s not to say old-school charm and manners don’t still have a place; they do. Boone, for instance, will often drop $100 catering a radio station’s weekly listening lunch and sends swag like T-shirts or bottles of his new line of Boone’s Bourbon to Spotify curators.
“It’s all about personal relationships, but it’s got to be a good song at the end of the day,” he says, adding that he rarely takes a day off. “I work for myself, but I work all the time. The more you put into it, the bigger it gets.”
That’s one of the key takeaways of the music concentration in the arts management program, which began in 2008 under former chair Scott Shanklin-Peterson after students began expressing an interest in learning about the music industry. Up till then, the program focused primarily on the nonprofit arts, so Shanklin-Peterson reached out to Bryan, a Charleston resident whom she hoped might support the program financially after selling more than 25 million albums with Hootie. He confessed an even better proposition: a desire to teach.
“That gift of his time and amazing connections, enthusiasm and dedication was far more valuable than any financial contribution,” says Shanklin-Peterson, now a senior fellow with the program. “The music industry concentration would never have moved beyond a couple of courses if it had not been for Mark. His desire to teach was extremely fortunate for the arts management program.”
And as a bona fide rock star, he brings great visibility to the program. “He’s an amazing member of our faculty because he’s played all over the world,” says Karen Chandler, the current program director and expert on Charleston’s African American contributions to jazz. “Mark is a true artist-in-residence, teacher and promoter, and uses his network to find our students internships. He’s very involved.”
Right now, the tall, curly-headed Bryan is sitting at a high-top table in the corner of Kudu coffeehouse, drinking a chai tea latte and wearing a Martin Guitars T-shirt. Electric Light Orchestra’s “Telephone Line” is playing on the sound system, ironically, given that land lines have disappeared like CDs and so many other things in the music business.
“This is the best use of my skill set if I’m not going to be on tour,” he says, noting that only about a quarter of the 40 students in the concentration each year are musicians. “A lot of them come into the class knowing they want to work in the industry, but they don’t know what they want to do. Music excites them, and they want to do a job that they’re passionate about. We hope by the end of the semester they find that passion.”
The syllabus tackles the major topics of the industry week by week. The first week, for instance, is devoted to the creative process and songwriting. “We start with the song,” says Bryan, who cowrote many of Hootie’s biggest hits, including “Only Want to Be With You,” “Hold My Hand” and “Let Her Cry.” “There wouldn’t be any of this other stuff without the song.”
Other topics include recording and engineering, live performances, booking gigs and building a team. Six times a year, Bryan brings in industry professionals to talk about their careers for the program’s “In the Mix” series that he moderates. One of the guests this past semester was a former student, Brandon Brooks ’15, who came up with the idea for a booking app while at the College because of his frustration trying to land gigs. Initially developed through the College’s iCat program (now ImpactX), a cross-disciplinary, technology-entrepreneurship competition, the app, called Jyve, simplifies the booking process between musicians and venues while simultaneously giving fans information on musicians’ live performances and body of work. Venues pay a small fee when they book an act, which now stands at more than 1,200 since the app launched last year.
“Every time a gig is booked, it’s then promoted on our live music feed in the app,” says Brooks, who plays drums in a band called Terraphonics. “For the fans, the value proposition is they don’t have to search through everybody’s Facebook page to see who’s playing tonight. For the artists, there needs to be a technology that’s on their side to increase their revenue and volume of gigs. It’s about helping the artist make money and saving time on the booking side of things.”