MBus at Terry makes a home of Athens

by Namali Premawardhana


They’re everywhere. They are infiltrating nearly every music-industry-related business/organization in Athens.

Some of them are here to stay.

The Music Business Certificate Program at the University of Georgia, now in its seventh year running, is gathering momentum and gaining more and more attention. Its deep integration with the Athens music industry not only makes it a much sought-after experience, but also gives back to Athens a growing generation of passionate music industry professionals.

“They want more to do than I can barely keep up with,” Director David Barbe says of some of the students in the program. “They have crazy ideas!” So what he tries to do through the program is match each student with an industry professional in Athens that can help him or her shape these ideas and bring them to fruition.

“This program would be nothing without the music scene that Athens provides,” Anne-Hampton Wall, graduating senior says.  “They feed off each other. The program provides the work for Athens’ music scene and the music scene is what makes our program so special … it’s a great connect.”

Unlike Wall who applied to the university with the intention of following the MBUS, junior Chris Caruso was introduced to the program in his hunt for extra credit. But since then, he has become so passionately involved with the program as well as the Athens music industry that he changes his usually carefree tone to firmly say “this is the most fulfilling experience I’ve had in college.”

Caruso agrees with Wall that it is the sheer level of involvement in the industry that makes the program as good as it is. The best thing he feels he will take away from the experience is the network of professionals he has built through the program.

Katie Carmody is one of the many people who can confirm Caruso’s hypothesis. She graduated from the Music Business Certificate Program in the spring semester of 2008 and currently serves as Marketing Director and Head of Artist Hospitality at the Georgia Theatre and the Green Room. “I know I work with a lot of my previous classmates from the program, in my job today,” she says in an email.

Stephen Taylor is guitarist for Eddie & The Public Speakers and booking agent at Nimbleslick Entertainment. “I’ve been in music my whole life, really … and I’ve always known that that’s my path — to be in the music industry for sure,” he says. The Music Business Certificate Program gave him insight to the business side of things, but what he values the most is “the community that [the class] creates. So many people learn ‘this guy’s interested in engineering, this guy’s interested in booking.’ The awesome thing is you have all these friends that, put ‘em together and they make up that team we were just talking about!”

The “team” Taylor refers to is the collection of artists, producers, labels, venues, booking agents and other professionals that make up the different facets of the music industry. This is the concept the certificate program centers on. MBUS 1100, the introductory course to the program, looks at the different aspects of music company operations, allowing students to understand what roles they might want to take on as they get into the field. Once they’ve decided, students are required to intern with industry professionals in their chosen field throughout the course of the program. This is where Athens comes into play.

Director Barbe is well-known in Athens as musician, songwriter, producer and music-industry guru. Associate Director Tom Lewis is an engineer/producer and owner of Tom Lewis Recording Studios. David Lowery is a lecturer when he is not the lead singer of two bands, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. The cumulative connections they have with the Athens music industry make for a long list of industry partners including Drive-By Truckers, Futurebirds, Widespread Panic, Athens Banner-Herald, Flagpole Magazine, Georgia Theatre, 40-Watt Club, and experts like Bertis Downs in the program. For some prospective students, this list of internship partners and guest speakers is what makes the cut over other similar (and even better-known) programs.

Dank Sinatra keyboardist Matt Henderson is originally from South Carolina. “I would say the main reason I came to Georgia in the first place was that I wanted to do Music Business. I’d heard great things,” he says.  He chose the certificate program at the University of Georgia over the degree program at Belmont College because “the community is so small. David Barbe, Tom Lewis and David Lowery know everyone in the town and they make you get internships, so it’s very hands on and very involved.”

But its not just the students that get a great deal through the program.

The program brings what Wilmot Greene, owner of the Georgia Theater calls “a large stable of motivated interns” to the Athens industry. “That alone makes a big impact on the local scene,” he says. The Georgia Theater and the Green Room both hire student interns from the Music Business program. Greene sees more students taking an active role in promoting and going to shows, more students thinking about the business behind the shows they see, etc., because of the program. “Basically, just more people involved in all aspects of the scene. This is a positive for everyone.”

Nuci’s Space is another well-known music spot that works closely with the program. The space not only serves as a lab for some of the program’s projects, but also hires interns. For Bob Sleppy, Director of Nuci’s Space, collaboration with the program means “a lot of good publicity. Also, we get to showcase the space to a number of people that otherwise might wouldn’t walk in here.”

“It works for everybody,” Barbe says. “The students get great opportunities, and the venues and the CEOs and Dead Wood Guitars and all the labels and management companies and booking agencies all get labor that they pay for with expertise. The other thing is that they know when kids go there to work, they’re expected to do so to a certain standard. And the standard is set by people who have actually done this for a living for a long time, and not by somebody that just read about it in a book. I think it’s made a huge impact on Athens in the past couple of years.”

Bertis Downs, best known as counselor and manager for REM, acknowledges that a lot of students are going into the music industry in Athens because of the program. But he questions what lasting effect it may produce. “It comes down to who’s willing to do the work, where do they want to live?” he says. “Not everybody wants to stay here so I don’t know.”

Carmody who works daily with the students that intern at the Georgia Theater and Green Room is more positive. “I think the Music Business program has helped raise awareness to University of Georgia students about the local music scene, and offers a way in, and provides support in finding jobs after graduation,” she says.

True enough, Taylor’s internship with Nimbleslick is what grew into the full time agent position he now occupies. As he says, “It was just an easy transition to go from my internship into a paid position … so when I was done [with school] that was one less thing that I had to worry about.”

Taylor, Carmody and Henderson are in the minority of students from the program that make the decision to stay on in Athens after they graduate. Whether the numbers change or not, the MBUS is definitely helping to make it a viable option. And the passionate ones will always take their chances.


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