Atlanta Art Reviews by Susan K Asher
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Rolling Stone Chuck Leavell
to Play Benefit for UGA Music Business Program

2009 April 28
by Susan Asher
pictured: Chuck Leavell

pictured: Chuck Leavell

Chuck Leavell, keyboard player for the Rolling Stones, will perform with Randall Bramlett in Athens, Ga., to benefit the Music Business Certificate Program at the University of Georgia (UGA). The program, a joint venture of the university’s schools of music and business, was created to prepare students to work in any field of the music industry.

The concert will be held Friday, May 1 at the Melting Point at 8 p.m. Music Business Program co-founder Bruce Burch hopes to raise $50,000. Prior to the concert, he will auction off a trip to Nashville and signed memorabilia, including a guitar signed by Chuck Leavell and Randall Bramblett.

A member of The Rolling Stones for the past 25 years, Leavell has played with some of the biggest names in the music business, including  The Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison. He is an inductee into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Bramblett has recorded or performed with Steve Winwood, the Grateful Dead and Bonnie Raitt. Leavell and Bramlett previously played together as members of Sea Level, a band form the ‘70s that mixed jazz with blues and rock. Leavell said, “I have not played Athens as a solo artist probably since we had our band Sea Level. . . what a great thing, say hello to the Athens fans and raise some money for the program.”

Burch, a songwriter, started the Music Business Program in 2006. The program, tailored to the music industry, also provides business training for people who want to work in the entertainment field. The university provides classroom space and administrative services. The only funding comes from donations, mainly from alumni and music corporations.

Burch said, “That’s why we’re doing fundraisers, as an outreach to people in the industry to support us.” The 21-hour Music Business Certificate is available to anyone attending the university who passes seven of its classes, which include topics in industry trends, copyright laws, networking, management, production, marketing and public relations.

While many people say the record business is dying, mainly due to file-share sites that allow users to download music on the Internet, Burch believes there are and will continue to be plenty of opportunities to work in the industry. “The physical CD where you hold music in your hand may never come back, but I think we’ve reinvented ourselves,” he said. He predicts money will come from concerts and from sales of music used in films, TV shows, advertising, and video games.

Burch, who graduated from the University of Georgia in 1975, says that it’s pertinent for people wanting to work in music to understand the business side of the industry. He learned that the hard way. He moved to Nashville in 1977 and worked odd jobs for five years before he sold his first song. He waited another five years to have one of his songs, “Rumor Has It” (sung by Reba McEntire), crack the No. 1 spot on the country music charts. (Two years later, she would take another of his songs, “It’s Your Call” to the No. 1 spot again.) George Jones, The Oak Ridge Boys, Faith Hill and Dan Seals are a few of the stars who have recorded his songs and made them hits. He said had he known more about the business side of music, he might have made it five or ten years earlier.

Burch said the entertainment industry knows artists need training in how to conduct business in their field. That’s why many universities near music hubs, like Atlanta, Nashville and Los Angeles, now offer music business programs. Nashville’s Belmont University pioneered the concept of a music business program in the early ‘70s. Burch taught a music publishing class there as an adjunct professor in the ‘90s. Burch said a donation of millions of dollars from Mike Curb, who owns one of the largest independent record labels in the country, helped that program grow into a full-blown entertainment business school that awards bachelor and master degrees. “If we could get something like that [a huge donation], overnight we could become a lot bigger.” With funding, he believes UGA’s Music Business Program will grow to a full-degree program.

Presently, graduates of UGA who hold the music business certificate are working as musicians, marketers, promoters, music editors, tour managers, production assistants, and studio engineers. Some former students work for themselves and others work for some of the top companies in the business, including Live Nation, the William Morris Agency, and the Harlem School of Music. Burch said entertainment companies around the country contact his office to recommend qualified candidates to fill open positions.

As a songwriter, Burch spent his mornings penning songs and his afternoons pitching them to record companies, managers and artists. He became so good at pitching songs, he began pitching for other songwriters as well, and created his own publishing company. He later worked for EMI Publishing—the song publishing arm of the record label EMI—which makes money from selling recordings for CDs, MP3s, video games, movies, Web sites, and more. Ready for a change after nearly 30 years, he returned to Athens, a college town well known for birthing bands such as the B-52’s, R.E.M., Widespread Panic, and the Drive-By Truckers.

Burch said in the past 10 years Georgia’s music business “has exploded,” and it’s expected to grow even more with the passing of the state’s recent tax incentive, which boosts the state tax credit for qualified production and post-production expenditures by as much as 30 percent. Burch said, “There are more films and TV productions in the pipeline here than ever before.”

But without having the proper knowledge, even musicians who find jobs in the boom could get hurt. Leavell said people who want to work in the music industry need to understand the business to protect themselves. “In my career, early on I did take the time to read books on the business side of music and to talk to attorneys and to understand what I was getting myself into,” he said. “But I saw so many other young musicians that did not do that and that consequently wound up with record deals that were substandard, or they signed things that they wished they had not signed. To have a program that would teach people the fine points of the business of music is extremely important.”

The benefit for the Music Business Program will be held at The Melting Point in Athens, Ga. General admission tickets are $100. Patron pre-party tickets, at $150, include reserved seats, a silent auction and an hors d’oeuvres reception. For reservations and information, call 706-254-6909 or visit www.meltingpointathens.com.

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