The Bruce Burch Interview
Mystery And Manners’ Volume 1 of UGA Cultural Revue
By James Calemine
Bruce Burch serves as the director of The University of Georgia’s music business program. The program, in its second year, teaches students to apply every day hands-on experiences with traditional textbook studies to build a career in the music industry.
The UGA music business program in a short time has become a main artery to the state of Georgia’s musical community. The program is a response to growing economic impact music generates in Georgia such as a 2 billion dollars in gross sales, 10,000 jobs and 95 million dollars in tax revenue.
A UGA alumnus, Burch began his career as a songwriter. In Nashville, he started his own publishing company and worked for EMI Music Publishing. At EMI, Burch pitched songs for Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson and Jimmy Webb. Musicians such as Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, Billy Joe Royal, T. Graham Brown and the Oak Ridge Boys all covered Burch’s songs and enjoyed Top 10 hits. Reba McEntire sang Burch’s “Rumor Has It” and “It’s Your Call” and both songs went to #1 on the country charts.
Burch has transformed the music program at UGA into a formidable cultural force. Periodically, Burch invites musicians to speak to the students to offer first hand insight. Some of the guest speakers Burch recruited to speak include The Drive By Truckers' Patterson Hood, Widespread Panic manager Buck Williams, famed Athens producer John Keane, Athens songwriter/producer David Barbe, longtime manager Charlie Brusco, songwriter Manuel Seal and R.E.M’s general counsel Bertis Downs.
Burch works with UGA alumnus George Fontaine who made a sizeable donation to get the UGA program started. This fall will bring a lot of attention to the Athens music scene. Not to mention the fever the #1 ranked Georgia Bulldogs college football team will draw nationwide press, but the UGA music business program will host several pre game music performances as well as stage other local concerts.
Recently, UGA teamed up with New West Records (home to Athens musicians Randall Bramblett, The Drive By Truckers and Vic Chesnutt) to assist in promoting Randall Bramblett’s new album and live performances. Burch’s students used three cameras to film Bramblett’s recent August CD release party in Athens. In Volume 1 of The Mystery And Manners Bruce Burch UGA Cultural Revue, Mr. Burch discusses the latest events, most recent news and upcoming developments for UGA’s dynamic music business program.
BB: Hey bud. What’s happening?
Hey man, how ya doin’?
BB: I’m doing pretty good. What are you up to?
Well, I think what we’ll do is make this the first of many volumes to keep folks updated on your schedule and events. You’re a cultural catalyst in Georgia. It was good to see you last weekend at the Randall Bramblett release party. How was Leon Russell Friday night?
BB: Oh man, it was awesome. He told really cool stories. He talked about how B.B. King recorded one of his songs, and then instead of doing one of his songs he’d do a B.B. song. Then he talked about Gram Parsons. He told the story about how The Rolling Stones wrote “Wild Horses” for Gram and how he had given them the country influence of songs like "Honky Tonk Women". It was like a history lesson. Wes Delk, the sound guy at the Melting Point—he’s worked with everybody from Waylon to Widespread Panic to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Wes helped Leon get set up. He said Leon was in a really good mood.
Did Leon still have his son in the band?
BB: You know, I don’t really know. It was Leon, a guitar player, bass player, drummer and another keyboard player—like an organ guy. He had a great set-up. He had a big keyboard and all this stuff. He mixes himself onstage. He’s got his own little mixing board he works with onstage. It was great. It was a night of music. When I got out of there I went over to see Modern Skirts at the 40 Watt. Then I was walking home and I walked by the Georgia Theater and one of my students saw me walking by and they grabbed me, and it turned out one of the band’s he’s working with has two of my other students in the band. So, I was out until about 2:30 in the morning. It was a long night of wonderful music…
Are most of the UGA shows held at The Melting Point?
BB: Not everything. That’s just a good room for us because it's a little easier to get in and out of there. They've given us a good deal. We partner up with them on a lot of stuff because of Wes and we know the guys that own it. But we’ve done a couple of things at The Georgia Theater and we’ve done some things at the 40 Watt. Athens is fortunate to have so many great venues to stage concerts.
Talk about some of the upcoming events…
BB: You should come up for Randall’s Ashford Manor show. We'll be helping to promote that. It’s a bed and breakfast out in Watkinsville. They started out as just a bed and breakfast. They decided to have concerts. It’s really grown now—over a thousand people come. They have tables reserved. Some people buy them for the whole season. They stage about 12 concerts a year.
I look forward to some of those panels you’ll be having…
BB: Absolutely. You should be a speaker. That’s the 19th of September. That’s a Friday at the Atlantis Music Conference in Atlanta. The theme is "Jobs in the Music Industry-How To Get Them and How to Keep Them Once You Do!" The next one is October 4 in Athens at the Melting Point. We do panels there in conjunction with the Athfest organization and the theme of those two panels will be "Entrepreneurship in the Music Industry" and "How to Start a Band-And How to Keep It Together Once You Do". We also have Rob Kenner, the Senior Editor Editor of Vibe Magazine coming as our keynote speaker. Vibe is owned by Quincy Jones.
The 19th is the day before the Widespread Panic Georgia Music Hall of Fame Inductions. Will I see you there?
BB: Yeah, I’ll be there. The Thursday night before Randall is playing a party for Widespread at the Hard Rock Café that Lisa Love and the Hall of Fame folks are putting on. I’d love for you to come to this panelist luncheon at the Madison Grill, which is on Peachtree. I’ll have to email you about that…
So, stab on the table the mission statement for UGA’s Music Business program.
BB: Well, our mission is to provide leaders for the music industry. Not necessarily for the state of Georgia, but the fact that the industry is growing so fast here makes us want to focus on it. My theory is if you don’t provide new blood for the industry it will dry up and go away. I’ve seen it happen in other music centers. One reason Nashville hasn’t dried up is because Belmont University there has one of the top music business programs in the country and has produced a lot people who are now leaders in the industry in Nashville. People like Mark Wright at Universal South Records—he came out of Belmont. I've seen so many people come out of there. Look at Randy Goodman—the guy who runs Lyric Street Records—he came out of Belmont. I’ve seen so many people come out of there—Trisha Yearwood, Brad Paisley, Lee Ann Womack—the list goes on and on. We feel like our program can provide some graduates like that to help keep the industry growing here in Georgia.
You’ve brought a lot of heavy hitters to speak to the students like The Drive By Truckers’ Patterson Hood, producer John Keane, producer David Barbe…
BB: Oh yeah, we’ve had everybody from Dallas Austin, Bertis Downs, Buck Williams, Patterson, DJ Toomp—who is probably one of the hottest producers in Atlanta. Manuel Seal—he’s a writer who’s had everybody from Mariah Carey to Usher hits. It’s real diverse and that’s the beauty of it. We’ve had Charlie Brusco—he’s worked with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Styx, the Outlaws, Jon Bon Jovi—he’s worked with so many legendary musicians and these folks in the industry give the students a lot of great advice.
Talk a little about how UGA is working with New West Records.
BB: New West is based in L.A. George Fontaine, one of our donors, owns New West records. We’ve been talking about it for a while. We started in January of 2006. From the very beginning we’ve been hoping to work with New West and let the students get the experience of working with a 'real' record label. It’s such a great opportunity to be able to work hand in hand with them. We’ve been doing student run labels and those were good. It was a good experience—the students have always loved it. This way it will be an actual project. We'll be helping Randall Bramblett and Benji Hughes—who is out of Charlotte, North Carolina. George Fontaine Jr. who worked with New West in L.A., is going to run it. So we'll have him there to kind of oversee this project for us. We divided the class up into twelve groups. Six of these groups will be working with Randall and six of the groups will be working with Benji. The groups encompass everything from radio—college radio particularly—marketing, promotion, lifestyle marketing. They’ll try to find stores like coffee shops—indie music stores that also feature music and get these artists music in them. We’ll have a new media group that does nothing but work on My Space, Facebook and You Tube. We’ve got about seven telecommunication majors who know how to film. We filmed the Randall concert the other night with three cameras run by our students. We’ll use YouTube heavily and hopefully be able to put music videos together. In fact, we’re trying to do a documentary of the whole process. There’s also the merchandising and touring aspect. We’ll probably send some of the students out on the road with them on weekends. We’ll get them to take a camera and film the whole process and get together some type of documentary. The beauty of it is we got an ally because the University bought a TV station and they are looking to us to provide content. So we may even develop a show around this project.
What is the fall schedule going to be like? I know Randall is going to be playing around a couple of football games…
BB: Yeah, we’ve got this series—two concert series—one is the Terry tunes. We’ve been doing that on Fridays out at lunch on Herty Field, but we’re going to move it to Saturday during football games this year. We’re going to do it on the front porch of the Terry College building—Brooks Hall. We’ve got Randall for one of them. We’ve got Sonia Lee—I don’t know if you know her, but she’s absolutely incredible. Leslie Framm who is a legendary radio personality now in New York discovered her and her husband Lanny West is managing Sonia. She’s gonna be doing the first one on September 6. And then we have Randall playing on September 27.
It’s all about to heat up…
BB: Oh, yeah man we’re about to get swamped here in the next few weeks. Then we’ve got two other dates before football games on the steps of Terry College. There are a hundred thousand people on campus the day of the game so it's a great showcase for the artists and for our program.
Things are always festive in Athens during fall, but the DAWGS’ #1 ranking and music before football games will nudge it up a notch. A lot of attention will be on Athens…
It will be great for us. It will be great to hopefully get some national press. I also want to mention the other concert series—the Nuci Space series, which is a resource center for musicians. It's a cool facility in Athens. A wonderful lady, Linda Phillips, and the Phillips family started it. It’s about 11 years old. Nuci Phillips was a musician in Athens in the 90s. He worked with David Barbe—and was a great musician and songwriter. He unfortunately committed suicide. So in his honor his family started this place and called it Nuci’s Space. It serves the musicians of Athens in so many ways.
I remember it as a practice space.
BB: Exactly. One of the things Nuci always had a hard time with was trying to find places for his band to rehearse. So, they put in rehearsal studios that are equipped with instruments and sound so bands can come in and rehearse. They also offer mental and physical assistance to musicians and others who need it in the community. There’s a doctor that comes in about once a month or so for tests. They give physicals and they also treat for depression. Linda is a trained therapist and she meets with a lot of people and she also has a group of people who are survivors of suicide that she has meet there every week. It’s a great facility that serves the whole Athens community. So we do a concert series with them as well and all the proceeds go to Nuci's Space. The students do everything--the sound--the green room--the merchandise, they set up and tear down the equipment, promote it, book it, get the press on it—that’s another great opportunity for the students.
It’s great cause. September and October is going to be a mother lode of musical culture.
BB: We’ve got another group of students working this John Jarrard concert I put on in Gainesville, Georgia. That will come up on October 7. We got Randall playing it and several songwriters from Nashville who’ve had top 10, and number one records. We’ll have Cole Ford and Mike Dekle who are from here in Athens playing too. That will be a big event that the students will be working on. Then there is a Corey Smith iconcert at Legion Field that we’ll be working on as well.
I remember you telling me about him.
BB; He’s been one of our main artists we've worked with. He’s spoken to our class every semester and he does a report on his year. We started out his first year and he told us how he did. Then his second year and he brought everybody up to date on where he was then. So, this is his third year out on the road. I think just about every year he doubled his gross. It’s a pretty good example of a new model in the music business. Corey basically is an example of the 'do-it-yourself' model. The only thing he’s done with a record label is a distribution deal, but otherwise he owns all of his publishing, masters—it’s the new model. He’s a regional artist, but he’s broadening out and will become a national artist I believe. It’s the Widespread Panic model. Like them he built it on touring. He started in Athens and just broadened from there.
Free downloads and giving away music makes people respond…
BB: Absolutely, in fact, he’s a guy you should interview. He’s really good.
It will be cool to see you at the rock and roll hall of fame. You work with the Georgia Music Hall of Fame too…
BB: Oh yeah. Lisa Love, the Director of the GMHOF been great. We worked with them on the music camp they did in Macon with the Otis Redding Foundation, which is run by the Redding family. They do so many great things and Lisa is a joy to work with.
Talk about UGA having Phil Walden’s music collection.
BB: Yeah, man. Phillip Jr.—Phil’s son—donated it to our program. It’s been almost three years since Phil died. We started a Phil Walden fund in his honor. We’ve received some wonderful donations in Phil's memory for that. Phillip just called one day out of the blue and said he had this CD and record collection that Phil had amassed over the years. It’s approaching 20,000 CDs and records. It also contains a record that was made in honor of President Carter's inauguration that has never been opened. You know Phil was very involved in the campaign that got Jimmy Carter elected to President. Did I show you that?
BB: Phillip also gave us Phil's Rolodex, which is really cool. It’s an amazing resource and again the students will be able to come in there. We’re digitizing it all right now. We're going to have a listening station set up where they can listen to the CDs and the vinyl to get a sense of the history of music. It’s got every genre—not just Georgia music—everything. From classical to jazz to country to rock—there’s not much Phil didn’t have in there. Phillip said every year after the Grammys they put out a Grammy book that you can order records through and Phil would order every one of them. It’s a comprehensive collection.
I’ll say, having seen it—it’s quite formidable. So, do you think there’s any chance you’ll start playing your stuff or recording more songs? You’re pretty humble about your songwriting accomplishments.
BB: Oh yeah, well I’ve done a couple of shows. I generally play a song or two at the John Jarrard thing usually. I’ve done a couple of shows at the Melting Point. I did one at Borders Books here last month. I do one every now and then. Performing is not really my thing. I like to do it—once I get up and do it, I enjoy it; first of all I have to practice and I don’t really practice much anymore. Every now and then I still write. But I don’t pick up the guitar and play it every day. I’m rusty. Plus I have to learn all my old songs over again. But, I enjoy it, like I say, I love doing it. I wish I could do it more often—it’s just a matter of getting geared up for it.
And you’re really busy…
BB: Yeah, we’ve got so many events and generally I do have to help organize the students and promote the events and I do that a lot too. I’m always promoting my own events because I don’t want just two people showing up while I’m playing!
I have to tell you, as a graduate of UGA…I wish this was happening when I attended. It’s like Christmas morning every day, and you’re such a force to streamline your own talent into this huge portal.
BB: Well, God bless you man.
We’ll keep this up every couple of months or so…
BB: Well, you’re at the top of my list—you’ll get more emails from me than you’ll want.
No man, send them all…
BB: We should set something up for the Georgia-Florida game.
We will. I’ll talk to you in a few days. I want to get this interview up so we can stay current with every event.
BB: Well, I appreciate it James. Let’s talk in the next few days.
Talk to you soon…