For twenty-seven years I have lived in Nashville, Tennessee working as a songwriter, a record producer, a music publisher and an artist manager. I have been fortunate to have worked with some of the biggest artists and musicians in the business and I have written or produced music that has sold over 30 million in sales. I love Nashville, almost everything about it. Sonja and I have raised our family here and this is what we call home.
With all of these things being true, one may wonder why I recently took a faculty position as an “Artist In Residence” in the music department’s Commercial Music concentration at Southern Virginia University. I started remotely in January developing curriculum and helping to plan the expansion of the Commercial Music concentration. In August, I will be on the ground in Buena Vista, Virginia. People have asked, “Will you still be working on projects in Nashville?” The answer is absolutely yes. I will continue to write and produce for the Nashville markets, but I will be spending significant time in Virginia, as well.
Why would I choose to teach? And if I am going to teach, why did I choose Southern Virginia University? The answer begins with President Reed Wilcox, the university’s president. He has become a friend of mine over the years as my band the Nashville Tribute Band has performed a number of concerts on the SVU campus. I am always impressed with President Wilcox’s passion for the university, its students and staff. He has a kind of “maverick” mentality when it comes to education that I very much appreciate.
In my many visits to campus over the years I have seen a university staff that is very busy, but very engaged. I have not seen staff frustrated by restrictions that seem to limit their potential and their vision as educators. On the contrary, I have seen encouragement from the top to reach further and soar higher in the pursuit of excellence. Students on campus all seem to have smiles on their faces.
When President Wilcox first approached me early in 2020 about the possibility of employment at SVU, I began to reflect on the rapid changes in the music business in recent years. When I arrived in Nashville in 1994 the business was booming and there was a plethora of companies with budgets that were happy to develop younger talented writers, musicians and producers. There were a number of years when I was a staff writer at Warner-Chappell Music that I would simply walk into the office and say that I need to go to Los Angeles or Miami or New York for some opportunities there and my plane ticket, rental car, hotel and per diem were booked that day for as long as I needed, no questions asked.
Those were amazing times for a developing writer and producer. I networked more and accomplished more in those early years then I see young creators doing these days. Today’s environment is VERY different. Publishing companies and production companies really don’t even see a creator as “existing” until they have a hit earning money on the radio. Once that happens then companies may line up to get involved, for a significant slice of the financial pie of course, to help to develop and expand opportunities of the hit creator, but this rarely happens before some major success accompanies the young person’s name first. Therefore, the experience of getting from A to B can be unusually difficult for young people in music today.
President Wilcox loves the arts and he and I quickly had an aligned vision of SVU as a place for young creators to get a very good education, and at the same time developing their skills for the music business after graduation. This is something that greatly excites me to be a part of. I have done many of the things that future students want to do in their careers and I believe I can teach them not only the academics of creating music, but also the street smarts of developing music that will not only compete and be profitable, but also in making music that matters, to them and to others.
For anyone who is a creative young person, or the parent of a creative young person, allow me to give you a quick overview of why you should consider Southern Virginia University as a place to study. SVU currently has 1,100 students. The University is not officially affiliated with a particular faith, but is aligned with the values of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints. It was founded in 1867 as a school for girls, and is now a private four-year co-educational institution. At Southern Virginia University, we believe in gathering like-minded students, lifting them towards their potential and launching them into successful lives and careers.
Within the Commercial Music concentration, we follow the same model. We are gathering students with like-minded interests (a passion for the creation, production and performance of profitable music), lifting them towards their potential by providing a personalized creative and/or performance experience within their individual skillsets and launching them into successful lives and careers.
Any student interested in performing with us can audition for involvement and scholarship funds, regardless of major. You can find additional information about that at music.svu.edu. After scholarship funds are assigned, students will give a secondary audition on campus for our faculty in order to assign the student to a specific ensemble based on their skill, experience and interests. We are excited about this new approach to ensemble creation and think it aligns well with our effort to gather and lift our students.
For students interested in a more in-depth study of aspects of commercial music, we are excited to be expanding concentrations in the Fall of 2021: Contemporary songwriting, contemporary music production and contemporary music performance. The concentrations are designed to be meaningful for students of any major who have a passion for music creation, production or performance. While these concentration students can major in music, they are not required to do so.
I should also mention that I love the outdoors and the front steps of SVU’s main hall is three miles from the Appalachian Trail, and the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains around campus provide one of the most beautiful areas on God’s green earth.
I encourage any young creator who has a personal vision to get a college degree, and at the same time pursue the opportunity to sing, play, write or produce music, to explore and consider Southern Virginia University. There is no place like it on earth. And if it is right for you, I look forward to the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and work hard together so you are prepared for the moment you hit the ground running after graduation.
Making a living in the entertainment business can be challenging, in all of the ways the average person can imagine and probably a few more that many can’t possibly imagine. But if a young person feels the internal drive to create, then I strongly suggest that they consider one of the few places in the world that allows students to sharpen their skills in music in an environment where integrity, honor, hard work and Christian values are lived and appreciated.
God bless the young creative minds and hearts!
Artist In Residence at Southern Virginia University