TAKING NOTES: Rock star becomes University music professor

It’s getting crowded in Terry College’s Music Business Program office. Yet another internationally renowned, nationally proven and locally beloved music figure has joined the staff this semester, and he’s no slouch next to the other big names already there.

David Lowery, lead singer of bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, mathematician, and long-time music businessman is teaching Fundamental Concepts in Music Business this semester, in which he will share information he’s collected throughout 26 years in the biz.

Lowery’s career as a musician started in 1985 with Camper Van Beethoven after graduating a year earlier from the University of California-Santa Cruz. Setting precedent for Lowery’s tendency to take alternate routes through the music business world, the band put out its own record and sent it out all over the place, including college radio stations in the U.S.

“College radio in 1985 … nobody sent their records to college radio. Students used to have to bring in their albums and play them,” Lowery said. “It was a cool thing for us to do that, but it was also not really heard of much at the time.”

Lowery pursued music through CVB and Cracker, formed in the early 90s, eventually reaching levels of commercial success.

“It was a long, gradual process that took about 10 years to mature,” Lowery said.

But performing was hardly the only thing on Lowery’s mind throughout those years. In his time of touring and recording, he started businesses, ran a recording studio and produced records for other bands. He even worked in real estate.

“So I was doing all this other stuff aside from being a full time onstage artist,” he said.

From the wealth of knowledge collected during his various exploits, Lowery began putting together a book that would explain how his experiences offered better insights into the modern economy than an MBA might.

“Maybe that’s a little over reaching,” Lowery said. “But perhaps it’s a really good supplement.”

An essential point Lowery emphasized in modern business is understanding the commodification of information, be it a song or a business plan. And, Lowery notes, musicians have been doing this since … well, since they played music and needed money.

“People owned these little abstract, intangible things called songs, and they had to figure out how to exploit them and make money off them,” he said.

That traditional knowledge as well as familiarity with marketing via social networks has given musicians a huge advantage in the business world, especially in the modern information-based, hyper-connected world.

With all these experiences and theories built up, Lowery was ready to do more than just write about it.

“I’ve been looking for a place to do this,” he said of teaching.

So when he called David Barbe to congratulate him on his new position as head of the Music Business Program last year, he offered to guest lecture.

“As he’s talking to me, I can feel a light bulb switch on,” Barbe said.

A rock star/business man with an actual degree in mathematics, and just when Barbe was looking for someone to teach MBUS 3000? It was too good to be true.

“I got no shortage of music business contacts, that’s the easy part,” Barbe said. “Finding someone like David who had the combination of the academic qualifications and mathematics and financial background AND the music business experience was just an ideal fit for the program.”

Lowery seems excited about the opportunity to share his knowledge with students regardless of their professional intentions. As for those leaning toward music, Lowery said he believes this program will give them skills to at least pursue it as a supplement.

“I really think that everybody that wants to be in the music business now could actually be in the music business on some level,” Lowery said. “At least part time.”

The new business world as Lowery sees it is less based on record companies and moving evermore online, meaning less billionaire record executives, but more opportunities for anyone to participate in a business they love. Indie labels, DIY producers, music website designers, all have possible futures.

“We’re entering this world where so much of our products are ideas or information, and in that world, for various technical mathematical reason, you have lots of dwarves and a handful of giants.” Lowery said, quoting Nassim Taleb. “So yeah there’s plenty of room to be a dwarf in this business.”

Original online publication

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