The University of Georgia Music Business Program gave students and invited guests a headlining act to begin classes, when lead singer John Bell of Athens-based jam band Widespread Panic took the UGA Chapel stage for the program’s first lecture of fall.
Bell opened and closed the 90-minute event with performances of “Already Fried” and “Time Waits,” to a full house, providing his own guitar accompaniment to go with his gritty vocal work. In between, Bell recounted his experiences entering the music business from the perspective of a performer, songwriter and member of a six-piece band.
He told the students in the audience who aspire to work in the music industry to remember that contracts begin as an empty page and they can negotiate anything they want into it. “There will be people who come up with a check in one hand and a contract in the other, saying it’s ironclad,” Bell said. “You don’t have to trust them or be bullied. It’s your dream, and don’t let someone else push you around.”
Bell and guitarist Michael Houser met while they were students at the University of Georgia, eventually forming the band and releasing their debut album in 1986. Widespread Panic has grown into one of the most popular touring bands in the country, carrying on the influence of the Grateful Dead with its own style of “jam band” rock infused with country, folk and bluegrass roots.
Bruce Burch, director of the UGA Music Business Program, believes it is these types of events that truly give students the proper perspective into the dynamics of the music industry. “John Bell’s experiences epitomize a great deal of what students will encounter when they enter the music business,” Burch said, “We were thrilled that he agreed to give our students a first day of class they will never forget.”
UGA’s Music Business Program, which is a privately-funded certificate program housed within the Terry College of Business, prepares students for careers in the music industry. Students can earn an interdisciplinary certificate in music business by receiving a hands-on education about subjects like music and business fundamentals, copyright issues, creative content, artist management and production and technology.