Music Industrial strength 

San Antonio College creates a program that dissects the bewildering business of music

One of the chief problems with the music business over the years has been that its "music" and "business" sides tend to view each other with suspicion and exasperation. Many musicians would prefer not to think about business issues, and many people on the business end secretly wish they didn't have to deal with the egotistic whims of musicians. But with new technologies expanding the possibilities for reaching listeners - and complicating the ways artists get paid for doing so - some understanding of the business has almost become a prerequisite for musicians.

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San Antonio College professor Fred Weiss observes a live broadcast of the band Azul from the studios of the college's KSYM Radio. Weiss is program coordinator of the school's new Business of Music program. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Ten years ago, San Antonio College offered two continuing-education classes on the fundamentals of the music industry, dissecting the mysteries of contracts, licensing, publishing, and management deals. Along the way, they created a small community of business-savvy musicians and artist managers. "I think `the courses` literally raised the whole level of knowledge of the music industry in San Antonio," says Fred Weiss, SAC professor in the Radio, TV, and Film (RTVF) department. "I'm still in touch with those people. There were songwriters there and one woman went on to really become active in the Texas Music Coalition. So the spinoff from that really had a ripple effect through the community."

Ever since teaching those classes, Weiss has thought about how beneficial it would be for SAC to offer music-biz instruction for credit. Until recently, however, the RTVF department lacked a facility with sufficient room for such an addition to the curriculum. That changed in January with the department's move to the spacious, state-of-the-art Jean Longwith Building, so RTVF - pending imminent approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board - will soon unveil seven classes that provide a map through the maze of the modern music industry.

Among other subjects, the classes will look at music and entertainment law, the recording industry, and either artist or venue management. After the first year, the program will expand to include an introduction to multitrack recording. This set of classes will be unique in the local community, whose only comparable offering is a music-marketing bachelor's program at UTSA.

Weiss comes to his industry insights from first-hand experience, having worked nearly every imaginable facet of the music business at the grassroots level. As a college student, he worked in the record department of a Long Island discount store. "It was the era of The Beatles, and we used to literally pile them up on the front counter," Weiss says with a laugh. "The records were $2.79 and I used to charge a dollar extra if they were in stereo."

He studied radio in college, formed a video-production company, and shot music videos for San Antonio bands (one included a very young Claude Morgan) at the early-'80s dawning of the MTV era. "I literally quit teaching for three years, thinking I would make my name making music videos," Weiss says. "But I ended up doing instructional training videos because the record labels started taking over the making of music videos themselves. I actually went to New York and met with MTV and said, 'Why don't you play my video more often?'"

Weiss later co-formed a label called Belt Drive Records, putting out four releases in three years, including a full-length by the band World Bizarre. Even after pulling the plug on the label, he maintained a couple of music-publishing companies, which he still owns.

"I think we'll attract two different groups," he says of SAC's music-business program. "We'll get the musicians who realize that they need to know more about the business, or, frankly, got screwed, and the people who want to go into the music business."

While label conglomerates bemoan the rise of Internet piracy and react to the industry's rapidly changing technological playing field with distress, Weiss prefers to see the potential for young artists.

"In one sense, I would say to the musicians that it's almost easier to get it out there," he says. "You're going to make your money in different ways, but it used to be that you had to wait for a major label to discover you, to get signed, for them to recoup their money and all that stuff. Now, record in your home studio, get it on there online and tour. It's kind of come around again to the idea of playing out there."

Each student in the first class offered by Weiss will create their own plan for success in the business. Weiss will also look at common pitfalls or problem areas such as the parent-manager syndrome. "I don't know if this happens in every city, but in San Antonio everybody's parents managed a group at first," he says. "I wouldn't necessarily say that's bad, but what we'll discuss in class is, 'When do you know it's time to look for real managers?'"

Despite having endured the unforgiving nature of the music industry from various angles as a participant, Weiss maintains a confidence that it can be mastered with the proper strategy.

"I don't think it's that tricky," he says. "I think if you know what you're doing, it's like anything else. I was in Nashville, and everyone said, 'You can't break into country music,' and I said, 'Gee, this is 16 square blocks, this ought to be approachable,' if you approached it right and made the right contacts."

By Gilbert Garcia


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