University of Georgia

Latest Innovation Bootcamp hits high note to start

UGA graduate and member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame Steve Dorff
Steve Dorff, a 1971 UGA graduate and member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, helped welcome the newest Innovation Bootcamp cohort with a concert in the Performing Arts Center on Oct. 6. Nominated for multiple Emmy and Grammy awards, Dorff has worked with some of the biggest names in show business over his career, including Whitney Houston, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Clint Eastwood, George Strait, Barbra Streisand and many others. (Photo by Jason Thrasher)

The first clue that UGA’s newest Innovation Bootcamp would dance to a different tune than its predecessors was the gleaming Steinway grand piano on stage at the opening session in the Performing Arts Center on Oct. 6.

Designed specifically for people hoping to make their careers in the music business, this bootcamp kicked off its first class in a concert hall and closed with an actual concert from a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Steve Dorff, ABJ ’71, visited his alma mater to share wisdom gained from his five decades in the industry, working with some of the most famous performers ever to grace a stage.

“The reason they call it the ‘music business’ is because unfortunately there is so much business to the fun music part,” Dorff said during the public performance that followed the bootcamp kickoff. “Most people who hear a song on the radio don’t really think about the time it takes between someone like me, sitting in a small room coming up with an idea, to the time you hear the recorded song on the radio.”

Innovation Bootcamps are designed to help introduce UGA community members to the world of innovation and entrepreneurship, showing them over seven weeks what it takes to develop a compelling business idea, test the viability of that idea, and move it just a bit closer to reality. If ever there was a bootcamp that worked in harmony with the vibe of Athens, Ga., it would be one devoted to music.

Dan Geller, assistant director for startups at Innovation Gateway and a faculty member in the College of Engineering, welcomed the 23 bootcamp participants with a trip through his own musical odyssey. Like many UGA undergraduates, Geller played in a band in the mid-1990s. Then, like not so many undergraduates, he plunged headlong into “the business” by launching his own record label, Kindercore Records. More recently he helped transform Kindercore from a record label to a vinyl pressing plant, and the company is now pressing hundreds of thousands of records per year.

Geller’s message for the bootcampers? The music industry has transformed itself in the digital age, but a successful career in the business is available to just about anyone—if they’re prepared to put in the effort.

“It used to be that everyone was working to get that record label deal, but you don’t need a record deal anymore,” Geller told them. “The tools are all there for you to make it without a record label, but it’s a lot of work. You have to learn how to set yourself apart from everyone else who wants to be a musician. You can build a small following and learn how to grow that into a bigger following.”

This was similar to one of the messages delivered by Ian Biggs, director of Innovation Gateway’s startup program. A veteran entrepreneur who’s worked in multiple industries, Biggs said a new company looking to break into a given market is much better served by first going after a small group of devoted customers, rather than trying to attract a huge customer base right off the bat.

Biggs also acknowledged that music, like other creative fields, can be very different from the more traditional business model of a new product or service in search of customers—but it is still essentially entrepreneurial.

“In the corporate world,” Biggs said, “if you’re good at something, you tend to get paid for it. Not necessarily so in the creative world. When you’re selling a creative or entrepreneurial activity, you’re basically selling you. Consequently, it can be much harder when people say no.”

Over the course of the seven-week bootcamp, participants will learn about everything from studio recording to storytelling, from event production and public relations to licensing and royalties. Their instructors will come not only from Innovation Gateway but from the Athens music scene itself—and beyond.

Laura Camacho, bootcamp participant and a 2016 UGA master’s graduate in music performance, plays upright bass for the Athens Tango Project, which brings to the Classic City some of the Latin musical flavors of Camacho’s native Argentina. She is both founder and musical director of the group and hopes the bootcamp will help her pick up knowledge and experience to help it succeed.

“We are recording our first album and will finish it by the end of this bootcamp, so this is really good timing,” Camacho said. “I’m looking forward to learning more about networking, organizing and how to expand on our academic and performance tours. I like that the program is catered to entrepreneurs and artists, that it’s sort of personalized and meant to help you find your own path.”