More Than a Memory: Brooks returns to OSU to offer insights on music industry
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
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Garth Brooks arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, looking to be a songwriter, with a tune tailor-made for his hero, George Strait.
Brooks had written the song “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” in the style of Strait’s hit, “Amarillo By Morning.” Instead of taking the young Oklahoma State University grad’s track and turning Brooks into a bonafide songwriter, he was turned down by every record label.
Had Brooks tucked tail and headed back home, content with playing numbers at Willie’s Saloon in Stillwater, the world would’ve missed out on who would become the best-selling solo artist — even more than Elvis Presley — in United States history.
Brooks shared his wisdom as a country music superstar with OSU students in September in three masterclass sessions. Industry Insights with Garth Brooks at The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts gave students a chance to ask the 1984 advertising alumnus about his career and hear advice from Brooks and a panel of music industry experts.
On Brooks’ panel was his wife and fellow country music superstar, Trisha Yearwood; songwriter Bryan Kennedy, who has written hits for Brooks; television and entertainment guru Samantha Olsen; Mandy McCormack, an expert on record labels who has worked with Taylor Swift; social media specialist Bryan Moore; Brooks’ longtime sound mixer, John McBride; photographer/videographer Ben Krebs; and audio connoisseur Dan Hines.
The sessions encompassed topics such as artistry, entertainment, social media and music as a business.
“But you know the first two rules of the greatest musicians on the planet: show up on time and show up with a good attitude. People in this business, it is like the military, if you are on time, you are late. How simple is that?”
Talking to a room dominated by music students, Yearwood mentioned that everyone on that stage was once in the same shoes, knowing they wanted to be musicians but without a clue on how to get there.
“Nobody up here knew how this was going to go,” Yearwood said. “We are in a profession that isn’t exactly like, ‘OK, you take these courses and get this degree and you are guaranteed a job.’ We are not guaranteed a job any day. I think what happens is your desire becomes bigger than your fear. It is not that you aren’t afraid, you just do it anyway. We were all scared and still scared to try new things.”
Brooks said no matter how talented students thought they were, they would have to go to where the music was being made and ingratiate themselves in the community. He told a story about being on tour in the early ’90s, on a particularly hot day in Phoenix when amps started blowing out left and right. He noticed a woman working with the road crew, helping in the chaos. Brooks discovered it was his sound engineer’s wife. Her name was Martina McBride.
“You might be able to play with a frying pan and that is all you got,” Brooks said. “But you know the first two rules of the greatest musicians on the planet: show up on time and show up with a good attitude. People in this business, it is like the military, if you are on time, you are late. How simple is that? Everybody loves to play with the same people. The people that bring the drama are not there.”
For the songwriters in the crowd, Kennedy said it would be a tough road. He told students to never give up writing, even if it meant having to put the pen to the pad after a long day working a different job. After all, one of Brooks’ signature hits, “The Dance,” was written by a then-UPS driver, Tony Arata.
“Keep doing what you do,” Kennedy said. “A writer is going to write whether we get paid for it or don’t get paid for it. It is a gift.”
For the students in the crowd, it was an eye-opening experience.
“For almost an entire day, students had the opportunity to hear and engage with a tremendously successful musician and businessman, covering topics that spanned artistry and business,” said Dr. Mark Perry, director of the music industry program at the Greenwood School of Music. “As he made clear, the music industry consists of both music making and doing business.”
Music industry freshman Collin Fields and nutritional pre-health major Hayley Hitt said the sessions gave them a better understanding of what they want to do with their musical careers.
Fields said it helped him realize what he could do as a producer whereas Hitt said it showed her that she could make it as a singer.
“I am in the opera program so when Trisha was saying that you know it is something you can’t get away from, something that you feel in your heart, I think that is a realization that is how I feel,” said Hitt, a Muskogee, Oklahoma, native who saw Brooks perform live when she was 12. “I know that music is something that I will never be able to get away from. That passion is what makes Garth such an amazing performer that you feel down in your heart.”
Hitt said she’s grateful to OSU for having the opportunity to learn from Brooks.
“He has been one of my heroes for a long time just because you can tell he has a big passion for music and his performances,” Hitt said. “When I heard he was here and was going to talk about the artistry side and the business side, I had to come.”
A lot of those students will encounter obstacles in the music business, Brooks said, but he reminded them to keep persevering like he did because you don’t know where it will take them.
“People, five seconds of courage is all you need,” he said. “The greatest thing you will do is put the pressure on yourself, and that is going to drive you to succeed.”
Photo by: Ben Krebs
Story by: Jordan Bishop | STATE Magazine