Just before Spring Break, students, academics, nonprofit organizers and Athens-area musicians had an opportunity to listen to a set of discussions at the annual Protect Athens Music (PAM) Conference, presented by the UGA Sports and Entertainment Law Society. Discussions on earning money as a musician in the digital world, obtaining health insurance and health care as a musician, and a survey of the local music landscape made for an interesting afternoon this year. The event showcased the unique presence of artists and academics in Athens who hope to help this town not just be known as a “music town” but as a “music business town.” The conference featured many UGA-related panel members including David Barbe, director of the UGA Music Business Program; David Lowery, of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker and a UGA music business lecturer; and Jeremy Wheatley, a longtime local drummer, songwriter and academic advisor for the UGA Honors Program.
This year’s conference was organized by Michelle Davis, a UGA alum (ABJ ’05) and former Flagpole music editor now turned University of Georgia law school student. We caught up with her to ask her more about her background, her path to her career choice and what this year’s conference was all about. Find a link to this year’s conference blog and video of the discussions below.
Q: You organized this conference. Where did your background interest in music and law come from?
A: I've worked in the music industry in various capacities for about 10 years. I am just a huge fan of music—much of that love was instilled in me my by dad who played in rock bands for many years. While in college I interned with radio station 99X in Atlanta, spent a summer with Warner Bros. Records, and interned with publicist Michelle Roche. After college I started my own music PR firm, representing mostly Athens and Atlanta bands. My first full-time job was with Ticket Alternative, where I worked as a marketing coordinator, setting up box offices for venues and promoters. I then moved back to Athens where I served as music editor of Flagpole Magazine for three years before going to law school. That's the short version of my resume, but the main point is that through all these experiences I've always strived to be an advocate for artists. After seeing so many bands' careers cut short by bad contracts and bad management, I felt like I could have a greater impact as an attorney. I'm particularly fascinated by the intersection of law and technology, and my goal is to help artists navigate the ever-evolving digital marketplace.
Q: Why did you get involved in organizing the conference?
A: I was first invited to be a panelist with PAM in its first year. I was the [music] editor of Flagpole Magazine at the time, and I spoke about promotion and publicity. The event itself started as a student project under David Barbe's direction in the Music Business Program, but they joined forces with the law school student group UGA Sports and Entertainment Law Society (SELS). I wrote about PAM's second conference for Flagpole, at which point I already knew I had plans to go to law school. When I started law school in 2012, I knew right away I wanted to be part of SELS, as entertainment law is my passion. I assisted in putting on the event as a 1L, and then I ran for the office of VP of SELS in my second year, allowing me to take the position of chair of PAM. I am a huge supporter of any event/organization that serves to bridge the gap between town and gown. I think it's essential for the music scene to integrate with the University and vice versa, because the two can support each other.
Q: Why is it important to hold a conference on the topic? What is the value of having UGA be a part of the discussion of the Athens music scene?
A: The music industry is increasingly complex, and there is a not a lot of transparency as to how things work. Unfortunately, all too often artists are left out of the conversation entirely when it comes to debates about fair pay, copyright and technology. I spent an entire semester studying nothing but the music industry as an extern with the Future of Music Coalition in [Washington] D.C. last fall, and even I still don't understand all the intricacies of this industry. That's a lot of pressure to put on a creator— to expect a musician to know not only his/her craft but the way this incredibly convoluted system works. So, that's why it's important to bring artists together with the experts—lawyers, managers, academics and experienced artists—to discuss the issues that affect artists' livelihood.
Additionally, my goal is that PAM will serve to put a new spotlight on Athens as not only a music town but a music business town. This year we covered three pressing issues: making money online ("Demystifying Digital Revenue Stream"), getting health care coverage, and brainstorming ways to help our local music community grow more sustainable and successful. A cross-community dialog like this helps us share ideas and move things forward. UGA can provide some of the financial backing to make these things happen, as well as access to some of the experts and academics that we rely on for guidance. For students like me who are interested in working in the entertainment industry, events like this are integral to our education. If we want to learn to work in the field, than there is no better place to start than the music scene right in our backyard.
Want to see video footage of this year's conference? Visit www.protectathensmusic.com.
--Jessica Luton email@example.com