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The University of Montana's main hall. 

When Blind Melon's "No Rain" came out in 1992, some people in the music industry thought songwriter Brad Smith was "an overnight success."

That fast timeline was news to Smith, who visited the University of Montana this week for the entertainment management program at the School of Business Administration.

In fact, the musician had worked for years to become a success.

Smith had dropped out of college in Mississippi and driven to Los Angeles, where he had no friends and no money. He lived in hotels for four months, maybe six, and stayed in his car between hotels.

He started busting concrete for work, and finally, after eight months, he felt like he was on his feet.

"Notice, I haven't said anything about music yet," Smith said.

The songwriter and four other music industry executives spent the better part of the first week of school talking with students on the UM campus who are studying the entertainment business and may launch careers in the field.

Michael Morelli, director of entertainment management at UM, said the professionals loved the vibe of Missoula and appreciated the students. Each visitor volunteered to continue mentoring them this semester as the program starts a student-run record label.

In other schools, such as New York University or the Berklee College of Music in Boston, students can seem jaded, Morelli said. But at UM, they see students who are passionate and eager to learn.

"They're excited. They're actively interested," Morelli said. "And boy, if you've traveled 2,000 miles to get here, that's the kind of student you want to be around."

***

One of the visitors was Ian LaPlace, a UM School of Business graduate himself. Morelli said LaPlace got his degree in Missoula, and he was so impressed with the guests who spoke to his classes, he had a dream to one day return and speak to students himself.

Doing so the first week of the school year was a milestone, Morelli said: "It was a benchmark of his success."

As part of a panel for a 400-level class on the principles of entertainment management, LaPlace told the students he learned at UM the business model he uses now for promoting concerts.

He booked shows at the Top Hat for two-and-a-half years, paying The Lumineers $50 for their first gig there. He did research on the weekends to figure out which artists he might bring to Missoula.

As the artists grew, he grew, but his lifestyle might not have looked appealing early on.

"I wasn't skiing every weekend. I wasn't fly fishing every weekend," LaPlace said.

***

The panelists also talked about the way the music industry has changed in the past few years and the influence of radio and the digital age.

Pete Galli, a manager, used a sports analogy to show the students the dramatic shift in entertainment. A decade ago, he said, musicians wanted to get onto the field to play the game, and it was hard to get there.

"Then, it's 100 yards to score a touchdown, and it's really hard," Galli said.

The challenge is different now, he said: "Now, anyone can get on the field, but it's 10,000 yards, and it's full."

And scoring that touchdown still isn't easy.

Tom DeSavia and the other guests also shared their own evolution in the industry with the students. DeSavia wanted to be a music journalist, but he later figured out he liked artist relations better.

Originally, he was in it for the loot.

"I understood that if you worked in the music industry, you got free records," DeSavia said.

Rodel DelFin, an A&R consultant – artists and repertoire – ended up in music because he was running away from the things he hated. Science classes. A medical internship.

"I had to administer eye exams to old people," DelFin said. "If I have to do this for the rest of my life, I'm going to kill myself."

Now, he's with with Red Bull Records, and DeSavia referred to DelFin as "one of the music business's favorite sons."

In class, they sounded smitten with Missoula and Montana as well as the opportunity the students have to work on a real-world project in class.

DeSavia said all of them love music and talk about it dramatically, but he believes they do get a chance to be part of history as they launch a new label.

"The bonus part of this trip is Montana is actually really cool," DeSavia said. 

Said Galli of Missoula: "It's got this feeling." Maybe like Austin a few years ago. "You're walking around with the piano in the street."

***

Chris Jambor is a senior at UM, and he pursued a career as an actor in Los Angeles but returned home to Montana where he has family.

He enrolled in the School of Business Administration in part because of the entertainment management program. He liked that the school was trying to be innovative and that it was tapping into all different facets of the business.

"I knew I wanted to study business, but I didn't know there was an opportunity for this (entertainment management)," Jambor said. "When I started to investigate what Mike Morelli was doing, it was an 'aha moment.' "

As part of the class, Jambor will be helping develop a band or an artist with a one-woman-show this semester. In the future, he'd like to be a chief creative officer or head of development for a film studio or record label.

The working professionals showed him the realities of the music business. People need passion and heart for music and artists, but they can't get disillusioned when someone they love won't make it commercially.

"I thought all of those guys were so good at toeing the line of, you have to hold onto your passion, but you also have to realize it's business, and you have to make money," said Jambor, a double major in international business and marketing with a media arts emphasis. "I thought it was motivating without being disheartening."

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.