Eight hours into her class period, New York University Steinhardt instructor Marcie Allen still has the undivided attention of all 35 of her Business Structure of the Music Industry students. It doesn't hurt that tonight's classroom is Atlanta's new $1.5 billion Mercedes Benz Stadium, 1,000 miles from New York City. The mammoth venue's Oct. 12 inaugural concert, featuring Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood, is the subject of tonight's lesson.
Two hours before show time, Brooks' booking agent, Rob Beckham of William Morris Endeavor, is giving the NYU students a backstage tour of the venue, along with a few critical pro tips, including Always Be Nice To Your Assistant. Turns out, Allen began her career working for Beckham back in 1997. Twenty years later, they've teamed up to bring one of Atlanta's most anticipated shows of the year to the city's new state of the art arena, a show that sold out its 80,000 tickets in just 63 minutes. When Allen isn't teaching as an NYU adjunct instructor, she's the president of MAC Presents, the New York City music experiential agency responsible for booking the Atlanta Garth Brooks Mercedes Benz Stadium show.
"Whether you become an agent, performer, songwriter, producer, promoter, manager or a publisher, you're all going to know each other and work together," explains Beckham. "If you support each other, you're going to have a great career in this business. It's important to never burn a bridge."
That echoes the advice given to the students earlier from Tim Zulawski, the senior vp and commercial officer of AMB Sports & Entertainment, the guy who brought a billion dollars of sponsorship money into the stadium. Outside, underneath a 70,000-pound metallic bird statue at the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, the students are clustered around Zulawski as fans use their smart phones to scan their digital tickets at the gate, the first completely digitally ticketed venue in North America.
"You can't be afraid to take chances," says Zulawski. "Tonight's show is a self-promoted event which means we made all the financial risks up front but we'll reap all of the financial rewards. We knew we wanted Garth Brooks to play the first-ever show in this stadium so we worked with Garth and found a way to make it happen."
Later, upstairs in one of the two luxury private suites she's rented for the evening, Allen's students sample the catered sliders, queso dip, chicken strips, soft pretzels and mac and cheese. Grabbing a chair for the first time since touching down in Atlanta 10 hours earlier, Allen concedes with a laugh, "My teaching methods are a bit nontraditional. But this is about showing the students in addition to telling them in the more conventional classroom setting." (Earlier this year, Allen took another class to Deadmaus5's Cube 2.1 sound check and show at Polaris Hammerstein Ballroom).
Allen picked up the tab for airfare, hotel rooms and concert tickets for the one-of-a-kind field trip. "This was a big undertaking but this is about supporting our leaders of tomorrow. It's about mentoring our next generation." Allen knows a little something about supporting up-and-comers to the industry, too. As the promoter of Atlanta's On The Bricks outdoor concert series in the early 2000s, she booked newbie acts India Arie, John Mayer and Kayne West, back when a kid named John Legend was playing keyboards for the rapper.
As opening act, singer-songwriter Mitch Rossell kicks the tires on the brand new audio and video system on the concert in the round below, NYU piano performance major Jason Bembry, 21, reflects on what he's learned. "Nothing can duplicate having a professor like Marcie who is in the business herself. This trip made these leaders in the industry accessible to young people like us who are just starting out. That's a huge deal."
Adds violin performance major Alissa Jackman, 20: "This makes the business very tangible for us. Not knocking a textbook course, but there's a realness here that we can relate to as young adults getting into the industry."
Even Larry Miller, Director of the Music Business Program at NYU Steinhardt, has flown in for tonight's field trip. "There is such a difference between throwing slides up on a classroom wall in New York and being able to engage directly with the working professionals who are putting on this concert at the highest level of the industry," explains Miller. "There is tremendous value in immersive learning that just can't be duplicated inside a classroom."
As the crowd roars when the jeans-clad country superstar finally hits the stage below, the NYU students quickly select their suite seats. For Charlotte Woo, 21, a music technology major and the others who all came of age during the artist's nearly 15-year break between studio recordings, this will be their first-ever Garth Brooks' concert. Reflects Woo: "Today taught me that no matter what your major is, it's important not to stay just in your lane. You've got to meet, get to know and form lasting connections with people across the industry. That's literally how this show came about tonight."
As Brooks rips into his opening number, a spirited cover of the Charlie Daniel Band's "The Devil Went Down To Georgia," even before Professor Allen's class has taken her midterm exam, her students have already decided on a grade for her on the Yelp-for-academia app, Rate My Professors. "That's a no-brainer," says Jason Bembry. "A++!"