From small-time to stadium acts: new music business program with legendary concert promoter to give students industry insights

Chuck Morris with guitar over shoulder
Chuck Morris is joining CSU's College of Business as the director of the new music business program. "Music is such an important part of [students'] lives, and now they can get a chance, to break into it." said Morris. (Photo by William Matthews, courtesy of Chuck Morris)

For anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar, sat in front of a piano or belted a tune in the shower and thought, “Maybe I could make it big,” there’s a new home for you in the soon-to-be-launched cross-disciplinary music business program in CSU’s College of Business. Although most of us won’t ever get the chance to play to a sold-out stadium, that doesn’t mean a career in one of the most fascinating industries is out of reach.

“Many people who go into the music business are not musicians, or if they are, like myself, I was a frustrated not very good musician who loved music,” said Chuck Morris, a pioneering concert promoter and prolific artist manager whose 48-year career led to him becoming the CEO of AEG Rocky Mountains and has encompassed everything from helping up-and-coming artists find breakout success to producing some of the biggest concerts in the state, including roughly 1,600 shows at Red Rocks.

Now, Morris is dedicating his time and talents to preparing CSU students to find their place among the next generation of music industry leaders by serving as the director of the new Music Business program. The first course offerings are planned for Fall 2020.

“Given the vibrant and thriving music scene in Colorado, distinctive music culture and community in Fort Collins and partners across our campus, we have the opportunity to build a program that is truly world-class,” said College of Business Dean Beth Walker.

“I couldn’t be more excited about working with the renowned Chuck Morris to launch a music business program.”

– Dean Beth Walker
CSU College of Business

The Dean’s playlist

The College of Business Career Management Center works hard to prepare students for careers after commencement. But every once in a while, they find themselves wondering, "What would Dean Walker listen to?" Thankfully, they asked her, and she happily shared her top songs!

Another excited Coloradoan is Todd Park Mohr, whose career and band, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Morris helped manage to platinum success in the early ’90s.

“Chuck is probably the most experienced person that I know in this business,” said Mohr. “[He] knows so much about every aspect of the music business from producers to labels and management, and the whole thing.”

“Hopefully you’ll see me in the classroom!”

– Todd Park Mohr
Big Head Todd and the Monsters

Roadie-Accountants, Managers and More: Career Options in Music

As music has grown from a “Wild West” landscape to a multi-billion-dollar industry, the opportunities for people to find their place have grown dramatically, from tour and venue managers to legal experts to a role that blends the two job functions that you’d least expect to find together: the roadie-accountant, who bucks a couple of stereotypes and serves as a critical part of large acts’ operations.

“That accountant is very important for the success of bands and protecting their money,” said Morris. “It’s not just about the band and the promoter … it’s all the people who contribute.”

That idea – that there are many roles that can play a part in the success of a band and other organizations – is something Morris wants to share with students so they can build their industry skills and “have an advantage when they apply to go into the business when they graduate.”

Music education for all

Morris estimates there are about 15 schools around the country that have programs in music business – most spread across the east and west coasts – but the College of Business stands out for not limiting enrollment to music students.

In addition, the College of Business has the resources and track record to create a unique program that will cross disciplinary boundaries.

“We have distinctive competencies in entrepreneurship and innovation and believe that this program should be open to all students across campus,” said Beth A. Walker, dean of the College of Business. “Our ‘big tent’ ethos, to create a music business program that crosses disciplinary boundaries, is central to the vision for this program. In addition to the deep involvement of Chuck Morris himself, this perspective makes this opportunity unique.”

A drummer performs in front of a seated audience
Musicians perform at a three-day music innovation business pitch competition hosted by the College of Business Institute for Entrepreneurship.

Finding students their first break: landing internships and jobs

What does it take to get your foot in the door in the music industry?

“I’ve had hundreds if not thousands of kids who’ve graduated from college apply for jobs at companies I ran or owned, and I never looked once at a grade point average,” said Morris. “I usually look to see what they’ve done on the side.”

Why? To check if they have the most important prerequisite: a real love of music.

And even then, finding a way into the industry can be challenging.

“I have so many friends who say, ‘Oh, I wish I had your job,’ … but they have no idea how difficult it is and how tough a business it is to get a break and get started and move up,” said Morris. But he, perhaps more than anyone else in Colorado, is in a position to help students get their break.

Beyond shepherding in new coursework that will dive into music-focused business topics, Morris’s decades of experience at the top of the Colorado music scene and wide-reaching professional network will be invaluable resources for students, highlighting what he sees as a key part of the leadership position: “I’ll be so proud to try to help those kids who want to get that first break and that first job or internship.”

In addition to working with Morris, the program will engage organizations such as the Bohemian Foundation and the Music District in Fort Collins as well as music businesses in Colorado and beyond to help students gain real-world experience.

A drummer performs in front of a seated audience
Musicians perform at a three-day music innovation business pitch competition hosted by the College of Business Institute for Entrepreneurship.

Dropping a Ph.D. and picking up the fledgling Eagles: Morris’s start in music business

Like many of today’s students, when Morris was in college, he had trouble keeping two things off his mind: politics and music.

He earned a scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Colorado – Boulder, but after two and a half years he dropped out to “make it in the music business.” He expected his career to last 6 months, not the past 48 years.

“But I loved it from day 1, I knew it would, and I never thought about anything else,” said Morris.

A few years after leaving his Ph.D. program, he found himself as the manager and co-owner of Tulagi’s, bringing in some of the biggest acts the storied Boulder music venue had ever seen.

“I was always good at evaluating music,” said Morris. “My first year at Tulagi’s I booked very young baby acts.”

One of those acts was the Eagles, who were rehearsing for their first studio album having never played together live before. Less than a year later, the band was skyrocketing to success on its way to becoming one of the most successful acts of the ‘70s and a fixture in American rock history.

“I booked them for $100 a night in December of ’71,” said Morris. “I saw them play and they were great, and there were about 10 or 12 people a night. … The excitement of helping build that band into a stadium act … that’s been the biggest kick of my life.”

The joy of being part of developing young bands, and the ability to understand what it takes to succeed in the industry, is an education Morris is ready to help deliver to CSU students.

“[Starting at Tulagi’s] I didn’t know really a soul in the music business and just started making calls to booking agencies and booking bands.”

– Chuck Morris

Musicians who played Tulagi's when Morris was managing in the early '70s

The power of genre-neutral

First drawn to folk music as a child, Morris saw his interest in new genres bloom as he grew older, fostered in part by the less rigid structure of radio in the ‘70s.

“In those days, radio was what they called free-form radio. Radio stations did not have a playlist. The disc jockeys played anything they wanted,” said Morris. “Now radio has gotten so big, run by big huge conglomerates that test every album before they play it and their playlist is 30 records. In those days, they played jazz, they played folk, they played rock.”

The move toward conglomeration has changed how business is done.

“College kids … they learned and listened and liked all sorts of music,” said Morris, who could bring in diverse acts and still pack the house with the same audience. “It was really a wonderful time.”

“Public stations and college stations are the last bastion for that, and thank God for that.”

Chuck with musicians over the years