It’s Sunday morning in the Gallagher household and Megan wakes up to the sound of smooth jazz. It’s been like this as long as she can remember — between her drum prodigy brother and musician father, she has always been surrounded by music. In third grade, she joined her school choir and has actively sung every year since. It only made sense that, as she decided on her academic path, music was going to be part of the picture.
Gallagher arrived at the University of South Carolina with plans to pursue a business major and music minor, unsure of how she could turn her passion into a lifelong career. That is, until the music industry studies program was launched in fall of 2021. “As soon as they announced the program, I emailed Mr. Polley and was like, is it too late to apply?” says Gallagher. “I committed that day.”
Today, with help of a new industry partnership and a grant from the Center for Integrative and Experiential Learning, the music industry studies program is helping students like Gallagher pursue their dreams.
The program is the brainchild of musician, performer and private teacher Jeremy Polley, who adds music industry studies coordinator and instructor to an impressive resume of practical industry experience. His current role is the natural outgrowth of his education in the “school of hard knocks.” After leaving college to pursue real-life music experience in place of a traditional degree, Polley recognized a significant disconnect between his experiences and his classroom learning. He returned to his studies with a commitment to building a new sort of program — one that would allow students to get the hands-on experience to succeed in the industry before leaving campus as working professionals.
“The era of the rock star being signed to a record label and only writing songs and recording is pretty much nonexistent,” Polley explains. “For the 21st-century musician, it’s critical to have all the skills from every area. They don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing.”
Students in the program receive a comprehensive education, venturing into venue management, record labels, audio mixing, performance and more. The diversity of offerings gives students a taste of the industry before entering it.
The pinnacle of Polley’s efforts thus far is a recent partnership with Danny Wimmer Presents, a major music production and promotion company headquartered in Los Angeles.
Polley was eager to get students working with music industry professionals, but flying students across the country to set up festivals comes with a price tag — one that might exclude students from a life-changing opportunity.
That’s why Polley turned to the Center for Integrative and Experiential Learning (CIEL) for support.
It worked out. In November 2021 and May 2022, CIEL and SPARK grants funded the first two trips to Welcome to Rockville in Daytona Beach, Florida, as part of a collaboration with Squiggy DiGiacomo of The Music Experience. TME, which allows fans to interact with the brands and instruments they see onstage, is a regular fixture at DWP festivals, and it was this partnership with the university's music industry studies program that first caught the eye of Danny Wimmer Presents CEO Danny Hayes.
Hayes approached Polley about the possibility of inviting students back to the festivals with a larger-scale partnership, and the rest is history. Danny Wimmer Presents funded student lodging, and a grant from CIEL covered travel and additional expenses so that 20 students could fly to Louder than Life and Bourbon and Beyond in Louisville, Kentucky in September 2022. All CIEL asked for in return were student reflections on the experience.
Participating students like Gallagher are put to work alongside team heads from Danny Wimmer Presents, shadowing professionals as they go about their days. Whether the team heads are handling HR, setting up sound systems backstage, or guiding TV crews to the media tent, MIS students are invited along to learn and do.
The practical and networking experiences have been an incredible asset to Gallagher. She has attended three festivals through the partnership, coming away with insight that has transformed the trajectory of her career. From watching the load-in for Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nine Inch Nails to talking career goals with Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer of KISS, Gallagher leaves each trip with invaluable experiences from every corner of the music industry.
“I’m working with people who are at the top of the festival promotion and live music industry,” she says. “The music industry has always seemed like a mystical space that’s really hard to break into. Working with these people makes me feel more confident that I will be able to make a legitimate career in this industry.”
Gallagher credits the reflection component of CIEL’s Carolina Engage Grant with helping her synthesize her experiences. “Coming back from those experiences and reflecting on them opened my eyes,” she says. “The music industry isn’t all rainbows and glamorous things. There is hard work, dirt, sweat and tears that go into it. Reflecting on it made me hold onto that truth so that I’d know what I’m getting into going forward.”
With lived experience in both the glamour and grit of the music industry, Gallagher has renewed her commitment to her future career with realistic expectations and a sense of confidence that she is capable of the work. She’s taken a job as stagehand at Harbison Theater, where she continues to grow her skills in lighting, stage design and tech to pursue her goal of live show production.
Polley is enthusiastic about introducing more students to the music industry through this opportunity.
“We’re elevating the profile of the university, and we’re bringing attention to the great work our students are doing here,” Polley says. “The festival experience was done in concert with CIEL, and we couldn’t have done it without their additional support.”
Polley plans to take his students, including Gallagher, to Daytona Beach, Florida and Columbus, Ohio this May for another round of festival experiences. The CIEL grants that facilitated earlier trips were instrumental in establishing the relationship with DWP that allowed for this summer opportunity, and DWP is happy to host the music industry studies students once again.
“To say that the pilot program was a success would be a gross understatement,” says Hayes. “I watched something transformative happen for these young adults. Through real-life hands-on exposure, the DWP staff got the opportunity to lead the development of our industry’s future stars."