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A band plays on stage while students sit at tables listening to the music.

Live at the Underground

USC's live music venue run by students for students

The University of South Carolina’s music industry studies program is offering a new and exciting venture into experiential learning — a live music venue. Live at the Underground features live music weekly on Wednesdays from 7 to 10 p.m. Located in the Russell House Underground, this venue is completely run and operated by students for students. 

Coordinator and instructor Jeremy Polley says his favorite part of developing the curriculum for music industry studies is providing opportunities he wished he had when he was in college. 

This philosophy has provided students with experiential learning opportunities ranging from working festivals and local events to creating a recording studio on campus, and now a live music venue.

The idea for Live at the Underground came from conversations between Polley and music industry studies professor Jonathan McHugh at Loyola University New Orleans, where a corner of the student union is dedicated to public concerts every couple of weeks. Polley thought the idea would work at USC.

Max McCrary, a senior music industry studies major, loved the idea and knew he wanted to get involved. As a degree requirement, music industry studies majors must complete two semesters of experiential learning through capstone courses. McCrary’s first one was last fall, doing the marketing for a benefit concert students were putting on at the Koger Center. 

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in the industry but I really liked marketing. I fell in love with marketing through this project,” McCrary says. This semester, he has been the marketing director for Live at the Underground. 

Meetings for the new music venue started around Thanksgiving, dealing with budgets, dates, and acts that would perform. Instead of resting, winter break was filled with lots of emails and text messages, and then the spring semester started and it was time to get the ball rolling. 

"We have to give students room to grow, to share experiences, build relationships and get a view of the industry at large"

Jeremy Polley, coordinator and instructor, music industry studies

Polley is the instructor for the music industry capstone class that involves concert planning, promoting and production — now known simply as the Underground course. The first half of the semester involved setting expectations and deadlines for the students. Once the first show came on Feb. 14, Polley served as an advisor for questions and lets the students find their way. The team of eight meets every Friday to discuss how the week went and what they could improve upon for next event to enhance the student experience.

Feedback from participating students has been great. Polley says his team is so passionate about the project, but sometimes that passion can turn into frustration and that’s where he steps back in.

“Frustration is a teaching moment, things don’t always go how you want them to. Don’t let them overwhelm you, but instead learn from it,” Polley says, “Maybe this specific thing doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.” 

Live at the Underground has featured open mic nights as well as local artists such as Drew Dixon and Opus and the Frequencies. Students of all majors can come together and enjoy a free performance from their peers or local artists. But the goal is to serve as a place for students to learn career skills, such as how to handle a fire alarm going off in the middle of a concert —  everything was fine and students got to enjoy most of the show — or other unexpected events.

“We put in a lot of work because we're being graded but we also have the passion for it, and that's something people don’t see if they come to one show and don’t come back,” McCrary says. “For every hour of an event, there is at least a dozen hours behind the scenes, and that goes for any on campus event.”

Looking to the future, McCrary hopes the Underground can plug into more campuswide events like First Night Carolina. 

Polley also is continuing to expand the offerings and opportunities for his students, including creating their very own record label where sound engineering students will run the audio in the recording booths and for the live shows. 

“We have to give students room to grow, to share experiences, build relationships and get a view of the industry at large,” Polley says.

There is still time to catch a show — or even be part of one — at Live at the Underground.

Sign up for an open mic night Wednesday (April 3) or just plan to stop by and listen to your fellow students getting their performance on.