by Alicia Dietrich
In the music industry, success and advancement depend upon two very important things: connections and relationships. In a class offered this fall, music industry power couple Frances (B.A., Music, 1986) and Steve Berman decamped to Austin for a month-long residency to teach FA 171: Inside the Music Industry.
Based in Los Angeles, the Bermans are longtime members of the music industry community. Steve is the vice chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M and has worked with artists such as Dr. Dre, Gwen Stefani, U2, Eminem, Lady Gaga and Billie Eilish. Frances has worked in management with George Michael and continues her work with songwriters and with her political nonprofit 1 Vote Closer. But their beginnings in the business were scrappy, and as they look back at their careers, they wanted to create the class they wish they’d been able to take when they were in college.
Frances Berman grew up in El Paso and transferred from a junior college into UT to study music. After graduating, she moved to Los Angeles at 23 and landed a job at WEA Corp., where she met Steve.
“When we first met, I thought the only path to creativity in the music business was to make records,” Steve said. “I was frustrated because that was not my gift. I couldn't do that. And Frances said, you know, you can bring creativity to anything you do in the music business. It's a way of thinking that changed the the wiring in my brain, and to this day, I see everything through that lens.”
In the five-week class offered in the College of Fine Arts as part of the Minor in Arts Management and Administration, the Bermans invited a stellar roster of guest speakers to showcase the many creative pathways in the business: Paul Rosenberg, longtime manager of Eminem; Justice Baiden, Founder of LVRN; Justin Lubliner, Founder of Darkroom Records; Kevin Shivers, Partner, Music Division WME; and Charlie Walker, co-founder of C3 Presents. Interscope Records executives included Michelle An, Head of Visual Creative; David Nieman, Head of Sports & Gaming, Hannah Gold, VP Marketing; Daniel Sena, Sr VP Strategic Marketing; and Gary Kelly, Chief Revenue Officer.
“I've wanted to be in the music industry since I was a freshman in high school, so when I saw who the professors were for this class, I started counting down the days,” said Elliott Bell, an American Studies junior pursuing a Minor in Arts Management and Administration. “Some of the most influential people from multiple sides of the industry came to Austin as guest speakers and did a great job of explaining the different steps they took to go from college to career. On the very first day, Justice Baiden, cofounder head of A&R of LVRN Records, came and spoke to us, and it was so enriching to hear from someone with the exact job I’ve always dreamed about.”
The Bermans felt it was important to offer the class in-person, even if it meant relocating their busy lives from Los Angeles to Austin for the duration of the class. As the couple talked through how they wanted to structure the class, they realized that if they were going to preach the importance of showing up, they, too, needed to literally show up for their students. They partnered with Butler School of Music Associate Professor of Instruction John Turci-Escobar to design the syllabus for the class.
“Steve and Frances are just great people, and they're very passionate about this class,” said Kaley Roughton, a classics sophomore pursing a Minor in Arts Management and Administration. “It's one of the best courses I've taken in two years of college because they were just so willing to help us learn how to make a career. Frances spoke a lot about how, of course we want you to do what you want and to have a great career, but at the end of the day, you need to make money somehow.”
The students in the class had generous access to the Bermans, who held office hours and helped connect students with contacts in the industry who could answer questions about their work and offer internship opportunities. Some of the guest speakers even shared their phone numbers with students and helped make connections outside of the class.
“The vibe of the class was both professional and fun,” Bell said. “The Bermans were so understanding and accommodating to each student. It was just kind of an everybody helps everybody environment.”
In an optional excursion, the Bermans offered behind-the-scenes access on the final Sunday of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where students met with industry professionals working the festival. The students saw British rising star and Interscope artist Yungblud perform, and then they had a chance to sit down for an intimate conversation about how he’s working to break out in the United States after topping music charts and selling out arenas in the UK. (He landed on the cover of Rolling Stone the next month.)
For their final project, the class was split into groups, and each group was tasked with creating a marketing plan to take an artist to the next level of their career. Caroline Ferguson, a junior pursuing a double major in Music and English and a Minor in Arts Management and Administration, plans to pursue a career in entertainment law. Ferguson’s group worked on a marketing plan for YEAT, an-up-and coming rapper based in California.
“I've never done anything marketing or business-related other than the one business law class I took, and it was a lot of fun to learn more about an area I wasn't too familiar with,” Ferguson said. “I don't foresee myself pursuing marketing as a full-time career, but I did enjoy the project enough to apply to a marketing internship at C3.”
With their passion for education, the Bermans have had a long relationship with UT Austin. They endowed a scholarship in the Butler School of Music, and Frances is on the Fine Arts Advisory Council. When the opportunity arose to partner in a more hands-on way of working with students, they jumped at the opportunity.
“We help kids,” said Frances Berman. “We help them to understand that it's not just coming to work at a record label, where you work with artists and you go out and hear music. Ultimately, we all gotta pay rent, and you’re going to need to make sacrifices. I hope students took away that you have to show up and that in business, no job is too small. You’ll run out to get coffee or put the paper in the copier or run the errand and be a team player.”
And the Bermans showed up too. Students in the class said they felt like the Bermans offered a solid connection in the Los Angeles music industry that they could reach out to for advice or help in the future.
“I think that Frances and Steve Berman both genuinely wanted to make sure that if a student cared about working in the music industry, they would do whatever it took to help you become successful,” said Bell, who interned for the Festival Talent Buyers at C3 Presents over the summer and is currently working for 6A MGMT, an Austin-based music management company. “They didn’t just put us in the right rooms with the right people—they also showed us what we should do and how to stand out from the crowd once we got those opportunities. It was easily my favorite class, and I would love to see more like it in the future.”