During his first year studying film and media, Zach Butler had an important realization: His life’s passion was actually music.
Playing open-mic nights on the side and filling notebooks full of lyrics between classes led Butler to investigate what it would look like to pursue a full-time career in the music industry. He’s candid about the winding path he followed: A less-than-stellar audition to the Jazz Studies program could have derailed his momentum, discouraging him from pressing forward. But when that door seemed to be closing, he looked for an open window.
The Georgia State University School of Music’s Bachelor of Science in Music Management program is in its early years, but it focuses on preparing students for a variety of management-related careers in the music industry, including both for-profit and nonprofit sectors. This pivot, for Butler, made all the difference in having an opportunity to follow his passion.
“This was the best decision I could’ve made to prepare me for a career as an artist,” Butler said. “In today’s world, artists have to do a lot more work than just making music. In the early stages, you have to be your own manager, booking agent, publicist — you name it.”
As an artist, Butler is an American folk-rock singer-songwriter whose songs feature technical guitar playing and introspective lyrics. He cites Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan as his creative inspirations while also keeping to the songwriting styles of artists like Ben Rector and Adam Melchor. Working around his class schedule, he has been playing in bars, clubs and living rooms over the last three years and released his debut record, “Out of Practice,” in January 2022, applying the skills he’s learned before even graduating.
He followed the album with a nostalgic indie-folk single, “No One Sings Along,” and is preparing to release his first live album, “Zach Butler and the Living Room Band Live from 1971 Sounds,” shortly after graduation.
He credits professors like Scott Keniley and Alhadji Thrash for his ability to launch his own career in tandem with his studies. One course called for him to create a marketing plan tailored around a single release, and choosing his own music as the test case gave him the experience and feedback he needed to perfect the process. Another course helped him to shore up his chops in social media, radio and street team promotion, resulting in measurable success for his own business.
“Studying music business at Georgia State was an invaluable experience,” Butler said. “It placed me in a vibrant network of musicians, artists and motivated business professionals while I learned the inner workings of the industry and how to create a career for myself.”