A new USC School of Music program is hoping to revitalize Russell
Underground by bringing together music lovers for student performances and professional experience.
The Music Industry Studies program, Russell House and Gamecock Entertainment will collaborate weekly starting in the spring to showcase a variety of student musicians on campus.
But students will be able to get more than one kind of exposure.
The hope is that the program will prepare Music Industry Studies students with hands-on concert planning experience, Coordinator of Music Industry Studies Jeremy Polley said.
Gamecock Entertainment has collaborated with university academic programs for event planning and hospitality in the past, according to Associate Director of Campus Programs Courtney Buzan.
But its partnership with the School of Music is uncharted territory for the organization, she said.
“Our office has some great relationships with the (College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management),” Buzan said. “A lot of those students kind of find us through their desire to want to do similar type of events, but the call to music was never tapped before.”
A key component in the planning process was finding a venue. Enter Russell Underground, which Director of Russell House Kim McMahon said served as an appealing venue for live shows, such as the ones Polley and Buzan were hoping to bring to campus.
McMahon said the partnership will allow Russell Underground to be utilized in a way it has not been since it was revamped into a club space during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Good ideas sometimes have to just be put aside, and then they come back to life in an even better format,” McMahon said. “That's what's happening now because we have space and infrastructure, and we have a desire for students to gather, to perform, to create. And now we have this academic program that students want and need a learning laboratory, and so they provide the content, and we get to provide that lab, that location. And so it's a win-win and a positive for us.”
McMahon said that events such as this, where students can build their social lives and grow academically, align closely with Russell House’s goals of creating a sense of community among students and exposing them to new ideas.
“We always want students to have fun when they're here and that they have a takeaway of something that perhaps they didn't know before, or they were exposed to a different culture, a different genre, a different vibe,” McMahon said.
Second-year sport and entertainment management student Branden Miller — who is minoring in Music Industry Studies — is involved with coordinating the live shows for the partnership. Miller said he hopes that the live music in Russell Underground broadens students’ musical horizons.
“On Wednesday nights, when you don’t really have much going on, you can actually come out, see some live music, hear some new genres of music, hear some new artists who might be up-and-coming. Because Hootie and the Blowfish started here, so maybe the next Hootie’s here," Miller said.
Polley said the partnership is a great opportunity for student musicians to perform on stage and find a new musical outlet to help prepare them for their professional careers.
“Even the biggest overnight sensations have 10 years of work behind the scenes that make them successful, and that’s from doing shows like this,” Polley said. “That’s from going on stage and getting the butterflies out and working out the kinks and figuring out who you are on stage. So it’s a great opportunity for students on campus who want to be performers to perform for their peers.”
Polley also said the partnership provides students in the Music Industry Studies program with hands-on experience in putting together a live show.
“These are opportunities, and you really can't say enough about that in the music industry,” Polley said. “What you've done, and what you've experienced, becomes the core of who you are and what you do moving forward — so by giving the students the opportunity to essentially run a venue as part of their coursework. And that doesn't seem all that far out of reach for us here at the University of South Carolina.”
The partnership is still in its early stages, but Buzan and Miller said students can look forward to concerts in Russell Underground on Wednesday nights beginning next semester.