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New popular music professor: Students need to hone business and creative sides

June 20, 2023

Gregory Daniel is bringing his broad range of skills and expertise to Arizona State University as an assistant professor of music business in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre’s popular music program.

Headshot of Gregory Daniel
Gregory Daniel

“We are thrilled to have attracted Gregory Daniel to the ASU popular music program,” said Heather Landes, director of ASU's School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “Assistant Professor Daniel brings to the classroom and our community his experience as a drummer, a producer, an entrepreneur, a lawyer and his knowledge of the music industry and entertainment law.”

Raised in a musical family, Daniel began playing drums in church when he was 3. He was playing full time in church and serving as a music director by 16. At 23, he joined Brian McKnight’s band as a drummer. 

Daniel is still touring with McKnight, and he also actively works as a producer, attorney, real estate broker and NFL agent. He is a musician first and foremost, he said. 

“Of course music is the bedrock of everything I do, and where it all started,” Daniel said.

Balancing creativity and business acumen

Daniel earned his bachelor’s degree in music business at Berklee College of Music and his law degree at Texas Southern University. He said that being able to balance his creative side with his business acumen has been a big part of his success.

“They go hand in hand, and I think that's where a lot of the industry has gone wrong for years. There's been a bifurcation between the two,” he said. “As long as I can remember, I've always been interested in the music and the business side.”

From his perspective in the industry, Daniel said he sees the importance of teaching music business. He said he is motivated by helping artists develop business skills that protect their art.

“Creatives don’t have trouble coming up with music. They have trouble managing it,” he said. “They have trouble making the right business decisions. It's hard to navigate everything, and it takes people very intentionally wanting to.”

Daniel said he’s excited by the opportunity to help students navigate the industry and gain experience while they are still in school.

“They need to learn first, then they're ahead of the game, way ahead of the curve,” he said. “They're getting everything they need to know. And then I'm coming and helping make sure they get the experience, too. They're already light years ahead.”

His connections make Daniel uniquely positioned to help students network while they're still in school and after graduation.

“When an artist needs something, I can feel confident about plugging my former students or current students in because these students are prepared,” Daniel said. “In this age where ‘Youtube University’ is free and you can learn a whole lot on there, what is needed is people that are really doing this, that are really in it.”

Daniel said he is most excited about the innovation and collaboration happening at ASU. 

“When I walked through campus, I saw the vision of what could possibly happen, how some of my clients can come in and collaborate with the kids, and what the kids can do with that,” he said. “The biggest thing that attracted me is that this school wants to do that. They realize that the students really need to be prepared, that they have to be in the industry now. What excites me is that they've created a program and invested highly in something that is going to push that vision.”

This new position isn’t Daniel’s only connection to ASU. He also represents Sun Devil Football defensive tackle Tautala Pesefea Jr., who recently signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Below, Daniel shares further about the importance of studying music business, what he wants students to know about him, his advice for music students and his thoughts on the future of the music industry.

Question: Why do you think that studying music business is so important for students to learn while still in college?

Answer: They get the experience of what it’s like standing off stage watching R&B artists play and not just watching in the concert, like everybody sees, but what does it look like up to that point? What does it look like trying to book the artist? What does it look like trying to negotiate with this manager? Booking flights? Somebody doesn't show up on time, so what do you do? All of that is real experience that we can give them now, and they're going to have that on top of the formal education that most people in my industry don’t have.

Q: What do you want ASU students to know about you?

A: I'm an open book. I love teaching people. I love sharing experiences. The biggest thing I can tell you is don't be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to jump in and learn. Don't be afraid to pick my brain, because that's what I'm there for. I want to be there to help the students avoid the frustration in the years and time I've been trying to get where I am now, and I can give them a shortcut. That's the best thing I can do for them, because it's ultimately going to push the entire industry. The entertainment industry is going to be better for what we're doing right now at ASU.

Q: What advice do you have for students who are looking to go into the music business now?

A: I would tell them to find opportunities to get involved. In this industry you have to be a proactive self-starter. Look for opportunities. Always try to learn. Go to a concert. Go to a venue and ask, “Do you mind if I just hang around, or do you guys need extra help on stage?” Right now — where you don't have any limitations — is the best time to soak up as much as you can. And the resources for students at ASU! I don't know if they really understand what they have access to, because there are professionals that would love those resources that they have right now. 

Q: Where do you see the future of the music business going?

A: I hope there will be an alternative to the traditional music business model — finally a really viable alternative — because I think people have seen enough of all these biopics of people getting ripped off, and they're smarter now. They're way smarter. People don't want to work with entities. They don't want to just jump with a label anymore. Labels are starting to try to figure out how to do this differently. So, hopefully it will start changing in that direction.

I also hope to see it being a little bit more regulated. There needs to be an entity that protects the musicians and artists that don't know things. By the time they find out that they didn't know something, it's often too late. Their work is gone. It's not theirs. I think where I see it going is more regulation, and more of a viable alternative to the way things are because it's not going to last. The only thing that's keeping the entertainment industry alive is live performance. And we have seen how that changes real quick, so it's got to be something different. The same path is not going to work.

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