While concert promoter and manager Chuck Morris has worked in the music industry for nearly five decades, he’s also had a longtime dream of starting a music program for a Colorado university. Morris, who’s been CEO of AEG Presents Rocky Mountains for the past fourteen years, will get that chance as director of a new cross-disciplinary music business program with Colorado State University’s College of Business that’s set to offer courses this fall.
As director of the program, Morris says his position will involve hiring teachers, recruiting students, setting the curriculum, and developing the department into a larger entity.
“I'm going to have a series of guests coming in of all my hundreds of friends and artists that I've been friends with from my career that will guest-lecture,” Morris says. “We're going to have some really exciting seminars. It's something I've always wanted to do, and I’m so happy I'm able to do this.”
The music business program, which will be open to every student at CSU and won’t be limited to business students or musicians, will work with organizations like the Bohemian Foundation and the Music District in Fort Collins as well as music businesses in Colorado and beyond to help students gain real-world experience.
“I couldn’t be more excited about working with the renowned Chuck Morris to launch a music business program through the College of Business at CSU,” says Beth A. Walker, dean of the school's College of Business. “Given the vibrant and thriving music scene in Colorado, distinctive music culture and community in Fort Collins and partners across our campus, we have the opportunity to build a program that is truly world-class.”
Morris says he had offers from a few other colleges but decided to go with CSU because its vision for the program was very similar to his. Morris wants to build it into a big department, adding that within three years, the program will be offered as a minor and within five years as a major.
He'll bring with him experience from his storied career in music that began after he dropped out of a Ph.D. program in political science at the University of Colorado Boulder to start managing the Sink and Tulagi, two Boulder venues that he co-owned and where he booked acts like the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers and ZZ Top on their way to stardom. At the time, Morris explains, there weren’t any schools in the country with music business programs. When he started booking acts 48 years ago, he says he didn’t have a clue what he was doing. He just winged it and followed his gut.
That paid off with bigger opportunities like running Ebbets Field — which was chosen by Billboard as Club of the Year in 1975 and 1976 — with Barry Fey and his wife, Cindy, and eventually joining Fey's company, Feyline, as senior vice president of promotion, booking large-scale concerts like Bob Dylan and U2.
After spending a decade managing acts like Lyle Lovett, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Leo Kottke, Morris got back into concert promotion by helping launch Bill Graham/Chuck Morris Presents, which would eventually morph into Live Nation, and opening the Fillmore Auditorium in the former Mammoth Event Center in 1999, and then creating AEG Presents Rocky Mountains, which books more than 1,100 shows per year at venues from the Bluebird Theater to Red Rocks Amphitheatre to Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre, to the Mission Ballroom, which opened last year. In 2018, Morris was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
Over his career, he has spoken to a lot of students at colleges, usually beginning by telling them how hard the music business can be, especially in the beginning, how many people are underpaid and how many hours they have to work.
“But if you have the will to make it and you love music the way I did and don't take no for an answer, you’ve got a shot,” Morris says. “It's a tough business— but where there's a will, there’s a way. It’s a trite expression, but it's really true in the music business. I tell my classes when we start — you know, they say, 'How do you start?' I say, just get in the front door.”
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And getting your foot in the door could mean thing like cleaning floors at a radio station or stocking albums at a record store. Morris says he also plans to help students get internships and hopefully help them get jobs in the music industry after they graduate.
“I have a big web of friends around the world and the music industry, so that's certainly going to help,” Morris says. “But it's a tough business getting in, let alone making it.”
The 75-year-old Morris says that for the past few decades, he’s wanted to have a second career in education.
"I was blessed enough that I could honestly afford a college professor salary," he says, "and do something I really wanted to do."