MTSU returns to ACM Awards in Las Vegas

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Students and faculty from Middle Tennessee State University will arrive Friday in Las Vegas to celebrate alumni nominees in the 54th Academy of Country Music Awards and get behind-the-scenes instruction in the making of the national telecast.

It marks the second year in a row that MTSU College of Media and Entertainment alumnus Pete Fisher, the academy's chief executive officer, has offered up the awards show and festivities as a learning laboratory for students.

"ACM Awards weekend provides several dynamic opportunities for students and faculty to connect with country music artists and executives -- as well as see the work behind the scenes in staging the telecast," Fisher said. "I'm proud my alma mater will be here."

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Fisher, as well as the technical and production executives behind Sunday's telecast, will teach a master class to students during the rehearsals. Students will see how the producers and directors stage the show and will shadow media professionals as they work with the artists.

"Our trip last year to the ACM Awards reminded us once again of the importance of extending our classrooms to the most important entertainment events in the nation," said MTSU Media and Entertainment Dean Ken Paulson.

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"Our students are immersed in the production and professionalism that makes a live program like this work so well," he said. "That's invaluable."

It's also a chance to celebrate the seven MTSU alums who are recognized in this year's ACM Awards. They are:

  • Chandler Baldwin, Jared Hampton and Eric Steedly, who are three of the five members of Lanco, nominated for Group of the Year and New Duo and Group of the Year.
  • Mitchell Tenpenny, nominated for New Male Artist of the Year
  • Recent Grammy-winner Luke Laird, nominated for Song of the Year for "Space Cowboy" with Kacey Musgraves
  • Michael Knox, nominated for Producer of the Year
  • Hillary Scott, nominated with Lady Antebellum for Group of the Year

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, who will accompany the students and faculty, said it was important for the university to make its presence known at high-profile events.

"Our university needs to be front and center during the biggest events of the music industry, given our standing as one of the top music business schools," McPhee said. "That's why we travel to the ACMs and the Grammys each year."

Billy Pittard, chair of MTSU's Department of Media Arts, which prepares students in film and video production and media management, said the hands-on experience that students gain can't be duplicated in the classroom.

"Our students are getting an extremely rare opportunity to get a close-up look at the behind the scenes preparations for one of the biggest live shows on television, directed by one of the truly great live television producer/directors, Glenn Weiss," Pittard said.

"And to make it even better, they will have time with Pete Fisher. These lucky students are going to come away from this trip with their minds expanded to a whole new level of understanding."

Just a few days ago, Billboard included MTSU on its annual list of America's top music business schools for the sixth year in a row, ranking the university among the best producers of ready-to-work music industry pros.

In the article, "Billboard's 2019 Top Music Business Schools: Taking Classes from The Grammys to SXSW," the alphabetical listing of 21 schools in the magazine's March 23 online and print editions also adds index newcomers like California's Occidental College and the new Detroit Institute of Music Education alongside stalwarts like the programs at Berklee, New York University, the University of Southern California and Nashville neighbor Belmont University.

The trade magazine brags this year on MTSU's nine alumni who worked on 2019 Grammy Award-nominated recordings, singling out Laird (B.S. 2001) and the NBC News feature on the program that aired on Grammy night, along with a note on MTSU's now-sixth annual Grammy Week trip connecting students and staff with area alumni and industry professionals.

In its mentions of distinguished alumni, professors and/or guests for each school, Billboard included 2012 MTSU commercial songwriting grad Tenpenny, who co-wrote and co-produced his No. 2 debut single, "Drunk Me."

Also, Beverly Keel, chair of MTSU's Department of Recording Industry, will host a "Change the Conversation" event at the ACM Radio Awards presentation Saturday.

Change the Conversation was formed in 2014 by Keel, Leslie Fram and Tracy Gershon to fight gender inequality in country music. The organization funds research, mentors young women and hosts events to allow industry experts to share their insights with the group.

"Thanks to our great alum, Pete Fisher, we're going to plant a True Blue flag at the ACMs this weekend," McPhee said.

The 54th ACM Awards will air live from MGM Grand's Garden Arena at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 7, on CBS.

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ACM, College of Media and Entertainment, Las Vegas, MTSU, WGNS
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