LVC Music Students Get Rare Access to Grammy-Winner Clay Cook of Zac Brown Band

LVC music business students talk with Clay Cook of the Zac Brown Band.

Imagine chatting with a Grammy-winning musician on just the second day of classes. That’s the incredible opportunity LVC’s Music Business students recently experienced.

Through instructor Carl Bahner’s industry connections, students virtually met with Clay Cook, guitarist of the Zac Brown Band and former songwriting partner of John Mayer. Cook shared invaluable insights about teamwork, fulfilling your passion, and building career longevity.

“Clay showed the students the importance of taking calculated risks and developing the ‘soft skills’ of being a great collaborator,” said Bahner, an adjunct instructor in music and 2007 LVC graduate. “That’s something he’s seen ring true in all areas of the music industry, not just as an artist. I’m so glad the students could hear that straight from Clay himself.”

Music major Aaron Rudderow ’25 is one of the eight students in the class and took Cook’s words to heart.

“Clay spoke about how he got his start and covered many topics from writing music to working with artists as part of the band. One thing that specifically resonated with me was when he said, ‘Don’t wait for inspiration to come to you, go and find it.’ As a composer that experiences writer’s block all of the time, this changed my mindset and I’ve since been able to write more fluently with meaning and emotion behind every note,” said Rudderow.

Just a few weeks later, students met with Matthew Rifino, a broadcast mixer for The Today Show, who also boasts five Emmy awards for work on a Lady Gaga live performance and the 2012 Olympics.

Additional guests have included professionals in “traditional” music industry jobs like music producers, touring musicians, managers, and booking agents. Other guests work on artificial intelligence for audio, in music software development, live-streaming, and social media marketing for artists.

“It’s a constantly evolving industry with career opportunities that most people don’t even know exist,” said Bahner.

Terra Steigerwalt ’25, an Audio and Music Production major, plans to enter the music industry after college and values the connections happening in the classroom.

“Their experiences and advice help me as a student to bridge the gap between academic book knowledge and the real-world insights of the industry,” said Steigerwalt. “Through the direct interaction I have obtained practical knowledge, enhanced my career understanding, and been inspired to make intelligent decisions as I begin my music industry career.”

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