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MTSU returns to ACM Awards for student learning la...

MTSU returns to ACM Awards for student learning lab, celebration of alumni nominees

Students and faculty from Middle Tennessee State University will arrive Friday, April 5, 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 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.”

Academy of Country Music CEO and MTSU alumnus Pete Fisher, standing at right, holds a class Sunday, April 15, for five students from MTSU’s Department of Media Arts on the floor of the ACM Awards Show at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino’s Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. From left, facing camera, are MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, Media Arts Chair Billy Pittard, Media Arts professor Bob Gordon and College of Media and Entertainment Dean Ken Paulson. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

Academy of Country Music CEO and MTSU alumnus Pete Fisher, standing at right, conducts a class in April 2018 for five students from MTSU’s Department of Media Arts on the floor of the ACM Awards Show at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino’s Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. From left, facing the camera, are MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, Department of Media Arts Chair Billy Pittard, media arts professor Bob Gordon and College of Media and Entertainment Dean Ken Paulson. (MTSU file photo by Andrew Oppmann)

Fisher will be joined by technical and production executives behind Sunday’s telecast to present a master class to students during rehearsals. Students will see how 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 Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment.

“Our students are immersed in the production and professionalism that makes a live program like this work so well. That’s invaluable.”College of Media and Entertainment logo

The trip also provides a chance to celebrate the eight MTSU alumni and former students being recognized during this year’s ACM Awards. They are:

• 2014 audio production grads Chandler Baldwin and Jared Hampton and 2013 music business alumnus Eric Steedly, three of the five members of Lanco, nominated in the group of the year and the new duo and group of the year categories.
• Multi-Grammy winner and 2001 music business grad Luke Laird, nominated in the ACM’s song of the year category for “Space Cowboy,” co-written with Kacey Musgraves and Shane McAnally and the Grammys’ 2019 best country song winner.
Michael Knox, a 1991 recording industry alumnus who’s produced 21 No. 1 records in the last dozen years, nominated for producer of the year and in the vocal event of the year category for “Drowns the Whiskey,” Jason Aldean’s collaboration with Miranda Lambert.
• Former recording industry major and multi-Grammy winner Hillary Scott, nominated with Lady Antebellum for group of the year.
• 1994 recording industry graduate and multi-Grammy winner F. Reid Shippen, nominated for the ACM’s audio engineer of the year.
Mitchell Tenpenny, a 2012 commercial songwriting graduate, nominated for new male artist of the year.

MTSU alumni & former students nominated for 2019 Academy of Country Music Awards with MTSU & ACMs graphics: LANCO members Chandler Baldwin and Jared Hampton; Michael Knox; Luke Laird; Hillary Scott; F. Reid Shippen; LANCO member Eric Steedly; and Mitchell Tenpenny

Eight MTSU alumni are among nominees for various categories for the 54th annual Academy of Country Music Awards, which will be televised Sunday, April 7, in Las Vegas.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, who will accompany the students and faculty, said it’s 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 for careers 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.”

Billboard included MTSU last month 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 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 specifically included commercial songwriting grad Tenpennywho co-wrote and co-produced his No. 2 debut single, “Drunk Me.”

Beverly Keel, chair, Department of Recording Industry

Beverly Keel

Beverly Keel, chair of MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry, also plans to host a “Change the Conversation” event at the ACM Radio Awards presentation Saturday, April 6.

Keel formed Change the Conversation in 2014 with 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. CDT Sunday on CBS.

— Andrew Oppmann ( and Gina Fann (