Teacher takes leap of faith into country music career
Being a teacher and being a rock star have at least one thing in common: you need to know how to create a captive audience.
Which is why Zach Laughlin, a 2013 graduate of the University of Georgia College of Education with a degree in mathematics education, feels prepared for the stage, in a way.
"To be a good teacher, you have to be transparent. Every kid is different, and I had to figure out what makes a kid tick. I would try to do my best to relate to that kid," said Laughlin. "It's the same way in music; having to engage a classroom of high schoolers is kind of like engaging a crowd."
Laughlin spent a year and a half teaching high school mathematics before realizing he and his wife, Allison, had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: To launch their career as touring musicians in their country band, Laughlin.
The couple met during their freshman-year orientation at UGA. Allison graduated from the Grady College of Journalism and landed a job with an insurance company after graduating in 2012. Laughlin says he "did a victory lap," graduating in 2013 from the College of Education after red-shirting his freshman year on the baseball team.
During their time at UGA, Laughlin said, the couple went from singing for friends to singing in clubs downtown, slowly growing a following and a body of their own music. The momentum kept building after graduation; last fall they decided to make the leap to full-time musicians.
Today the couple is one of nine bands signed with Georgia-based start-up LOUD and plan to release their first album May 2. Their single, "Summer Song," will be released by April 1.
"It got to a point where we had to make a decision — is this something we'd go after full-time?" Zach asked. "Being 24, we decided we might as well give it a shot. If we fail, we both have degrees. I can always go back and teach."
Along with forging ahead as musicians, the band is also helping to break new ground in the music industry.
LOUD's model allows contributors to an online fundraiser to split profits with the musicians. In this way, artists who launch a campaign through LOUD agree to give their backers a percentage of their profits once an album drops. (Georgia law allows "nonaccredited" partners, or people with a net worth of less than $1 million, to contribute and receive a share of the profits.)
And, music fans who purchase music via the LOUD app can share in the profits when they share the music through social media and other friends make a purchase. In this way, supporters have a direct interest in promoting their favorite bands.
"It's taking the idea of crowdsourcing and marketing in one step," said Laughlin, citing the band's campaign through LOUD that raised $5,000 more than what they sought. "So we have 100 funders, and those funders have an incentive to make money. They have a yearning to push our album. It's like we have 100 PR people."
The extra money allowed Laughlin to work with producer Dan Hannon, and to get some band merchandise. The new album will be an exclusive release on the LOUD app for 30 days, and then available on traditional outlets like iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. SiriusXM will soon hear the new single for possible airplay, and it will also be available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.
The band performed in Athens earlier this year, and several of Laughlin's former professors came to the show at The Foundry. "I was so happy to be able to attend and support them," said Kevin C. Moore, an associate professor of mathematics education. "We certainly miss having Zach in the field as a teacher, but the most I wish for our students is that they pursue and have success with their passions. So to see Zach and his wife up there and doing that is really special."
Moore recalled Laughlin as a star student while he was at UGA.
"He was fantastic and a student I'll always remember. He always came into class in a great mood that never wavered — he was energetic every class period," said Moore. "Most importantly, he was never afraid to share his thoughts and opinions. We expect our graduates to become leaders in whatever they do, and a big part of that is being willing to take a chance and put their thinking out there for good or bad. He certainly had that quality, which probably speaks to his comfort on a live stage."
The band returns to Athens for a performance May 1 at the 40 Watt. More recently, Laughlin played at SXSW, opening for Collective Soul — another band on their label.
"It's so funny how fast everything has changed," said Laughlin. "Last fall I was teaching ninth-graders and I was coaching baseball. But it came down to a thing where we didn't want to look back and say, man, we should have done that when we were young."