John Simson has worn many hats since his music career began in 1971. He’s been a recording artist, manager, entertainment lawyer, executive, consultant, and professor. Here at AU, we know him for being Director of the business entertainment program. At our event Portraits of Success, Professor Simson moderated and took some time out to be interviewed for our blog.

When did you decide you wanted to have a career in the entertainment industry?

When I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Started a band the next day with my best friends and that was the end of it. I was going to be Governor of New York before that and then everything changed.

What is the hardest part of starting a curriculum here at American?

That’s a great question because when I first came here I’d had a long career in the entertainment industry and I thought I wanted to teach. I’d been an adjunct professor, teaching entertainment law at the law school, at night while I still had my law practice and when I was running the trade association. So I started just teaching a class here and I had no idea that I was building a program and then within about a year it became pretty clear that there was huge student interest in the business of entertainment. So about two years in the Dean of the business school came to me and he said we’d like you to put together a major and a minor, and so it took about a year. There’s a bureaucracy of academia that has to be there so that the courses that you do take are of a certain quality, and it took a bit of time but to me it was a labor of love because this is something I’ve lived and to be able to mentor the next generation of music industry or entertainment industry leaders is a joy for me.   

So about two years in the Dean of the business school came to me and he said we’d like you to put together a major and a minor.It took about a year because there’s a bureaucracy of academia that has to be there so that the courses that you do take are of a certain quality. It took a bit of time but to me, it was a labor of love because this is something I’ve lived and to be able to mentor the next generation of music industry or entertainment industry leaders is a joy for me.   

What is the most rewarding part of teaching at American?

I think the students are fabulous and they’re really passionate and they push me all the time. I’m a music lover so when my students start telling me about groups that I don’t know about and all of a sudden I’m on Spotify or one of my other music apps and listening and going, “oh well they’re really good,” or “that’s not for me.” That’s really been fun, and then obviously seeing my students who graduate get hired in really neat places. We’re building a network of AU students at some really great entertainment companies and I think that’s really exciting as well.

What is one of the best experiences you’ve had from working in the entertainment industry?

I guess the joy of hearing a record before the public hears it. When one of my clients brought me an amazing record that gave me goosebumps. Getting nominated for an Emmy was pretty amazing but having my clients win Grammys and thank me from the stage, that’s awesome.

What advice do you have for students interested in the entertainment industry?

They should know that the business can be a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work. There are so many people who want to be in, so the competition is fierce. They better have a passion for it. If they want to go where the money is, go work for a bank. But if they live film or television or music or whatever the area of the arts that they want to be involved in. If they really have a driving passion to be involved, then by all means, we need smart, passionate and driven people. But it’s not easy and there’s a misconception sometimes that it’s fun so it’s easy. No, it’s not easy. And I think because people have that perception. I think those who are already in roles of leadership and power, make it really hard for you to break in. It’s almost like they’re testing you. For those who want to be in it, it’s great and I love to mentor those students. And I meet with law students. I meet with business students. I meet with SOC students. I meet with students all over campus and even students who don’t go to this school. Students who find me through friends of friends. I just live and breath this so I’m always happy to meet with them and give them advice. I think that that’s something that you owe your industry, that sense of giving back.