Intersection of art and academics leads to new CD

The music is eclectic and so is the man. In addition to an undergraduate degree in engineering, stints at eco-minded Greenpeace and money-minded McKinsey, a master's degree in management and a doctorate in decision sciences, Patrick Noonan, assistant professor of decision & information analysis and newly appointed director of MBA programs at the Goizueta Business School, is a semi-professional musician.

And that's not all; his music interests intersect with his academic research. Noonan focuses on operations research, that is, applying economics and mathematical modeling to business problems such as inventory and marketing decisions. But he also studies the media and entertainment industries, primarily the music industry.

"I'm specifically interested in how information technologies have rapidly changed the music and entertainment industries," said Noonan. "Artists and independent producers now have access to what's known as the entire value chain in the music industry, from creator to audience, through inexpensive digital recording equipment. Artists also have access to fragmented markets since people are now willing to buy music that is not in specific categories; people's tastes are more eclectic."

In addition to inexpensive recording equipment that provides greater access to audiences, Noonan noted that people are increasingly bypassing traditional music retailers and creating their own channels of distribution. "Music retailing is what we will really see change in the next five years," he said.

Noonan likens this change in the music industry to changes in the brewing industry and the rise of micro-breweries. "You could say these independent producers are `micro-grooveries,' since the music is not homogenized and the unique flavor of the music is part of the appeal. So, a CD took $2,000 to produce instead of a $200,000 major label budget; the appeal is in the purity and unique texture of the music."

Noonan's chance to be part of the changes in the music industry came a couple of years ago when one of his younger brothers quit his banking job and started a new record label, the Wild Orchard Record Co. "His company specializes in new forms of distribution of music such as trade shows, direct mail, Internet marketing--very personalized and customized selling," said Noonan. "Basically, he's saying `I'm going to find my own market, I don't need record companies to inject themselves between the artists and the audience.'

"Up until then, my music had been a labor of love, but then I decided to put my money where my mouth is: complete an album I had been working on and re-master some of my earlier recordings for CD," said Noonan.

Noonan grew up in a music-mad family and started making music 30 years ago with the trombone. A few years later he switched to the guitar and has yet to put it down.

In 1973 when Noonan went to Yale, he quickly met another student guitarist and violinist. "We literally met under the oak trees on the Yale campus, in the courtyard," he said. "It was the '70s, and people would go out at night and play music under the trees."

Noonan and those first friends who became his music collaborators formed a group, Laurasia, and supported themselves by playing at coffeehouses, concerts and clubs. They made their first recording in 1975 and another in 1978.

"Music was changing then; it was the beginning of post-modernism in music," said Noonan. "Styles were fragmented and new styles were collages of old styles. We were playing a mix of classical, folk and jazz, but it didn't fit into any category. We freely borrowed ideas and improvised as well."

One defining moment of Noonan's music career came in 1978 when he received a call from record producer David Geffen, who discovered Joni Mitchell and The Eagles. "He said, `Look, you guys are good, but we don't know what to do with you,'" said Noonan. "He said `your stuff is very musical, but you've got to pick a direction and then call me.' Geffen couldn't figure out what to do with us because at that time music still needed to be marketed by category."

Life moved on for Noonan, who worked for Greenpeace and returned to Yale for business school. He then met up with his collaborators in New York in the early 1980s while a management consultant at McKinsey. "There still was no avenue to distribute our music then, so we performed and recorded it for our own pleasure," he said.

But it was about that time that the markets for music began to change. "Record companies still didn't understand how to move niche music," said Noonan. "But consumers' tastes were becoming more varied and less categorized. People's tastes became more individualized, and there was an acceptance of category-denying music.

"It's ironic that in the '70s we were doing music full-time and there was no market; in the '80s we were doing music part-time and the market was there, but we had no access," said Noonan. "Now in the '90s the market is there and we finally have access."

Noonan has made it to the finals twice in Musician magazine's "Best Unsigned Band" competition. This year he finished a new CD, "Beat Noir," which he wrote, arranged, performed and produced. "The first tracks were recorded in the summer of 1989," said Noonan. "The seven years of making the CD also included having two kids, getting a Ph.D., starting a new business, beginning an academic career and moving to Emory."

With "Beat Noir" behind him, Noonan's looking ahead to more research about the rise of micro-grooveries and to predicting the future of entertainment marketing. Concerts to celebrate the release of the album will be held in Boston, New York and Atlanta this winter. And, there's always more songs and more music, though Noonan ruefully declares it won't take seven years for the next album.

To hear some of Noonan's music, call 1-800-336-6223.

--Jan Gleason

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