UM School of Communication alumnus Derek Stanley, B.S.C. ’07, thought he might be a newspaper designer when he grew up. Today, he is managing a Southern rock band based out of Nashville, TN – The Steel Woods.
“I had no intentions of getting into music,” said Stanley. “I loved it – as in I listened to music, but I didn’t know that there was a whole business behind it.”
Stanley doubled majored in advertising and marketing with a minor in economics during his time at UM. Randy Stano, professor of professional practice in the School of Communication, vouched for Stanley’s hard work ethic and talent for design, but admitted he never imagined his former student in the music industry.
“I didn’t realize he was interested in music,” Stano said. “I expected him at a regular agency, but I’m thrilled at what he’s doing, and the album cover that they created is really great.”
Stano’s direction not only sent Stanley into the real world with a slew of design skills on his back, but also gave him the confidence to serve as art director for the band’s album cover. Each design element on the album cover, which ironically resembles the front page of a newspaper, represents a different song on the album. Stanley said he communicated his vision for the cover to the band’s graphic designer, Karla Sanders – something he wouldn’t have been able to do without his UM education.
Southern poetry married with a country-rock sound make up the music of The Steel Woods. It’s blues-grass. It’s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s wholesome and appeals to every generation. And the quartet, comprised of guitar and vocalist, Wes Bayliss, guitarist Jason Cope, drummer and vocalist Jay Tooke and bassist Johnny Stanton, just released their second album, “Old News.”
“We’re really trying to make music and art that heals like a Band-aid for people. You can approach this music industry in a number of different ways. But for us, we are really striving to be the good guys of rock ‘n’ roll,” Stanley said.
Stanley says being a manager of a band – especially an independent band like The Steel Woods – means you are the “centerpiece” of the group. Stanley works tirelessly to keep the band moving forward at all times – tracking down booking agents, label partners and publicists, as well as coordinating and marketing each show the band performs. The Steel Woods plays about 150 shows a year and has toured with stars like Miranda Lambert and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“We’re really building it the old-fashioned way, which is grinding, working real hard, playing shows night after night and getting in front of people. It’s a different sort of approach, but in the long run, you’re building loyal fans that will stick with you forever, because they’re truly fans of your music and the art that you’re putting out,” Stanley said.
Stanley recalls one of his favorite moments with the band came in the form of a little girl who visited the band after one of their shows. She had just been in the hospital receiving open heart surgery and still managed to make it to her favorite band’s show.
“We were all choking up – they spent ten minutes talking to her, giving her a shirt, taking a picture. But, it’s like man, you can really affect people in a majorly positive way,” Stanley said.
Stanley broke out of a mold he built for four years in college studying advertising and marketing. He credits his entrepreneurial prowess to the mere act of living in Miami – a dramatic feat in itself.
“I feel like at UM, you just get thrown in a life quick, and you figure it out. There’s something about the students that I’ve noticed – everybody was very much an entrepreneur, and people just made things happen,” Stanley said.
Stanley’s passion for the music industry has only grown during his time managing The Steel Woods. He hopes South Florida will embrace his band’s feel-good Southern blues-rock and remember that no matter your major, no matter what you think you’re destined to do – it could change, and maybe for the better.