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Diablo Valley College music industry professor Michael Aczon talks with students as they hand in their final and leave for the winter break at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. Aczon, an entertainment lawyer, also manages 2014 Grammy -nominated musician Wayne Wallace and his Latin Jazz Quintet. He brings real-world experience in the music business to his students. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

PLEASANT HILL -- It's not easy to break into the music industry.

Luckily for Diablo Valley College students looking to make their mark in the biz but naive about the process, Michael Aczon is able to show them the ropes.

With three decades of experience in the industry as an entertainment attorney and manager, Aczon is well-suited to teach the ins and outs of the music trades to eager pupils.

But what made his introduction to the music industry class more interesting this past semester is that students have gotten to see firsthand the work needed to garner a Grammy award nomination.

"Most people just watch the Grammys, but don't realize there's a lot of work that goes into nominations," said Aczon, who has taught the Music 181 course at the Pleasant Hill community college since 1996.

Aczon, 57, represents trombonist Wayne Wallace and his Latin jazz quintet, who later this month is up for the award for Best Latin Jazz Recording for album "Latin Jazz/Jazz Latin."

Aczon and Wallace, a Bay Area native and professor at Indiana University, built Patois Records in 2006. The label has been nominated for two Grammys in three years.

"They got to see firsthand at the ground level all the work that goes into it. It became a teaching tool as they got to see the process in real time," Aczon said.

The course, a rarity for a Northern California junior college, analyzes the structure of the music industry, helps students understand the processes used to protect intellectual property rights, form marketing and distribution techniques and create working business plans.


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Additionally this past fall semester, students kept tabs on the processes with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, including the submission and voting steps.

"It definitely puts it in more of a business mind and how and why it all works," said Robbie Schmitz. The 32-year-old Pleasant Hill resident is unclear about the music path he will take, he said, but likely will go into producing.

Aczon ran the entire semester more like a discussion board, rather than a class with "the type of mentality" where remembering names, dates and lessons was crucial, Schmitz said.

"We were constantly looking at music news, and who may or may not have violated a contract," Schmitz said. "(Aczon) said those are common practices that we should constantly be doing."

Aspiring rapper Karina Flonnoy, of San Ramon, said she appreciated that she was able to "learn the language" of the industry.

"It leaves you better equipped to realize if people are trying to play you," she said.

Adds student Austin Kangieser, "It really helps give perspective on the business side of the industry, and he really breaks it down."

Kangieser, 24, of Brentwood, is an aspiring music artist. He appreciated how Aczon tells stories to illustrate his points, including one tale about how artists are perceived.

"There may be some artists that we see as train wrecks, but the record company is using that on purpose to make money," he said.

One issue that made headlines during the first few weeks of the semester that the class followed was a case of copyright infringement by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for the song "Blurred Lines."

The pair brought a claim against Marvin Gaye in August for declaratory judgment, saying it was not similar to his song "Got to Give it Up." Gaye's heirs sued them in late October.

Aczon explained that filing the claim placed the burden of truth on those representing Gaye, Schmitz said. When all the smoke cleared, both sides were winners because they gained popularity for the songs, Aczon said.

"We try to take something as seemingly dry as trademark and contract infringement, and the students look at it in real-time, and say 'Wow, this is my career,'" he said.

Much like when he read an article about music producer Clive Davis as a teen that showed him he could have a lasting career in music, Aczon notices when students find their calling.

"For every Mick Jagger, there's 30 jobs behind the scenes," he said.

Aczon said some alumni of the DVC program have gone on to big things: including signing on to E-40's rap label and touring with Alicia Keys.

Aczon hopes his students watch the Grammys on Jan. 26, especially the pre-telecast where "most of the action is."

"It makes it very real to them and really kind of brings it home," Aczon said.

There are a lot of Bay Area residents in the Grammys, including Larry Batiste, the program's music director and Castlemont High (Oakland) alum

"These are real-life people that (students) can meet. That's our goal. If they want to know the road, we'll show them."

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.