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Student Mixes Business With Pleasure For Career In Music Industry

Sept. 12, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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Coming from a musically inclined family, music is in Sam Houston State University senior Shaun Lyman Cavnar’s blood.

Growing up in Groveton, by way of Pomona, Calif., Cavnar recalls being surrounded by music on both sides of his family—his uncle works in music on the West Coast, and of his father Cavnar said, “All he does is play music and work” for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

But as a business major, music is more than just practicing the drums as much as three hours daily in his climate-controlled storage unit in Huntsville, though he does that, too; music, as he learned from an early age from his uncle, is an industry.

Cavnar has spent the past seven years learning the ins and outs of that industry. He has worked in various capacities on the Vans Warped Tour and with a record label called Hopeless Records; he has travelled around Europe and Russia with a band called The Dillinger Escape Plan; and, in his latest venture, he has teamed up with Periphery drummer Matt Halpern in the launching of a website called Bandhappy, a website they hope will “revolutionize” music education.

It seems unlikely that a college student could be so enmeshed in the music industry at just 24 years old.

His accomplishments are the result of a lot of hard work and networking—to the point that he has, at several times in his collegiate career, taken breaks from school—and a little bit of auspiciousness.


A 'Warped' Education

Cavanar’s uncle, Kevin Lyman, owns a company called 4Fini, Inc., a full-service marketing, branding and event production company specializing in custom tour event productions and entertainment marketing.

Before creating 4Fini, while a student at Cal Poly Pomona, Lyman began booking bands in the area and, eventually, working with the Lollapalooza tour. After four years, he decided to venture out on his own and began seeking sponsors for what would become the Vans Warped Tour.

Shaun and the Dillinger Escape Plan
(Above, far left) Cavnar, on tour with the Dillinger Escape Plan in Florida, May 2011, and (below, against the window) on a train to Moscow, Russia, from St. Petersburg in 2010. —Submitted photos
Shaun Lyman

“The first year of Warped Tour was terrible, but they let him do it one more time and it was fantastic. It blew up after that. It’s literally one of the biggest moving economies,” Cavnar said. “It is it’s own thing; it just moves to a city, destroys the venue, and goes to another one and another one. In parking lots it will literally be the biggest thing, like South by Southwest but all in a square block.”

Cavnar, whose passion for both music and business is easily seen in his tendency to invoke business jargon while talking about his work, perhaps without even realizing it, grew up going to Warped Tour festivals.

“I always knew what Kevin did, but it wasn’t till my later teens that I wanted to get involved,” he said.

When he was 17, he began working for his uncle over the summers doing “crumb jobs” on the tour. Each year, as he began taking on greater responsibilities with the tour, he began to secure solid connections among the 90 to 100 bands that perform with the Warped Tour daily.

“I started to make my own way; I started to meet people by myself and do things for me. Then I got involved with really fantastic musicians, a band called the Dillinger Escape Plan,” he said. “That was my biggest break from school. I took an entire semester off to go to Europe; we went to Russia, Israel, Greece, all of Europe, all of the UK, and that’s when I got the ‘taste.’ I was drum tech-ing on that tour, but, basically, it was a free trip to Europe with friends.”


Getting 'Bandhappy'

About a year and a half ago, in the midst of being “sidetracked (from school) with the whole music thing,” he met Matt Halpern while on tour with the Dillinger Escape Plan.

Cavnar said he and Halpern bonded “synergistically,” and then Halpern introduced him to a project called Bandhappy and asked him to be a part of the team.

Bandhappy serves as a “global marketplace” for live, in-person music lessons that are taught either online through a custom private video chat application or on-tour as musicians travel from city to city. People from all over the world come to Bandhappy to take music lessons with their favorite musicians.

Though the website launched in January, it quickly developed a large following, spread entirely through word-of-mouth. By August Bandhappy had accumulated more than 700 teachers and 14,000 students, from more than 100 countries.

“The dot map is everywhere,” Cavnar said. “It’s blowing up right now. There’s nothing like this out there, and it’s going to allow for a lot of opportunities for a lot of different people.”

Literally an economy of its own, driven by supply and demand, Cavnar describes Bandhappy as a “commerce between the student and the teacher.” The way it works is that a student signs up for free through the website and can then browse through lists of musicians or instruments from which they can learn. Musicians set their own teaching fees, based on the demand for that artist or the instrument he/she teaches, and lesson times and dates are coordinated between the teacher and student.

On the Road with Shaun Cavnar...

“Bandhappy provides the interface for artists to subsidize their income, because most of them are usually broke trying to travel around and make something, and then the student gets to meet their favorite artist and take a lesson from that person,” Cavnar said. “And it’s not just limited to music. We have music marketing; you can learn about record labels, sound engineering, mixing, mastering, all of the components of the music industry.

“When I was 12 or 13, this would’ve been the greatest thing I ever heard,” he said.

This summer, as one of Bandhappy’s team members, Cavnar helped to launch Bandhappy’s first international marketing campaign, managing the day-to-day operations of the site’s music lessons tent during this summer’s Warped Tour.

As part of the campaign, Cavnar and the Bandhappy crew traveled through 42 cities in 52 days, introducing the website to Warped Tour attendees by booking live lessons for students who had signed up beforehand.

“This summer was incredible. Bandhappy received a warm welcome from all parties: bands, artists, existing teachers, students,” he said. “It's kind of surreal when you think about it—if I were 16 and had the ability to take a lesson or to be inspired personally by one of my favorite artists, I would've been astounded.

“It was an inspirational journey this summer for everyone,” He said. “To see kids and artists finding new ways to communicate and educate one another—kids being inspired and artists are working hard—but both are experiencing a new level of the music industry during each and every lesson. This is something that not only happened this summer but will continue in the future through Bandhappy.”


Marching to the Beat of His Own Drum

Though he’s been a drummer since the age of 15 or 16, Cavnar said he isn’t interested in being in a band due to the commitment it would require and, instead, would rather be a part of music education, something he’s extremely passionate about.

“Being in a band has been part of the aspiration in the past, but after starting in the industry at a young age and just working behind the scenes, (I see that) the last thing you want is to be in the every day struggle of trying to make it,” he said.

“If you want to get into that lifestyle, it has to be your lifestyle,” he continued. “I’m surprised I’ve gotten as far as I have trying to balance family, school and this. With the music industry, you jump in and you don’t jump out unless you go in a completely different direction.”

Likewise, his own education is extremely important to him as well. When many other students might have dropped out of college after experiences such as Cavnar’s, finishing his degree has always been a priority; the rest is just something he felt he had to do while he had the opportunity, he said.

“Finishing school is a goal of my own now. I’ve discovered that there are classes that I want to take (such as “Deceptive Communications” and management classes) that I had to work to get to take,” he said. “The management courses are the courses that are most applicable, in my opinion, to what I want to do.”

While Cavnar acknowledges that his experiences have given him a plethora of career opportunities and “there’s really no one direct place I want to go,” after graduation in December Cavnar plans to continue to stay on the Bandhappy wagon, working with the company full-time.

“Right now Bandhappy is a great thing. I’ve always wanted to start a music education-type thing, something that benefitted kids,” he said. “I’ve gotten involved so that now I can work in anything that I might’ve wanted to do; now I have passageways to do it. With Bandhappy, we can give so much for so little. It’s such a great thing.

“Eventually I want to travel the entire planet. I’ve done a lot of that already, but a lot of this can come to a lot of traveling,” he said. “Being a musician has driven me to know I want to teach, and I probably will do that for the rest of my life. But I don’t think it will be the one single thing I do.”


Cavnar will also appear as part of Fuse TV's new series "Warped Roadies," airing in October.



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