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February 19 2003
by Kim Vo
San Jose Mercury News



There are those who doubt Nathan Church Hubbard's commitment. What is the frontman for an acoustic rock duo doing in business school?

Well, he likes to point out, it is called the music business.

Hubbard, 27, is in Rockwell Church, a duo on a national tour of clubs and colleges to promote its fifth album, "Antidote." He is also in his first year at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.

Music is not a hobby. It is his passion and his career, said Hubbard, sipping orange juice and dressed in the uniform of rockers and college students everywhere -- jeans, T-shirt and a black leather jacket. But success will require more than an ability to sing, play the guitar and write songs.

"I knew business school would give me skills I couldn't get on the road and vice versa," he said. "I said to hell with it. I'm going to do both."

Doing both goes something like this: Hubbard attends classes in the morning, works on papers and music in the afternoon and tours on the weekends. He boards planes carrying a guitar in one hand and a laptop in the other so he can study during the flight.

It sounds like an impossible schedule: a Palo Alto gig on a Thursday, a show in Claremont on Friday. A week later, it's Oklahoma on Friday, Virginia on Saturday and back in Palo Alto for Sunday brunch.

Hubbard's music partner, Joti Rockwell, is in a similar situation -- he's getting his doctorate in music theory at the University of Chicago.

Juggling advanced degrees and touring seemed like a herculean task to Kelly Redfield, a first-year Stanford medical student at Rockwell Church's show at the university last week.

"We were talking about that," said Redfield, who was on call during the concert and stepped out to check her messages. "How do they do that?"

Having it both ways

Well, time management skills, as they say in business school, are critical. Financially, student loans help, as do savings from the days Hubbard worked at a San Francisco start-up. Hubbard's wife, Lindsay, a management consultant, doubles as a roadie.

Rockwell, in an e-mail interview, described his morning this way:

After designing exercises for the music theory class he teaches, he slept a few hours then got up. "My job at the moment is to finish all my e-mails, shower and pack within the next half-hour so I'm not late for the class I'm teaching. I'll be bringing my guitar and luggage into the classroom since I'm going straight to O'Hare."

"Things slide," Hubbard admitted. "My mother has to call me instead of me calling my mom."

There's not yet a model for what Hubbard wants to do. He fired off ideas on how the industry should change: Technology can be better leveraged, music produced and distributed more efficiently, artists should have greater interaction with consumers.

"It's an industry really poised for a paradigm shift," he said. "You pay $20 for a CD in the store and, as an artist, I make $1.25."

Making a go of it

Creative people must lead and "redefine what it means to be a successful artist," Hubbard said. The duo's compact discs are released by an independent label, Homey Music. The two send e-mails and unreleased songs to fans to nurture support between shows and records. The shows, shirt and CD sales earn enough for Rockwell Church to be a profitable business, Hubbard said.

Rockwell Church is an engaging duo that play coffeehouse music, ponderings on relationships and love sung over an acoustic guitar.

The two met in Washington, D.C., when they sat next to each other in first grade. Their first concert was in third grade, playing the wedding march for a production of "Midsummer Night's Dream."

Songs inspired by children's animal books came next, including the catchy "Hobo Dog." Then Hubbard went to Princeton and Rockwell went to Haverford College, but they kept in touch and continued to play. Their first CD came out in 1995.

Once he had a big meeting in Kansas City and a show later that night in Philadelphia. There was a snowstorm in both cities. He remembers calling the club, saying it'll be tight, but it might work. He jumped into the rental car, sprinted onto the plane, pulled off his business suit. "I remember being in the air feeling, `I wish I could feel like this forever.' "

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