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Chip Petree ’93: Making Deals in Music City

Chip Petree '93 sits by a fireplace
Chip Petree '93

Chip Petree '93 is a major player in the Nashville music scene, but he's not on stage or behind a microphone... at least not for his day job. Instead, Petree walks the line between the music and the money.

As general counsel for a variety of businesses that support creative talent, Petree sits between artists and their managers and tries to assimilate their input into "what ends up getting signed on a piece of paper."

"I'm half counselor and half therapist at times," said Petree. "I'm a contractual adviser and negotiator, and a caretaker for the creative output of my clients. I make sure their rights are protected, maximizing returns on the hard work and creativity they've put into their careers."

With current clients like Chris Stapleton and Brothers Osborne, and former clients including Florida Georgia Line, Petree boasts an impressive rolodex. He's earned the trust of singers, songwriters and producers-a critical, yet rare, thing in the entertainment industry, where he says "competition to get clients can be a contact sport."

Getting There

So how did Petree find himself in this position? Shattered dreams of rock stardom and a sidebar story in the Davidson Journal alumni magazine, to be precise.

A bassist and background vocalist for the college band Residew, Petree's undergraduate years were defined by small campus experiences and big campus gigs.

The band had "room to breathe" at schools like the University of Georgia and the University of South Carolina and UNC Chapel Hill, playing there on the weekends. But, he says, "Davidson was always home."

Attempting to make a go of it following graduation, the close friends moved to Durham. Several months in, the band fell apart (they still play at Davidson every couple of years). Petree figured out plan B thanks to the college alumni magazine, where a small side-bar story about alumni Russell Carter '75 and Bertis Downs '78 caught his attention.

"These guys had both gotten into working with bands," he said. "A lightbulb went off at that moment, and I realized I could be in this thing called music in a different way."

Plan B Becomes Plan A

Petree "somehow convinced" Wake Forest to let him into law school, worked unpaid internships during the summers and networked himself right into a Nashville job–a "more livable" city, he says, than other music capitals like New York City or Los Angeles.

He held positions with CMT and TNN, handling television production agreements, on-air talent agreements and sponsorship fee disputes, then spent a couple of years in Silicon Valley focused on technology licensing. He jumped on the chance to move back to Nashville.

Petree credits Davidson with some of his success building relationships and keeping them.

"The business I'm in is not always the most morally upstanding one," he said. "It's like that Hunter S. Thompson quote, ‘The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.'"

At Davidson, Petree was asked to self-monitor, live with integrity and consider all angles of a situation. He's applied those skills in the practice of law and the music business.

"Everyone's looking to find an advantage and get a better deal, and I think people appreciate my forthright and honest approach to the work," he said. "The Honor Code is a part of my daily life."

Danielle Strickland