A 30-year-old unshaven man with long hair and tattoos, wearing an American Veteran Motorcycle Club jacket, sits at the back of a large lecture hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.
Brett Browne stands out among the crowd of 20-somethings wearing sweatpants with their eyes glued to their laptops and phones.
The Air Force veteran admits he doesn't engage in much small talk, but he doesn't mind telling his classmates about his karaoke hobby, which he recently turned into a business, Hot Mic Karaoke.
Outside of class, the senior broadcasting major had been a regular karaoke singer and DJ before starting his business.
"I actually had an idea that I didn't want a karaoke company because it is a hobby of mine, and I didn't want to confuse work and hobby," Browne said.
But earlier this year, after consulting with friends, Browne bought karaoke equipment, including a sound system, speaker and monitors, and turned his singing hobby into a career.
His hobby started in high school when his father took him to a karaoke bar.
Browne joined the Air Force after graduating from Lincoln High in 2007. He served in Iraq and Southeast Asia. And when he got out, he often rode his motorcycles and made a living building sidewalks and working in a factory making machinery parts.
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Browne's Air Force colleagues told him he had a voice for radio, so the Lincoln native decided to go to college.
Last month, Browne played music every other Friday night at CJ's Sun Valley Bar & Grill. This month, he'll alternate weekend nights with additional gigs at another local bar, First Avenue.
While promoting his business through social media and word of mouth, Browne is still searching for ways to reach a broader audience.
But he's expanding his business slowly, because in addition to his hectic class schedule, he also works a part-time job providing rides in the morning to disabled adults.
He's also experienced some life-changing events this year. He got engaged, and moved to a new place with his fiancée and her two young sons.
"It makes it easier to try harder than I have because I have something to work for, other than myself. If I was single and going to school and failed, it would be no sweat," Browne said. "But now, if I fail, not only am I failing myself, I'm failing everybody else."
Browne said his family has supported his entrepreneurial opportunity.
"Pretty much as soon as I found out that I wanted to own a karaoke business, I told them," he said. "They were just pretty much waiting for me to get going."
In spite of the competitiveness of the karaoke business, Browne hopes his hobby-turned-career allows him to contribute to the town he calls home.
"If you look at Lincoln, we stand out as Nebraskans. I think the culture is built around expressing yourself," he said. "It's a city that thrives on displaying your art in your own way."
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