- Associated Press - Saturday, February 7, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - As Hannah Jenkins, a Point Park University student, strummed an acoustic guitar and sang the chorus of a song she was recording at Red Caiman Studios in the city’s Uptown neighborhood, Jesse Naus, studio owner and adjunct professor at the school, advised her to perfect her tempo by using a metronome every time she practices.

To other students huddled around the soundboard, he provided tips for adjusting microphones, compressors and preamplifiers.

It looked and sounded like a class in music production and engineering. But Jenkins and the others weren’t there just to learn about the technical aspects of recording.

All of them are students in Point Park’s business school and working at Pioneer Records, a university record label designed to give them hands-on experience in all facets of the recording industry - from engineering a CD, to drawing up contracts for back-up musicians and planning a launch party.

The label is a new initiative of the business school’s Sports, Arts and Entertainment Management (SAEM) program, which seeks to combine classroom learning with real-world applications.

Last semester, Jenkins, a 20-year-old sophomore and SAEM major, won a contest to become Pioneer’s first artist; this semester, she will record three original tracks that will be released as an extended play compact disc.

“We wanted a record label where the kids could come to work,” said Ed Traversari, an associate professor in the program who worked for decades as a concert promoter for DiCesare-Engler Productions and as a director of the now-defunct Chevrolet Amphitheater at Station Square.

Steve Tanzilli, associate professor, founder and chair of the program, said the record label evolved from surveys that showed Point Park students wanted to delve deeper into how to produce a CD and take it to market.

Besides working in the studio, students involved in Pioneer take a class in legal issues to learn how to structure contracts for musicians; a class in marketing and promotions in which they will prepare budgets, news releases, posters, and a marketing plan once the CD is finished; and event management and concert classes in which students will organize the release party, including securing a stage and renting sound and lighting equipment.

Red Caiman will produce 300 CDs for Jenkins to distribute to other record labels and promoters after the official release date scheduled for April.

Over the summer, Point Park faculty will begin scouting for the next artist to record with Pioneer in the fall semester.

“The goal is to have the students involved in everything,” said Naus, who teaches a class called, “The Recording Business.”

“They are in a real, working, commercial studio and get to see a record being made from the ground up.”

Point Park’s SAEM program is tapping an endowed scholarship to cover costs such as studio time, van transportation to the studio, and marketing materials, said Tanzilli.

The cost of producing a CD like the one Pioneer is making for Jenkins could range from $8,000 to $10,000, said Naus. Red Caiman is charging below-market rates for studio time and backup musicians, he said.

Purchased by Naus in 2007, Red Caiman occupies two floors in a century-old building on Fifth Avenue. Besides Naus, it employs several engineers and has produced recordings for bands in genres ranging from Americana and rock to jazz and metal.

Last fall, it cut an album for local band Pete Bush & The Hoi Polloi, and among its corporate and nonprofit clients are the Fred Rogers Corp., the Federal Reserve Bank, Consol Energy, the Pittsburgh Symphony and Children’s Festival Chorus.

Pioneer has not yet set a price for the new CD for Jenkins, said Tanzilli. “The more we sell, the better we all do, and that is certainly the plan.”

Eventually, he said, Pioneer could be a self-sustaining entity with the artists getting a share of any royalties on their recordings.

Though this is a new venture for Point Park, college-based student record labels have been around for a while.

About 15 years ago, the Syracuse University Setnor School of Music used a grant of $5,000 to launch a student record label that has evolved into two recording companies, said David Rezak, a professor and director of that school’s Bandier Program, which combines the art of music with business, media, marketing and entrepreneurship.

Pioneer’s plan to press only 300 CDs for its first launch “sounds smart,” said Rezak, because sales of CDs have fallen as consumers download more music from Internet sites.

“Modern labels are now involved in 360-degree music models,” he said. “That means (the label) will sign you and invest big in you but they want a piece of the tickets, the T-shirts and music publishing.”

Syracuse’s Marshall Street Records designed a bright, neon logo featuring the school’s orange mascot wearing sunglasses. When Marshall releases a student recording, it markets T-shirts and other promotional pieces that include the logo.

“A large portion of the revenue comes from the merchandise and the brand,” said Rezak. “The music doesn’t sell well.”

In a 2007 case study of student record labels, Tonya Butler, currently director of music industry at Minnesota State University, Mankato, said prominent student labels included those operating at California State University Northridge, Columbia College Chicago, Berklee College of Music, New York University, and Drexel University.

At the time, Butler was making a pitch to the University of Memphis to start its own label. Now the school’s Blue Tigers of Memphis Records (BlueTOM) is an independent organization that sponsors music festivals and records artists who aren’t necessarily students at the university.

Point Park is considering opening its auditions to non-student performers in the future, said Rachel Vigliotti, a graduate assistant working on an MBA degree with a concentration in SAEM.

Alexis Galasso, 21, a senior majoring in SAEM, stumbled on Point Park at a college fair.

In her hometown of Johnstown, she started volunteering in the music industry at age 13 by handing out concert flyers on the street. Since enrolling at Point Park, she has interned at performance venues including Stage AE and works at the Apple store in Shadyside in sales.

Her long-term career goal is to become a marketing producer for Apple’s iTunes or a talent agent.

“Having this major behind me, more places will take me seriously,” she said during a break in the session at Red Caiman. “I want entertainment management and those teaching me are immersed in the industry.”





Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com

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