by Chad Shanks and Ryan Pierce
Drew Greenway sits in a building in the middle of the woods.
Amidst this isolation, a flurry of red and green lights blink as he adjusts levels on a five-foot long soundboard, turning his head toward the speakers suspended from the guitar-lined walls.
He puts the finishing touches on “Drifting,” a song about his wife’s search for purpose, satisfied in the knowledge that it will soon be available on iTunes.
Greenway, a 26-year-old George W. Truett Theological Seminary student, is an artist on Uproar Records, Baylor University’s student-run record label. He came to Waco to further his career as a worship pastor, but after auditioning on a whim, he is now on the cusp of having his music commercially available to the world.
Greenway is one of five Uproar artists to take the 30-minute drive north of Waco to Back at the Ranch Recording Studio, built from the ground up on McLennan Community College professor Brian Konzelman’s wooded riverside property. Konzelman not only lends his studio but his talents as well, by producing Uproar’s albums with the students. Although the studio’s exterior is rustic, its state-of-the-art interior is producing music that is bringing Baylor national recognition.
The Genesis of Uproar
Uproar Records grew out of the Baylor Recording Artist Network (BRAN), a Student Activities-sponsored organization that released CDs of Baylor artists. BRAN sought marketing advice from professor Kirk Wakefield, director of Baylor’s Music & Entertainment Marketing (M&E) program. Wakefield then recruited professor Charles Fifield, a former financial consultant for EMI Records, and students Ben Rodgers and Ryan Weaver. Their combined vision became Uproar Records, a partnership between the M&E program and Student Activities.
The M&E track for Marketing majors is a highly selective degree program in the Hankamer School of Business. Originating in 2005 with an emphasis on theater, the major began as a collaboration with Baylor’s theater department and the business school, but broadened when Wakefield cultivated major contacts in the music world.
Any student can participate in Uproar through the Uproar Music & Entertainment Marketing Club, but Uproar’s officers are all M&E majors – students serious about careers in the music industry.
Growth and Expansion
Garrett Burnett spent his senior year as Uproar’s label president and project manager. He and the other seniors on Uproar’s 2009-2010 leadership team have been part of the label from its inception.
Burnett, who interned at a Nashville record label, wants Uproar to provide students a realistic experience, and he structured the Uproar leadership team so each member handles a specific aspect of the label’s business, from production and distribution to finances and public relations.
“There’s no other way for Baylor students to get more hands-on experience,” Burnett said. “This is not something you can learn in a textbook.”
At the start of the fall 2009 semester, Burnett and the Uproar team held auditions for new artists. Out of 48 hopefuls, five were signed to one-year contracts and began writing and recording for the label’s second compilation CD, unveiled last April at a release party at Waco’s University Baptist Church.
“Our first compilation CD featured 12 artists doing one song each. For the second CD, we only used five so we could be more detailed and hands-on with our artists,” Burnett said.
Though the label is based at a Christian university, it is not strictly a Christian music label, Burnett said. Last year’s artists represented a variety of musical styles and genres, from singer-songwriters like Michelle Piland and the harmonious duo of Brian Beaver and Jacob Hooter, to the melodic pop of rock quartet, Zoo Studio.
Two weeks after the release party, Uproar hosted the first Uproar Records Music Festival at Diadeloso, the university-wide holiday known for its live music. In years past, Student Activities brought in outside artists for the campus event, but last spring, the Uproar team took on the responsibility. Each Uproar artist performed at the festival, and the officers planned the entire show, including booking the other bands, such as 2010 Austin Music Awards’ “best new band,” Speak, and the headliner, pop star Colbie Caillat.
“It was great getting to bring musicians to campus,” Burnett said. “We got experience booking and running a festival and gave our artists a chance to interact with established artists.”
In addition, Uproar officers and artists went to Nashville in May to play for record executives, such as CEO of EMI Christian Music Group, Bill Hearn, and Dusty Wells of Word Entertainment (both are members of Uproar’s board of directors, a group comprised of music, theater and film executives). While the trip was primarily a networking opportunity, attending students also received class credit for the two-week trip, which featured class sessions taught by record label executives.
“The relationships we’re building are essential,” Burnett said. “Baylor students are known in Nashville as being hard workers with more of a business foundation [than other schools]. Baylor has a good name in Nashville.”
Though Uproar Records is in its infancy, its officers, artists and faculty sponsors have worked tirelessly to solidify the label’s reputation. In its short existence, the label has produced its fair share of success stories.
Label co-founder Ben Rodgers credits the Uproar experience with preparing him for his current career as an artist manager at Centricity Music in Nashville.
“From artists, to business school students, to engineers and professors, you had the whole gamut of people to deal with and each of them has totally different personality styles,” Rodgers said. “I learned how to read people and talk to them in a way that communicated clearly and addressed their needs directly.”
Uproar’s previous public relations officer, Natalie Reese, monitored the artists’ MySpace and Facebook pages, crafted publicity materials and cultivated relationships in Nashville. Her experience with social networking at Uproar propelled her to an internship at Nashville’s Vector Management, where her bosses were impressed with the quality of her work and subsequently offered her a job.
Singer-songwriter Jillian Edwards appeared on Uproar’s first compilation CD and was slated to appear on their second before leaving to tour with the Robbie Seay Band, a popular Christian rock group. She has also been featured on the soundtrack for the Christian film To Save a Life and her first solo album, Galaxies and Such, is available on iTunes and Amazon. Edwards credits her Uproar experience with helping boost her burgeoning career.
“Uproar has connected me with other musicians at Baylor, and in doing so has expanded my network of people who love, play and write music,” Edwards said “Through Uproar’s program, I have recorded songs I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to otherwise.”
In addition, current Uproar artists are getting opportunities to play before large audiences. David Dulcie, for instance, recently opened for country band High Valley.
Facing the Future
Though Uproar Records has experienced some moderate success, Burnett wants to build nationwide credibility and see it become self-sustaining and profitable. Currently, it receives financial assistance from Student Activities. Any money generated from compilation CDs and live shows so far have only recouped costs.
“Even though we’re not profit-driven, [Uproar] is still a realistic experience,” Burnett said. “It’s been a unique advantage to be creative on such a small budget, and I hope that Uproar can become self-sustaining, but for now we’re focused more on creating a learning environment.”
But a profitable student-run record label is possible, Burnett said. The label has new revenue streams from digital downloads on iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, and Lala, and its artists just finished a summer tour. They are also considering producing individual artist EPs to accompany the annual compilation.
With the start of the fall 2010 semester, three months after Burnett’s graduation, Uproar’s presidency transfers to Houston senior Taylor Ashcraft, who spent the previous academic year planning the Uproar Records Music Festival and the summer interning at Columbia Records’ marketing department.
She credits her experience planning Uproar’s Diadeloso festival as securing the highly competitive internship.
“In internship interviews, they want to know what hands-on experience you have,” Ashcraft said. “After working with Uproar, I was able to tell them I’ve helped directly market artists and plan a music festival.”
Ashcraft accompanied the artists to Nashville in May and presented her plans for the year to Uproar’s board of directors – plans that include acquiring new revenue via grants and fundraisers and training artists in every aspect of the music business.
Ashcraft will also oversee the auditioning and signing of new Uproar artists to join their returning artists, who must audition again to earn a spot on the roster.
“My main goal is to position our artists to have the tools to get a record deal when they graduate,” Ashcraft said.
Uproar’s Ultimate Effect
Drew Greenway reviews the arrangement to the song he recorded the previous night – a self-described “catchy love song” titled “City Lights.”
He mixes the instruments played by musicians recruited from his church and balances the backing vocals of his wife, Paige.
His year as an Uproar artist has brought him a long way from his Arkansas home, where he spent hours in his room as a 12-year-old trying to play Smashing Pumpkins songs. He now has several gigs under his belt and once sang the National Anthem at a Baylor basketball game.
“I used to think getting started in music was more organic – that if the music is good, you’ll get picked up – but Uproar has helped spur me on, encouraged me and introduced me to people in the industry,” Greenway said. “It’s given me exposure I’d never get otherwise.”
Baylor Business Review, Fall 2010