Point Park's Record Label Gets Students in the Studio
The university's Pioneer Records joins the industry’s growing fervor for low-budget independent labels while providing students with invaluable experience.
photos by Mark Simpson
Point Park sophomore Hannah Jenkins shifts onto a stool in one of Red Caiman Media’s Uptown recording studios. She balances her acoustic guitar on her lap as she slips headphones over her long blond hair.
From the other side of a glass window, Red Caiman owner/engineer Jesse Naus asks, “Ready?” Jenkins will play through the first verse and chorus from one of the three songs that will comprise her first EP.
Naus turns his attention to a handful of other Point Park students — all in the university’s Sports, Arts and Entertainment Management program.
“We’re training Hannah [on] how to be in the studio because she hasn’t done it a lot,” Naus says.
Jenkins is the inaugural winner of a campus-wide competition and the first recording artist on Point Park’s Pioneer Records label, which is hosted at the Red Caiman studios. While she will walk away with 300 copies of a professionally recorded EP and a launch party to celebrate, her peers arguably will walk away with much more.
“It’s more of a lab that all of the classes can pull from,” says Naus. Entertainment-law students, for example, will work on copyright and contracts, event-management students will plan the release party and marketing students will produce the press kit. The production students, meanwhile, get experience in an actual recording studio — which can be hard to come by for those looking to learn.
Point Park’s first course on the recording business came from Naus and adjunct professor Mark Fritzges, vice president of promotions for Atlantic Records. “He’s about as [prominent] as you can get, and I’m on this side of it, and we realized that in all his experience and all my experience, we have no idea what the other one does,” says Naus. He assumes his students will remain on the business side of the industry — marketing, event planning — but they will go into it knowing what it takes to make the product.
Ed Traversari, associate professor of Sports, Arts and Entertainment Management at Point Park and a veteran concert promoter, says, “We always thought that [the label] was the offshoot of coming out of the class.” As students go out into the world, he predicts that employers will “think [they’re] a little further ahead.”
As Jenkins plays further into the song, Naus turns down the volume in his room. “When it’s going well, don’t stop,” he says. “It goes wrong so many times that when it goes right, just let it happen.” Changes in technology have made the recording process more fiscally feasible. Previously, says Naus, “it would be close to [$2,000] for tape that would be just for [Jenkins].” He now works with $300 of quality hard-drive space that holds myriad projects and all their hiccups.
Pioneer Records joins the industry’s growing fervor for low-budget independent labels. Tyler McLaughlin, a junior, says, “We still plan to make top-tier projects without the million-dollar budgets.”
Naus adds, “The way I view it — and I hope this is how you guys view it — [It] just means there’s this huge opportunity for new people that want to think in different ways.”