Volume 74, Number 27 | November 10 - 16, 2004

Members of the Village Records program at New York University

N.Y.U. students learn music business by doing it

By Tyler Pray

Village Records is more than just a working record label, it’s a college class. For experience — and a grade — New York University students run the business. They do everything from selecting musicians for an album to putting the finished product on the shelves in local Village stores. They handle all the details involved from start to finish in producing an album. In the process, they learn how the real world works, from a safe and supportive university environment.

“The class has educational objectives,” said David Purcell, the course’s teacher. “We study the operational aspects of a record label in the private sector. We address such topics as licensing, copyright laws, trademark, all with a real-life application. It’s a different topic every week.”

Most of the students are music business majors preparing for a career with record labels and other music-related industries. “It’s like a job,” said Colin Schmaeling. “Instead of just learning in class, we actually make a record.”

The latest record, released Oct. 19 and available for $5 at Satellite Records, at 259 Bowery, and Kim’s Video, at 6 St. Mark’s Pl. and 144 Bleecker St., is a compilation of various artists entitled “Songs From the Third Rail.” It features Ari Hest, who has since signed with Columbia records and performed on “Last Call With Carson Daily,” Sue Generis (now known as Dropping Daylight) and other talents ranging in genre from alternative rock and R&B to jazz and hip hop.

“We get lots of demo submissions, then we pick what sounds interesting. We pick primarily artists from N.Y.C. that don’t get much notice,” said Mark Zelasko, another class member. Each album the label produces spans more than one semester. Each class reports to the next. Last semester’s class recorded “Songs from the Third Rail” This semester’s class set the release date, put it in local stores and is working on publicity, trying to get the album out to other big college cities. “First we put [the album] in mom-and-pop stores in the Village. Now we are trying to get it to big college towns in New England, and other places, like Ann Arbor, Michigan,” said Schmaeling, the marketing group leader. “We use fliers and make phone calls. It’s a very grassroots style.”

The marketing group isn’t the only one making phone calls. The class is divided into four other groups. While publicity and promotion work primarily on selling the latest release, the Web design group maintains www.villagerecords.org and production is already working on creating the next album by a jazz group called Bend.

Like any other business, the record label runs into difficulties. “We figure out how to get around the problems,” said Purcell. When obstacles arrive, Purcell remains available to consult, but gives full responsibility in dealing with them to the students. One of the biggest hurdles in the business is rejection.

“It’s hard to deal with being denied, but we’ve learned that rejection can be motivating,” said student Liam Davenport. “It means we get to go and look around more, or it means we compromise, and then we get to see how far you can push people.”

At the end of class, they break into their groups.

“So how about the radio and TV stations, does that look like it’s going to happen or no?” asked Davenport, the promotion group leader. Other group members began reporting their findings and presenting options.

“They learn leadership and teamwork and how to live with others’ decisions,” said Purcell, as he handed out midterm evaluations. “They can use what they learned in other classes. It lets them gauge what they know already, and reassures them that they learned it for a reason, and it gives them a chance to use it.”

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