Saturday, May 3, 2008

Record label is spun from KSU class Course teaches music promotion

Students in Kent State University professor Gene Shelton's Record Promotions II class have a single job: They've got to believe in what they're doing to help unsigned artists make it big with every means of marketing, concerts, eye-catching and ear-pleasing at their disposal.

GTB Entertainment -- a student-run, non-profit, independent label and promotional agency that stands for "Got To Believe" -- sprung from that premise. It serves as a teaching tool for those who want to learn the difficult ropes of record promotion.

Record Promotions I first succeeded in attracting students in spring 2007. Shelton said Jeff Fruit, director of KSU's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, approached him to teach the class because of Shelton's experience in record promotion and music media.

And Shelton knows the business well. After graduating from KSU, he worked as a journalist, a career he spun into more than 30 years as a writer, publicist and media relations expert for numerous record companies including Motown, Columbia and Warner Bros. Over time, Shelton helped promote Rick James, Michael Jackson, Barry White, Lionel Richie, Prince, Ray Charles and a who's-who list of the biggest names in soul, hip-hop, rap and R&B.

Shelton, who said he considers himself simply "an advisor" to the students, said the class is "basically focused on the promotion and marketing of recorded music."

But, he warned, it's not that simple.

"People assume because you've made a flyer or sent an e-mail that you've succeeded in promoting. That's not the case. It's a lot about trial by error," he said. "It's persistence. And there's no guarantee just being signed."

Persistence also pays off, and it's the students' job to run the company and do the work, Shelton said.

"Our mission and intention is to record music and create a product," he said. "Those who lead and motive those who follow increase our chances of success."

Shelton chose Ty Kellogg, a senior electronic media production major, as the label's newest president. Not only knowledgeable in the history of music and the local Kent and Northeastern Ohio music scene, Kellogg said one of the keys to success is taking enough time.

"If it doesn't take up your time, you're not doing it right," said Kellogg.

Additional time is spent promoting concerts, talking to labels and media, getting out on the street, helping local acts copyright their work to avoid piracy and cutting promotional compilation CDs. Kellogg also selected a staff from members of the class to specialize in A&R -- the recruitment of artists -- publicity, design and other aspects of record promotion.

Margaret Ormanis, a senior communications studies major, was chosen as the label's director of publicity. She said the GTB's first compilation CD, with 14 tracks by such acts as Chittlin' -- aka Jessica Lea Mayfield, who recently was written up in Rolling Stone magazine -- and The Speedbumps "definitely was trial by error."

But "Ty told me 'This is your role. Go do it,'" she said.

The label's second compilation CD, "A Dedication: Part 2," features Tropidelic, The Speedbumps, Abby Kondas, David Ullman, Winslow, Synphony and others.

"It's the biggest promotional tool for us," Ormanis said.

Two GTB-produced concerts in Kent, this coming Thursday and Saturday, will showcase musicians featured on the compilations. Thursday's show begins at 9 p.m. at The Green Room, 200 S. DePeyster St. Performers will include Ullman, Randy Horvath, Eclyptic and Nate x10. Saturday's show, at The Robin Hood Inn, 503 E. Main St., features Kondas, The Speedbumps, Winslow and Red Sun Rising. That show starts at 9:15 p.m.

Doors open an hour before each show, with admission $5 at the door.

For Shelton and the students, the work all boils down to GTB.

"It's about business, about accountability. The most successful people in life face challenges and deliver the goods," Shelton said. "The long-term goal is to see a GTB act charted. The talent is there."

"We've got to believe in the people we're representing, so they can say at the end of the day 'I could not have done it without GTB Entertainment,'" Kellogg said.

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