'Cane Do

UM students launch a label, a band, and, just maybe, music-biz careers

The first year in the life of 'Cane Records -- the student-run record label based out of the University of Miami -- has been kind of like that of a baby: one long learning experience complete with tears, temper tantrums, and lots of late nights. After overcoming a number of setbacks 'Cane recently released its first album, Listen to Reason, by the UM student band treehouse. But as if growing pains were contagious, the band also has endured its share of headaches, drained by an unusually trying recording process and the loss of several members. However, now that the record is being distributed even as you read this, neither the band nor 'Cane is resting on its laurels. In fact, the trials of this labor of love have only begun.

One of only three student-run labels in the nation (the other two belong to Chicago's Columbia College and Baltimore's Loyola College), 'Cane Records has its own promotions, A&R, manufacturing, and distribution departments, providing an opportunity for students to gain work experience in the music business as well as enabling money-strapped local artists to produce their own CDs. It operates just like a professional record label. Well, sort of.

'Cane was formed last fall when Matthew Schwartz (now label president) and other students in UM's music industry program read about Columbia College's project. Along with department head Jim Progress, who serves as an adviser to 'Cane, they decided the school would be a perfect place for a similar student-run record company and pitched the idea to UM administrators. Then came the first hurdle: The School of Music, which oversees the label much like a holding company, could not provide funding. (While UM does not directly run 'Cane, the school approves all contracts, listens to final mixes, and has the last word in major decisions; after all, the university's name is attached to all releases.) Hot on the heels of the label's official beginning in April, the students went on a relentless campaign to come up with the $8000 needed to fund the first project.

Various sponsors came on board soon after. The Hard Rock Cafe (which hosted the label-launch and Listen to Reason record-release parties, as well as helping with publicity), Criteria Studios (which donated studio time), Spec's (which will distribute all 'Cane product), and Metheny Group Productions each has donated at least $1000 in cash or services, and their logos are included on all 'Cane materials. The Metheny Group, run by jazz-guitar-god Pat Metheny, surprised Schwartz with a check the day after the Hard Rock Cafe party. (Carl Roa, guitarist for treehouse, jokes that he finds the fact that Metheny will hear his band's CD "very scary.") Allegro Music donated the use of several acoustic guitars, valued at somewhere between $500 and $1000. Several parents ponied up between $100 and $500, and Signs to Go and Qualitex Graphics provided the 'Cane logo and business cards, respectively. None of the sponsors profit financially; instead they gain exposure and publicity as corporations that actively support education.

The students work 40-hour weeks without receiving a salary or course credit, although most of them do not labor year-round. (For example, the fundraising and production staffs already have done their parts for the treehouse project, while the sales, distribution, and promotions staffs are now gearing up.) There are currently about fifteen students working on the business end, but recording and production staff bring the total to about 30. Schwartz, vice president for promotions and fundraising Serona Elton, and vice president for sales and distribution John Winger are all grad students with some working experience in the record business, while many of the other students are undergrads who never have worked professionally in music.

All of the company's profits from sales of Listen to Reason will go toward producing 'Cane's next project. "Hopefully the label will keep generating [revenue] so that eventually it should become self-supportive," says the bubbly, fast-talking Elton. "The amount of money we'll raise will be just enough to fund the release for fall of 1995, and hopefully we won't have to do as much in the way of fundraising next year."

Elton point outs that despite the current financial travails, 'Cane eventually plans to produce more than one project per year, and pay or provide course credit for its students. But that's still far in the future. "The future depends on many variables," she explains. "How much money we earn is the major limiting factor and we're pretty strapped as it is."

While Listen to Reason and subsequent 'Cane releases will be available at all Spec's stores, the label is targeting college-campus bookstores ("We'll get them just when students are buying the books and the money happens to be flowing," says Elton craftily), as well as smaller, independent record shops. Elton adds that some of the major chains don't want to carry the CD because their competitor's logo is on the product.

"To some it's just one of four logos on the back and it's not that relevant," she notes. "But for those who see Spec's as the enemy, it might be." The CD also will be available at treehouse's shows, and in a creative turn 'Cane is targeting the choral and music departments of local high schools to use the CD as a way to raise funds. (The schools would make as much money per sale as record stores, and as an added benefit the university would promote itself to college-bound students.)

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