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Making music

13 talented musicians. An elite Music school. the backing of a major record label. The result? A winning album.

By Stephanie CookStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 8, 2002



The decisionmakers at Heavy Rotation Records are debating how to market their new album a diverse, 13-track compilation of up-and-coming female artists. But this clearly isn't a boardroom at a flashy, fast-paced record company: Backpacks are piled up in corners, books like "Music through the Years" line the wall, and students huddle over small desks in a slightly muggy classroom.

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The setting may not be sleek for this meeting at Boston's elite Berklee College of Music - a spawning ground for top contemporary jazz and rock musicians worldwide - but the homegrown talent at the college has caught the eye of an industry heavyweight, Epic/Sony Records.

"Shekinah 13," the first commercial recording to be jointly released by an independent college label and a record company, features an eclectic mix of women artists, both current and former students playing folk and rock 'n' roll, metal and hip-hop.

"This CD lets the world hear what I'm fortunate to hear every day. Who better to pick out music than up-and-coming musicians who study it and buy it and know it?" says Jeff Dorenfeld, an associate professor and faculty adviser for Heavy Rotation Records.

The 25 or so musicians who run this college label are enrolled in a two-semester, two-credit course taught by Mr. Dorenfeld, where they're immersed in the day-to-day challenges of working in the record business.

The former manager of the multiplatinum band Boston, Dorenfeld relied on his industry connections - and Berklee's reputation as the "MIT of pop" - to land the deal with Epic three years ago.

Students have since worked with the record giant every step of the way, from signing musicians and promoting the album, to branding the CD and designing it to look like a diploma. Epic handles the national distribution.

A strong female legacy

The talented international artists on the album show the strength of tomorrow's contemporary music, Dorenfeld says. The CD also symbolizes the college's strong legacy of female students over the past 20 years: Such renowned artists as Paula Cole and Melissa Etheridge have roamed Berklee hallways, where jazz notes drift out of classrooms and students tote guitars.

Songs on the album range from Mancain's abrasive heavy metal to Valerie Brinker's unique "trip-hop" style, a combination of hip-hop beats and jazzy vocals. Polina, who sings the distinctive "Out of my Mind," is the daughter of Russian pop diva Anka and was born in Moscow. She started composing at age 11.

Adrianne, who sings "Feel You Breaking," has a style influenced by the Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco.

"It's nice to be part of something that everyone can gain from," she says. A recent graduate, Adrianne lives in Los Angeles, where she tours and sings full time. She writes songs about love, prejudice, and social injustice.

Her song was inspired by a guy she had a crush on, she says. "Everyone can relate [in] some degree - [to] how it feels to be into someone and be scared and [also] elated."

Many of the artists, including Adrianne, have won local or college song-writing contests and have performed at music festivals nationwide. Recent grad Amanda Williams, who sings "Low" on the album, co-wrote the new Garth Brooks/George Jones hit song "Beer Run." She was trained in classical piano and is the daughter of platinum songwriter Kim Williams.

Heavy Rotation has independently released a handful of CDs since its inception six years ago, and sales have been in the hundreds. But this year, hopes are high that these budding artists will have wider exposure with Epic's national distribution.

Dorenfeld and two student directors oversee several committees that are managing artists, designing the website, and planning a fall concert tour on college campuses and in the artists' hometowns.

"We had a successful launch - now we are working on how to get this record sold," he says.

While class officially meets only once a week, students put in as many as 40 hours a week.

"There's a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears that go into making an album. That's the only way to learn in this industry - just go out and do it," says recent Berklee grad Natasha Bishop. While a student, she helped promote a four-song CD sampler of "Shekinah 13."

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