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VOL. 121 | NO. 235 | Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Ready to Rock

Student music chapter ups the decibels with greater visibility, connections

By Andy Meek

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BAND OF BROTHERS/SISTERS: The Memphis music industry gets a jolt from local grassroots organizations such as MEISA, whose local chapter works to connect music business and recording industry students with opportunities in the local and national music fields. -- Photo Courtesy Of The Center City Commission

When it comes to promoting Memphis musicians, offering a peek behind the recording console or making sense of the craft of marketing, the local chapter of a national music industry association is picking up the tempo.

Via a handful of public events over the past few days and with more still to come, the University of Memphis chapter of the national Music & Entertainment Industry Student Association (MEISA) has continued to make a name for itself locally.

Moreover, a few recent grassroots-level events occurred the same week the Memphis Music Foundation tapped a former telecom executive - who promised to help the city regain its footing as a music industry hub - as its new president. The city's music industry thus is the focus of interest among local officials and interest groups on a variety of levels.

Toward harmony

Over the weekend, MEISA - which maintains a student-run record label at the U of M, among other things - held its second regional music industry conference this year in Memphis. Attendees got to soak up panel discussions that included input from Memphis music titans such as Ardent Studios founder John Fry and working musicians like Dirk Kitterlin of the local indie band Augustine.

On Friday, the local MEISA group also pre-released the first recording from the school's label, "Volume 1: Orientation."

In a city where much attention and fund-raising efforts tend to go toward ambitious, large-scale music industry projects, groups like MEISA and others are striving to provide the pitch-perfect accompaniment that's needed on a more basic level.

Memphis MEISA
What: The local MEISA chapter connects music business and recording technology students to opportunities within the local music industry.
Where: University of Memphis
When: Started in 2005
For more info: http://meisa.memphis.edu

"Our MEISA chapter, in fact, is one of the most active in the country," said Tonya Butler, area coordinator for the music business program at the U of M.

 Butler, who previously worked in the legal affairs division of high-profile record label Rhino Records, also has handled promotions and marketing duties at Pioneer Entertainment for such artists as Ray Charles and Peter Frampton.

Last weekend's MEISA conference was one example of how the group fuels the music industry in Memphis. Held at Newby's on Highland, the regional MEISA get-together featured four panels - "All about the Wordplay," "Behind the Grammys," "Too Bach to Rock" and "Walking in Memphis" - that offered a crash course in the business of making music.

Drawing parallels

The panels alone appeared to serve as a valuable outlet. Where else can people turn locally to have direct access to music industry professionals such as Fry, or to working musicians who already have blazed a trail of their own?

"The panel I'm on is the one that's called 'Walking in Memphis,' and it's about Memphis music history," said Kitterlin, who also works at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. His band, Augustine, currently is recording its second album at Young Avenue Sound that will be released sometime in 2007.

"I'm mainly just going to be representing Soulsville, the museum and everything, just kind of giving my expertise on the history of Stax Records and some of the parallels that music industry students can draw between the industry of the '60s and '70s in Memphis and what's going on in the industry today."

The previous events are only some of the examples that show the Memphis MEISA group has been especially busy of late. This spring, the group hosted a similar music business conference at U of M with a similar vision, titled "MEISA Music Business Conference - A Backstage Pass to the Music Industry."

"Our chapter was also awarded the MEISA chapter of the year award last year," Butler said.

Coincidence - or not?

A few days before the recent MEISA events, the Memphis Music Foundation unveiled its choice for a new president to replace Rey Flemings, who stepped down earlier this year to work with hometown pop star Justin Timberlake as he attempts to relaunch the famed Stax label.

Dean Deyo, whose resume includes the former CEO spot for TimeWarner Cable's Mid-South region, will take the reins at the music foundation this month. That group, however, tends to focus on big-picture projects like the Stax relaunch and doesn't supplant the work of organizations like MEISA.

"Our chapter here is actually responsible for quite a lot of volunteer work," said Evanthia Mataragas, a junior who's majoring in music business at the U of M. She's also vice president of the local MEISA group.

"We do a lot of work with the local NARAS (National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences) chapter, and we also work with the Blues Foundation, as well as with the Folk Alliance for their big conference coming up," she said.

Outside of volunteer work, the group has an internship program for local music industry students.

"Every student who goes through the music industry department at the University of Memphis has to have an internship to graduate, so we basically created an internship placement program," Mataragas said. "And we've had people go out to New York and to L.A., as well as stay and work in Memphis."

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