innova Recordings’ Bay Area pilot project helps artists create and promote their music

In one of entertainment’s fiercest industries with countless stories of 360 deals, shelving projects, unequal payouts, and more, innova Recordings is redefining its role in the development, creation, distribution and marketing of its artists.

Established in 1982, when the American Composers Forum was still the Minnesota Composers Forum, innova was originally a platform to showcase McKnight Composer Fellowship winners, but has evolved into a home for music creators. genderless, for musicians who don’t fit the “traditional classical” model. , and especially for artists who may not have the financial resources to complete their most recent or developing project.

As a first step in implementing an even more collaborative and accessible operating model, innova’s Bay Area Pilot program was launched in March 2021 as an “outgrowth” of the label and a commitment to the company’s anti-racism policy. ‘ACF. This program was “explicitly designed to support artists in both creating and promoting their music“.

“Its existence was founded on the desire to build and support a community of diverse artists and help them amplify their music,” says Chris Campbell, Director of Recordings for ACF and innova. “We invited people to come to us with projects at any stage of completion rather than requiring finished masters.”

Innova Bay Area pilot program artists Eki’Shola Abrams, Melinda Martinez Becker, Nicolas Lell Benavides, Lisa Mezzacappa, Beth Schenck, SHENSduo, Lewis Jordan, Julie Herndon and Anne Hege

Two artists who have benefited from this pilot program at different stages of their creative process are San Francisco-based saxophonist, composer, mother and educator Beth Schenck, and a “newly minted” Northern California ensemble, SHENSduo, featuring award-winning Pipa performers and composers Shenshen Zhang and Sophia Shen.

Schenck applied to the pilot program after completing a home recording that she had originally composed for herself, but had no immediate plans to release. As she was looking for ways to improve her work, the pilot program caught her eye. “I thought, well, I don’t even really know what to do with this thing that I have, but it got bigger than I thought, and maybe other people would want to listen to it. “, says Schenck.

Because Schenck didn’t have much experience officially releasing music under a label, working with innova was about learning what to do once the creative process was complete. She says her goal has been to find an audience for her music, work with a graphic designer for album covers, and make her work accessible to audiences and critics. So far, she says, the pilot program has been a catalyst towards who she really wants to be.

Music came into Schenck’s life as a child because her mother was a church organist and started teaching her to play the piano, which later led her to learn the violin. Her school did not have an orchestra program, but there was a harmony program, which meant she had to choose another instrument to study.

“It was in the ’80s, and there was a hair gel commercial on TV where a lady with spiky hair would come out and play the saxophone,” Schenck says. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a saxophone in real life, but I was like, ‘I want to do this’. So…it was kind of a hit lightning, and I’ve been playing ever since.

Beth Schenck - Picture by Dyanne Cano Photography

Beth Schenck–Photo by Dyanne Cano Photography

Her ultimate goal is to live her life in a way that reflects her authentic self. She says she actively makes music or just navigates the world, she wants her creative work to be at the center of everything she does. his album Above and below (released April 22, 2022 on innova) is set to be a compilation of eight “fully formed tracks” that are “mostly short”. Each piece is like a diary entry, where sounds and ideas were recorded week by week throughout the pandemic, from 2020 to winter 2021.

“They’re not super technical,” Schenck says. “I didn’t try, because I didn’t have that foresight to put out that recording. I didn’t make them perfect. I didn’t do a lot of shots. I just wanted to convey a feeling and an impression. So I feel like they’re raw in a good way and just conveying really big little ideas and thoughts that I had during a pretty, pretty stressful in a lot of ways and painful in a lot of ways respects , but also beautiful . You know, it’s a pretty meaningful record for me, maybe more than anything else I’ve done.

SHENSduo, unlike Schenck, are still working on their genre-bending debut album, which is due out later this year. Shenshen Zhang and Sophia Shen’s project consists of compositions featuring the pipa duo as an integral voice, which they say is highly complementary and delicately intertwined.

“It’s our first time releasing an album, which is exciting, and working with innova is truly an honor and a very important first opportunity for us,” Shen said. “This is the first step towards realizing our goal, which is to establish our new voice as a duo and further expand into larger-scale cross-cultural collaborations in the future.”

Before becoming SHENSduo, Zhang recalls his mother bringing music to life, which put the pipa in his hands, encouraging him to learn how to play. She was 9 at the time and despised the pipa because she had to practice every day. However, each year she grew to like him more and more, which created a real connection. Shen, meanwhile, played the piano at age 4, then learned the pipa around age 10 while living in China. She eventually emigrated to the United States to study composition at the University of Virginia. After completing her program, she went to Mills College for a master’s degree in electronic music and recording media. She started composing for her own projects, writing for pipa solo until she came across Zhang’s performance and a new possibility revealed itself.

SHENSduo (Shenshen Zhang and Sophia Shen)--Photo courtesy of the artists

SHENSduo (Shenshen Zhang and Sophia Shen)–Photo courtesy of the artists

“All of a sudden, I discovered this whole sound world of the pipa duo as a possibility,” Shen says, “and every time we got together, we started rehearsing new ideas, and we wrote songs. of compositions just to try it on both instruments to see how it sounds. Then we finally found this common interest, which is deeply rooted in preserving classical traditions while continuing to pursue creative freedom in this contemporary world. It is a classic instrument with 2000 years of history. However, composers have rarely really explored the duo pipa as a genre group or explored its immense possibilities. So we decided to explore these new sounds and the potential of its specific instrumentation.

The tracks on their album are a combination of different influences from ancient pipa masterpieces, traditional music from Zhang’s hometown of Wenzhou, and traditional music. jiangnan sizhu (“silk and bamboo”), it is fusional and contemporary music. “We’re very proud and very excited to get to the ground floor of this point,” Zhang says, “and to have such great potential to not only impact my life, Sophia’s life, and many other Bay Area musicians. [but] develop new worlds to expel, listen to and enjoy. It really is an exciting place. It’s new, innovative, and we really applaud [innova’s] the project is moving forward. »

Schenck and SHENSduo aren’t the only artists to benefit from innova’s new model. There is currently a national call for artists to submit finished albums, demo tracks or the seeds of an idea they are passionate about.

The first application window opened on December 2 and closed on January 7, 2022, but the second call will open in April 2022. Artists are selected by a curatorial jury and will retain 100% of all rights and profits from sales and will receive a number of free of charge services, which includes, but is not limited to, “distribution to digital service providers, promotion on social media, opportunities to appear on digital platforms d ‘ACF, assistance in negotiating licensing opportunities and access to a cohort of other label artists who are going through the same process.

Artists can find out more about innova’s national call for projects on their website. The next round of applications will be announced on the social networks of innova, ACF and I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Made possible with funds from the former ACF Bay Area Chapter, the pilot program was open to Bay Area artists based in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma. .

innova Recordings’ national appeal is supported, in part, by the Elizabeth and Michel Sorel Charitable Organization, a private 501©(3) foundation committed to expanding opportunities for women in music, amplifying the voices of composers underrepresented, to advance gender and racial equity, and to expand the canon of classical music for future generations.

I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an independent editorial program of the American Composers Forum, funded by generous donors and institutional support. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.

A gift to the ACF helps support the work of ICIYL. To learn more about ACF, visit “Chez ACF” section Where

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