Students In An Uproar

By: Evan Weppler

About forty to fifty students.  A couple of marketing professors. A handful of artists.

When looking at Uproar Records from the outside, it may seem to be small and simple. Once you speak with those involved in Uproar, however, it reveals their passion for their work and for the Baylor and Waco community.

Uproar Records came into being in the fall of 2008, a collaborative work between students and professors within Baylor’s music and entertainment marketing program and Student Activities.  What once was the Baylor Rising Artist Network, or BRAN, which released compilation CDs of music by Baylor artists, has now grown to a record label run primarily by students.

Houston senior Jacob Voncannon is the general manager of Uproar Music and Entertainment Group.

Amy Boykin

“Uproar is a collaborative learning experience.  It’s educating students on how to run the music business and at the same time educating artists,” Voncannon said. For Voncannon and the other music and entertainment marketing students, Uproar is definitely “the most significant learning experience we’ll have in college.”

Voncannon plans on continuing in the music industry full-time. Likewise, Uproar Records president and Humble senior Taylor Ashcraft hopes to one day work in music licensing, dealing with the music for television and film and other media. While Voncannon is in charge of many departments dealing with artist development, Ashcraft focuses more on the music production and marketing.

As these students elaborate on all the work that goes into Uproar, you can hear passion in their voices. Passion for music, for the music industry, for the students and artists of Uproar. This isn’t simply a class they are trying to pass.

It’s their life.

And it’s not a life of glory and fame, that’s for sure. While some individuals, such as current Uproar artist David Dulcie and former Uproar artist Jillian Edwards, have garnered a lot of attention, most students involved in Uproar work hard behind the scenes. Still, the students who run Uproar are focused on what is important.

“You find out it’s not very me-oriented, but very you-oriented and we-oriented,” Voncannon said. “If you can’t humble yourself to help others, your business will fail.” This is, no doubt, a key characteristic of Uproar: a dedication to service, helping others, giving students opportunities to grow, providing an outlet for an artist’s creativity.

Uproar Records invites artists to audition at the start of each academic year.  After auditions and interviews, new artists are chosen and announced to the community. This year’s new artists are Amy Boykin, K.J. Kenneth-Nwosa and Garrett Muston, joining David Dulcie and the Rag Tag Army, Zoo Studio and Brin Beaver on the artist roster. Over the next year, Uproar students will work with the artists, helping them make plans and improve their music through workshops and other sessions. They will assist them in booking shows, developing a fan base and recording their music. Uproar students work to help the Uproar artists in any way they can.

One of those artists is Tulsa, Okla., senior Maxim Helmerich, the lead singer of the band Zoo Studio. The band currently consists of Helmerich and guitarist John Steen, also a senior from Southlake.

Helmerich, who had previously released music through BRAN, said Uproar greatly improved the way he viewed his music.

“It took more of a professional turn,” Helmerich said. “It makes you think about more than just sitting in a room and playing music. We’re under contract, so we’re obligated to do things like social media and building a fan base. The music industry is such a crazy industry.  It’s a business — it’s your music, your product.”

While programs at other colleges focus more on the production, Uproar focuses more on the marketing, Voncannon said.  So many artists don’t have the skills to get their name out there and sell their music, and without something like Uproar they soon run into a wall. “We’re a resource for people,” he said.

Uproar will assist artists in developing websites, producing merchandise, booking concerts and more. Its dedication to its artists is almost as strong as their passion for music.

The students behind Uproar are not alone in seeing their work as a service to others. The artists share similar views.

“No matter what kind of artist you are,” Helmerich said, “your creativity has been given to you for a purpose, and it’s all for nothing if you don’t give it back. I like the idea of having a creative gift and putting it in a product and giving it to people.”  Helmerich said he loves helping people at concerts feel good through the music he plays.

Drew Greenway, a student at Truett Seminary and former Uproar artist, said one of the joys in playing his music is getting people to sing along.  Serving as the worship leader at Harris Creek Baptist Church, he gets to do that week after week. Still, he enjoys getting people in a non-church setting to sing together as well.

“[Singing together] connects you to other people in a deep way,” he said. “Music expresses emotion in ways nothing else can.  It crosses language barriers, and some people only get emotional when they are singing.”

Emory sophomore Brin Beaver says her faith as being foundational in the music she makes.

“I think God gives me these Christian songs and he’s changed my life tremendously since I’ve been at Baylor,” she said. “I know the songs he’s given me minister to people at Baylor University and in the Waco community as well.” She mentions times that people have come up to her and told her how much one of her songs affected them.

Beaver said that when she came to Baylor, she felt very small. During her time in Uproar, though, she has grown. Going out and playing shows helped her become more open and transparent, and the people at Uproar constantly pushed and supported her along the way. Now, she feels her role as an artist has helped form her identity at college. “It’s not what defines me, but it’s how people know me at Baylor,” she said.

K.J. Kenneth-Nwosa

Uproar is a close-knit organization, almost a family.  It provides support through the Uproar Network, which consists of students who write for and play with the artists. The numerous music and entertainment marketing students all help artists accomplish their goals.

“They do whatever you need them to do,” Beaver said.

There is even further support from the music and entertainment marketing director, Dr. Kirk Wakefield, and from Charles Fifield, a senior lecturer in the marketing department. Both have experience and contacts in the music industry and have helped numerous students obtain internships at various record labels. In May, Uproar took three artists to Nashville and presented their plans to representatives at different labels and had their artists play sets.

Waco is not known to have a music culture — at least not right now. Many artists have come from Waco, and the legendary Christian label Word Records was founded in Waco. Now, however, students are more likely to drive to Austin or Dallas to seek out musical entertainment rather than stay in Waco and enjoy music in their own community.

Uproar is changing that.

“Now there’s a place where artists can go,” Ashcraft said. “We have created this outlet for the Baylor community that wasn’t there before.”

At the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, Uproar worked with the Waco Chamber of Commerce and held a free event called “Wac’d Out” in downtown Waco. Uproar artists played at the event, and Uproar even brought in artists such as Bright Light Social Hour and SPEAK. Uproar artists often perform at Common Grounds, various tailgate events, Diadeloso, and other venues and events.

Music is a force for social change, Voncannon said, and Uproar artists use their music to attract attention to important issues. Zoo Studio played at a benefit concert in September for Active Minds, which raises awareness about mental health issues. Numerous Uproar artists played a benefit concert for Operation Rehydration, an organization whose mission is to combat the lethal effects of dehydration in the developing world.

Uproar is at work in the community. And community is important for artists, Greenway said. His songs are born out of community, and it is friends and family who support this mission, Greenway said. “The people who enjoy our music the most are the people we know, because they know us and they know who it is coming from.”

Greenway is encouraged by the local David Crowder Band and their music, as is Zoo Studio’s Helmerich.

“It’s fun to have local talent that you can relate to and know personally,” Helmerich said. “It’s such a cool thing for Baylor. Whether you know them or not, you’re part of that because they’ve made themselves part of Baylor. I’ve learned a lot from that — remaining true to wherever your home is. It keeps them grounded.”

A dedication to service and a love for community resonates in all that Uproar does, but a passion for music is truly at its core.

The difficulties arise when trying to sell music as a product. “But you’ve got to respect the awe of what music is and the amount of creative process that goes into it and how it benefits people,” Voncannon said.

Beaver said there is a certain healing element that comes from listening to music.

“Music is like medicine for your soul,” Beaver said. “There’s something about getting away and secluding yourself and listening to a song.”

Voncannon agrees that for many people music is a relief or an escape from reality. But it’s also something more.  “Without music or without art, we wouldn’t have a ton of things to live for,” he said. “For some reason, in the human mind, we are drawn to things that are beautiful.”

The people at Uproar Records work hard at providing more opportunities for encountering the beautiful, hearing what is good, learning what is true.

“[Music] is one of the most accessible art forms,” Ashcraft said, and Uproar is dedicated to making it even more accessible. The label has laid out a plan to ensure that Uproar will not fade out after a few years, but have built a foundation that will last.

“For Uproar, every year the goal is to make it grow from the year before,” Voncannon said.

Keith Frazee, coordinator of student activities, noted that Uproar’s development over the years has been slow but steady. “The first year was a crawl, last year we stood up, and now we’re starting to jog,” he said. Uproar is most certainly in motion, and its leaders are hoping for more people to join them in the race.

“Go for it,” Beaver encouraged artists. “You’ve got to do what you love to do.”

The label will produce a compilation album in the next year featuring the new artists. Returning Uproar artists will each release EPs this year as well.   Obviously, Uproar is not slowing down.

And if you want to get involved, get experience, Voncannon said.

“Nothing in the music industry is going to fall in your lap.  It doesn’t happen that way. You have to work hard.”

Hone your skills. Find something that sets you apart, he said. If you’re and artist, don’t pass up opportunities.

Helmerich values his time in Uproar. Looking back, he has seen tremendous growth in his music and has hopes for the future, hopes that Uproar has fostered and will continue to foster.