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Inside the new, student-run record label in CU-Denver music business program

Andrea Petrucelli is standing on the street in Austin during SXSW, handing out cards printed with directions for downloading a song by the Denver band You, Me and Apollo. She is committed to her task, yelling to the hordes of music fans walking by that the song is a must-have from Denver's next big thing. She also encourages them to go see the band's show that night.

Petrucelli isn't a member of You, Me and Apollo, nor is she the act's manager. She didn't even know the band three months ago. She's a student in the CAM Records class at the University of Colorado Denver.

The class is a requirement for any student in the music-business program at CU-Denver's College of Arts & Media (CAM). Students in the program are exposed to different areas of the music business; in past years, coursework has included putting together a compilation of local artists' music to sell on campus. This semester, however, the class has larger ambitions, thanks in part to new instructor Andy Guerrero, a graduate of the program and co-founder of the Flobots, one of the Denver music scene's success stories.

Guerrero wanted the course to reflect more facets of the music industry, and decided to focus on a single band. "My approach was to make it as much like a record company as possible in the microcosm of a few months," he says. To that end, an artist "signed" to CAM Records works with the class for a semester. Students divide up into departments, such as promotions and A&R (artists and repertoire), and help with the many logistical challenges associated with putting out a new record. The university pays for any project the class takes on. In the event that the class works with a band during an album-release cycle, that might include manufacturing hundreds of copies of a CD.

In such a case, the CAM Records logo goes on the packaging, and the school keeps some of the CDs to sell at its own events in order to recoup some of the costs. The band gets the rest, to sell on its own. The deal is completely non-exclusive, so a band is free to sign on with a management company or conventional label to release the album once the semester ends.

Guerrero hopes to eventually build a large roster of artists to give the label an identity of its own outside of CU-Denver. That effort started earlier this semester: Students rebuilt the identity of CAM Records by making T-shirts to sell, creating CAM social-media accounts and rebuilding the company's website. Then they set their sights on signing an artist. "Everyone pitched a band," says Guerrero. "We made a chart and figured out which would be the best to sign."

Petrucelli's class settled on You, Me and Apollo. The group was generating buzz locally and nationally and was in the middle of recording its sophomore release, Sweet Honey.

"It's an interesting class," says the band's drummer, Tyler Kellogg. "Being musicians, we want to involve ourselves in some way with other people getting involved in the music business."

More on the students' role in the album release cycle is on the next page.

The students take part in the whole process. That's how Petrucelli, along with a couple of other students, ended up in Austin. She runs the A&R department in the class; it's the area she'd like to work in when she graduates.

She was able to participate in the album's development in several ways. "A&R got to take a listen to their new album as soon as they tracked it, and we also aided in picking the song order for Sweet Honey," she says.

For its part, the band found some of the support and even accountability it might have expected from a more conventional record label. "It's kind of funny -- when you have thirty-plus other people working on a project with you, it really shows how disorganized we are as a band," Kellogg says. "It's been nice to delegate some tasks out to them, even simple things like, 'Hey, here are all the tracks. What are your favorites?' It was good to get an instant sample size of feedback before we went too far with something."

The class also helped the band with video and photo shoots, doing everything from pitching ideas to getting price quotes. Students in the creative department designed show posters, and their peers in marketing and promotions distributed them and brainstormed ideas that could get the band noticed.

Carsyn Rogers worked in CAM Records' promotions and publicity department this semester. "We've all been experimenting, trying to find out what will make people interested and what will turn them away," she says.

Learning such skills will prove valuable for any students who end up working in the music industry; getting people to care about a band is a challenge at every level of the business. So is dealing with the whims of artists.

"If you don't know how to interact with an artist, you can lose a bunch of opportunities," says Kellogg. "How crazy and emotional we can be, and possessive over the art -- that's beneficial and a little hard to teach.

"I was a little bit worried," he adds, "but they did a great job. They met deadlines probably better than we did, actually."

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