Experience makes more timid men than it does wise ones.
-Josh Billings, 19th century American humorist.
It’s one thing to have confidence, which is what Terry management student Elizabeth Schenck and her music business classmates Stephen Prevost and Rebekah Baldwin showed in abundance when they created a music showcase in Athens this spring. However, it’s an entirely different thing to have the guts to pitch local businesses for event promotion and sponsorship when that showcase is an underground hip-hop concert. Especially when you’re three callow, white kids from Atlanta facing presumptions around town that what you’re doing is, at best, an elaborate campus joke or, at worst, dangerously naïve.
If you’re like much of the general public, then what you know about hip-hop is the commercialized version of the genre obsessed with booty, guns, and bling. Easy to understand how the rock and country-infused music scene of Athens might be a tough sell. But once the first H.E.R. Hip-Hop Showcase – which stands for “Hip-Hop in its Essence and Real” – wrapped up its final set at New Earth Music Hall on Friday, April 9, both the event and the organizers earned rave reviews for a top-notch, professional event featuring music with the intelligence, creativity, and artistry commonly associated with underground hip-hop. Not bad for three students whose sum total of prior experience was setting up tables and chairs for the Ashford Manor Concert Series.
“It’s been great because we all had to do things we never had done before,” says Schenck, a junior from Candler Park and lifelong hip-hop fan who grew up listening with her friends and classmates at Grady High School. Her inspiration for a hip-hop festival in Athens came to her after covering the A3C Hip-Hop Festival in Atlanta for Digital College Network last October – an externship she earned through the Terry College Music Business Program. “It was so cool being there with a VIP pass interviewing all of these artists. I started asking them if they would come to Athens – just throwing it out there because I’m always driving to Atlanta to see hip-hop.”
By November, Schenck and her classmates dove in headfirst. She contacted artists and requested rates while formulating a sponsorship accrual strategy. Prevost created a website and Baldwin handled the PR. “It was a full-time job, I’m surprised I got the grades that I did during the event,” says Schenck, who noted that reaching out to the connections she made in the Music Business Program were really helpful with advice about bookings and sponsorship.
Their work paid off with the booking of seven groups, including five nationally known acts that trekked from Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and North Carolina to perform (at reduced rates) and participate in an artist panel about the state of hip-hop. Baldwin used her connections to land H.E.R. a promotional segment with WGCL’s “Better Mornings Atlanta,” which featured Schenck and Atlanta-based artist Stanza.
“We wanted to make sure they would want to work with us in the future,” says Baldwin, a journalism student in the Music Business Certificate Program from Peachtree City, who echoed Schenck’s sentiments that H.E.R.’s focus is to a establish a quality hip-hop event in Athens and begin building a fan base, including the artists they reached out to.
“They all said they loved it. WrittenHouse – the fifth act to go on – told us it was the most professionally run event they have performed at,” says Schenck, who notes that the second H.E.R. showcase is not only in the works for 2011, but they will be forming H.E.R. Hip-Hop, LLC for business this summer as a full-service entertainment company with Schenck as CEO. “We’re going to try artist booking, publicity, publishing, licensing, and sponsorship accrual. Our first client is going to be WrittenHouse. [Although] we have a lot of people that want to work with us, we don’t want to get too overwhelmed.”
It might be the first cautious thing Schenck has said or done all year.