In a recent session of Aaron Levinson’s “Recording Industry Practicum” class, the conversation turned to the rules of public domain in copyright.
The law says that any song written more than 90 years ago is fair game for a band to record without having to pay royalties to the songwriter.
Of course, understanding copyright is important for any student who aspires to work in the entertainment industry, but this particular group of students had a more immediate need for that knowledge as it directly impacts the work they’re currently doing on their next album.
Levinson’s class is more than lectures. He and his students run Bell Tower Music, a record label housed in the School of Media and Communication dedicated to recording, producing and promoting Temple University talent.
Bell Tower Music’s fall semester project, which should be out toward the end of this term, is an album by Chelsea Reed and the Fair Weather Five, and it’s their music that led to the public domain discussion in class. The band, which is made up entirely of current and former Boyer College of Music and Dance students, covers period jazz music. Not wanting to deal with the intricacies of paying royalties, the students and the band together found songs that would work on the album from before 1923.
Bell Tower was formed in 2009 and now, its momentum is palpable. In September, the label put out its second full release, “Curse the Weather,” by soulful rock trio Mo Lowda and the Humble, which includes media studies and production students Jordan Caiola and Shane Woods and mechanical engineering student Nate Matulis.
Over the next several weeks, the students of Bell Tower will market and promote the Mo Lowda and the Humble release while developing and planning the Chelsea Reed release – selecting the album’s first single, helping redesign the band’s web site, shooting photos and a music video, designing a logo for the release and more.
The real deal
“This is not an experiment. This is not an academic exercise. This is a record company. We do what we need to do to get the best results for the band,” said Levinson, an adjunct professor and 2004 Grammy-winning producer who serves as Bell Tower’s president.
Bell Tower is looking forward to the prospective success of Mo Lowda and Chelsea Reed, especially since the label’s first band broke up soon after the release of its album, bringing months of work to a screeching halt.
“Welcome to the music business,” Levinson told his students. “I’m not here to create a simulation of the music business where everything goes right.”
Each year, a student is selected to be the label manager to be second in command and ensure everyone else is staying on task, from the students creating the music video, to the ones booking venues. This semester, it’s Ryan Bayler, a senior media studies and production major from Royersford, Pa. He was enrolled in the class last semester and is completing independent study this semester in his current role.
“I couldn’t have fallen into a better position,” he said. “This is really what I want to be doing.”
As it is to many of his peers, Bell Tower is much more than a class to Bayler.
“You have to treat it like it’s your job,” he said. “You have to get right into the swing of things at the start of the semester. Fifteen weeks isn’t a whole lot of time to get done as much as we try to get done.”
Amid all of the work that is behind the Chelsea Reed album launch, Bell Tower looks forward to its next project. Jack Klotz, director of the recording industry focus in the media studies and production major (for which the Bell Tower class serves as a capstone course), says Bell Tower students working in the artists and repertoire department are already looking for the label’s next act, continuing to forward the label’s mission to showcase “the depth of musical talent that exists on campus.”
“There are so many people who have amazing musical talent at Temple,” Bayler says. “I think this is a perfect outlet for people to get their foot in the door in the music industry. We’re looking for bands who take their craft very seriously, who are ready to move up to the next level and who want to put the work in to get there.”
Watch Mo Lowda and the Humble’s “Run, Run”: