Within minutes, Dapper Spider had spun a web of rhymes on his smartphone and unleashed his rap lyrics in the studio booth at the School of Environmental Studies. At age 16, Josh Groven, also known as the artist Dapper Spider, has signed a record deal with a label started by his fellow classmate, Emily Pauly.
Pauly, a 17-year-old senior at the school, formed Overtone Audio Productions with the support of the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district last year, and the label has already gained traction.
Pauly’s artists are not singing about the School of Environmental Studies, a learning community for upperclassmen. They are singing about anything from relationships to not wanting to be like everyone else.
Pauly said she launched the label to give her peers a platform.
“We have so many creative kids in our district, especially in our high schools, that have so much talent,” she said. “People need an outlet and a way to be represented.”
So far, Pauly has signed six artists whose sounds feature down-tempo beats, jazz and even a ukulele. Three songs she posted from Overtone’s artists online have amassed more than 500 listens and 30 downloads.
“People can hear what we have to offer for free, and can download and listen to it wherever,” she said.
To join the label, students simply have to contact Pauly and put in an application. Students from all over the district can apply. Pauly is looking to sign an alternative rock band from Eastview High School.
Pauly is the only student studying music business in Jeremy Bartelt’s second-level music production class. She’s had to do all the work of starting a record label on her own, from social media to promotion to recruitment.
“It has been incredible for me to not only watch her grow ... and learn, but the reception she has gotten from students that want songs on the record label and are excited about it, is great,” he said.
Bartelt connected Pauly with the McNally Smith College of Music department head of music, Scott LeGere. With LeGere’s guidance, Pauly began her research on how and where students get their music. She found that her peers were turning to streaming services. LeGere encouraged Pauly to keep her label simple and take advantage of all the free tools and platforms to promote her artists.
“What you really need today is the courage to run with an idea and share it with other people, and have a little faith to see it through,” LeGere said.
As of now, Pauly has three songs posted online from her artsiest artists. With additional funding through her class, Pauly hopes to add their music to streaming services like Sound Cloud or Apple Music. Pauly said it can cost about $100 a year to distribute to the multiple streaming platforms online.
Before getting her label off the ground, Pauly met with the assistant school district attorney, Peter Shaw, who advised Pauly on ownership of songs and parent permission. Pauly said she wants her artists to own the rights to their music.
“Nothing is legally binding,” Pauly said. “It is more of a hub or an outlet.”
Students have full creative freedom except for one caveat: no explicit content. Bartelt screens songs before Pauly publishes them online. The students don’t seem to mind. Groven said not swearing has allowed him to be more creative. Now, even his parents or his principal can listen to his raps.
Pauly has plans to sign more artists before the end of the school year and before she heads off to college. She’s undecided about whether to pass her project on to another student. Her artists and supporters are hopeful the district label will live on.