with jukebox: New Michigan record label with Ann Arbor roots aims to hit it big
Odell Palacio is thinking big — he wants a seat at next year’s Grammy Awards, with 1 of his record label’s artists as a nominee.
Palacio, vice president of FrontStreet Records and the man in charge of the Michigan-based label’s marketing and promotions departments, may see his dream come true — especially if quantity has anything to do with it.
The mostly hip-hop label has set an ambitious goal of releasing 52 singles in 50 weeks in order to draw attention to FrontStreet and its music and artists. As of mid-February, they were about halfway to that goal. FrontStreet took a huge step forward recently thanks to a distribution deal with iTunes, which Palacio — an Ann Arbor resident — said is unusual for such a small, independent label.
“Persistence is key,” he said of the deal, which has been in the works for two years. Fan buzz on Internet blogs and Twitter are also important, he added.
Photo courtesy FrontStreet Records
FSR’s artist roster currently includes Oseeola, Braulio, Jab, DEAJI, Dux Jones, Rai Knight and J.Strode (born in Ypsilanti as Aaron Strode, now living in Ann Arbor), guided by its in-house production unit, The Skouts, with other support offered by The Loser Crew. Knight is the force behind the single “Mr. Postman,” one of the label’s strongest releases thus far.
“We were trying to figure out a way to saturate the market and get the ball moving, to introduce all our artists,” explained Palacio.
Artists and the singles that attract the most attention could get a bigger push from the label in the form of full-length CDs. Fans who know that they can score free music downloads every Friday (see More Info box at the end of the story) will ideally become repeat visitors to the web site.
The singles are made available for free for 2 weeks (after which point they’re available for purchase, as are albums and items from the related clothing line World Famous Loser) on the label’s web site. The music is also sold online at iTunes.
Although it is located in Fenton (founder and CEO Dave Kelly hails from nearby Flint), FrontStreet has several names with local connections. Palacio, an Eastern Michigan University graduate, is an Ann Arbor native and vice-president/chief of production Jason Bruyninga (who goes by the name Thirty) was also born here and still lives in town.
Photo courtesy FrontStreet Records
The marketing team includes Ashlee Simone (media relations), who was raised in Ann Arbor and is a University of Michigan grad; Jig Smith (A&R director), who attended Ypsilanti High School; and Rob Bey (graphic and creative design administrator), who was born in Ypsilanti.
“Jason and I grew up together,” Palacio, who worked as an intern at Universal Music Group for Island Def Jam and later worked as Atlantic Records’ Urban Market College rep in the Detroit market, recalled. “He grew up on the Huron High School side of town I went to Pioneer. We met through music.”
Although most of the artists on the label right now are hip-hop, Palacio said FrontStreet is not limited to any one genre.
“We are a record label. We’re not a hip-hop label, a pop label — we’re looking for anything that has some kind of reason for someone to invest in and want to listen to,” he explained.
The thread of family runs through everything FrontStreet does.
“We cry together, we pray together, we fight together, we win together, we lose together,” Palacio said. “It’s like that old African parable, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ It takes a committed group of people to nourish a dream. If one person doesn’t hold their part of the bridge, eventually the bridge is going to crumble. We’re all held accountable for the overall good of the company.”
Kelly started the label in the mid-late-1990s, which went on hiatus for a while and was reactivated in 2006. Palacio came on board around that time.
Thanks to its off-the-beaten-path location, fewer distractions make it easier to focus on the music, Palacio said, and it is also more affordable. FSR’s recording studio and video production facilities, along with the clothing line World Famous Loser, are all headquartered in Fenton.
The label and its artists are in it for the long haul.
“We’re not in it to make a quick buck,” said Palacio. “Those days in the music industry are over. It’s not going to happen anymore. If you’re really passionate about music you have to be in it for a legacy. You have to be in it to look back 20 years from now and say ‘I did this — because of my seed I planted X amount of trees and my children are following my sacrifice, because I decided to kill my own pride to give birth to many other things. That’s what FrontStreet really stands for.”
Palacio said the label has an ambitious vision.
“A year from now — we’re looking to be at the Grammys next year. I want an American Music Award, a Grammy and I want to be in a movie with Halle Berry. It’s going to happen. This team we have here, we honestly believe God put this team together. We are not going to lose.”
New artists, added Palacio, are welcome to get in touch by emailing email@example.com.