In a small living room towers a black mass known as the “wall of sound.” It is compiled of four 15-inch speakers and a half stack. And in front of the wall stands a fiery redhead named Shannon Young.
Young is a fourth-year business major at UC Santa Cruz. Her fiancé, Casey Chisholm, attended Columbia College for video production. Together they make up Ascension Recordings and Publications, a production company they refer to simply as Ascension.
“This is what we want to do. It’s what we want to be our life’s work,” Young said.
Ascension has already signed over 10 artists, and the list continues to grow. Chisholm and Young see themselves as a part of a grassroots movement in the music production industry that brings the focus of music back to sound. Young works on the business side of the label, while Chisholm handles the more musical aspects.
Ascension is entirely nonprofit, and attempts to find new and innovative ways to produce music at the lowest cost. Via Ascension, Young and Chisholm dream of giving musicians a substantial reason to produce music for the sake of music. These goals were initially backed entirely by out-of-pocket funds, but following a successful summer it began to rely on raised funds as well.
“Summer was great. We had the first annual fundraiser. Fourteen bands played at House of Nostromo,” Young said.
The label, however, is just the tip of a musical endeavor in which Ascension plans to partake. Young and Chisholm are working towards a goal of making Ascension a registered nonprofit music label so that they can receive grants to fund larger projects. They also eventually plan to open a music store.
The label has released five artists thus far — Jonathan Sarenana, Travis Brooks, Good Man, Samuelroy and Chisholm himself. The list continues to grow and Ascension has high hopes for the remaining artists signed to the label but still unreleased.
Most of the Ascension artists are local, but plans are in the works to release an album for a band called Loser Superhero out of London, with members originally from Spain and France.
“Ideally we would eventually sign two artists from every city,” Young said. “We want to have artists all over to help network and distribute — basically set up an infrastructure nationwide and then internationally.”
Ascension released its first compilation CD in March of 2009, comprised of songs from the already-released artists.
“Everything on the compilation was good,” Chisholm said. “We have signed and gotten to play with some really talented people.”
“The compilation has gotten an artist recognition on a radio station in Portland,” Young said. “Feedback has been very positive from listeners and artists alike. It has brought some artists together, and shows that might not have happened.”
A second compilation CD is already in the works and Young said they are looking into doing a show at UCSC on April 20 as a fundraiser.
Ascension’s sound is a mixture of eclectic artists, ranging from electronic to acoustic sounds and with a multitude of stories behind their various melodies.
“We will work with anyone who has talent and is motivated and wants to do this,” Chisholm said. “The compilation was a good way of testing the water. It wasn’t about making money and shining attention on ourselves, it was about planting seeds and giving people a reason for doing what they’re doing.”
Chisholm and Young do not require any of the artists who sign with Ascension to produce a profit for the label, nor are any of their contracts obligatory.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle and just say ‘I don’t have time for music,’” said Chisholm. “We want to give artists a reason to keep going with it. What they put in with us is really what they get out.”
Today’s mainstream music industry, Chisholm said, is too focused on selling a product.
“I think in the modern industry someone like Bob Dylan would have been swept under the rug. He wasn’t pretty, and his voice wasn’t perfect by any means. The leading bands in today’s industry are total products.”
Ascension hopes to establish a venue for today’s many musicians who are genuinely concerned with the music and the sound they produce, but do not want to “sell out” to the mainstream music world.
“There’s this untapped market of amazing musicians and that’s what we’re trying to get into. We’re not trying to make money at this point,” Young said. “It’s really rewarding to do this and to know it’s not capitalism you’re helping. You have someone like Casey who’s being creative all day, and then you have someone like me who is a business major. It’s a good creative outlet for us.”
Young said the overall goal of their label is to help musicians in any way they possibly can, while experiencing the creative process hands-on.
“If our artists can make fans because of this, or book shows because of this, then we consider it a complete success.”
Free downloads from Ascension artists are available at http://cllct.com/family/ascensionrecordingsandpublications. To learn more about Ascension and its artists, go to http://www.myspace.com/ascensionrecordingpublications.