By Matt Kelly
May 16, 2006 —Phil Jackson didn’t find what he wanted at U.Va., so he created it.
Jackson, 22, a McIntire School of Commerce student, first started producing compact discs in 10th grade, recording himself and a friend using a microphone and computer. He produced several CDs of these performances in his hometown of Yardley, Pa., outside of Philadelphia. When he arrived at U.Va., he sought out people recording live music.
Finding none, he created his own recording group in 2003. With several friends from his dorm floor, he started Oluponya, a contracted independent organization. The group’s two-fold mission is to record different musical groups on Grounds and seek out new artists. The organization has 20 to 25 members, studio/office space in Newcomb Hall, and, with all the founders graduating this year, a new set of officers.
“This is a way to combine my passion for music and my affinity for business,” said Jackson, who envisions an entertainment career in management, production and as a songwriter.
Concentrating its efforts within the University community, Oluponya has recorded singers such as the Virginia Glee Club and Black Voices, issuing a CD that Black Voices can sell at its next concert. The group also draws musicians and songwriters into its orbit, building a pool of talent and recording their music for a series of compilation discs. Oluponya does not recruit members, Jackson said, preferring to find talented musicians who are usually in contact with other musicians.
“The talent knows the talent,” Jackson said.
Oluponya sells discs by word of mouth, and puts on concerts of the musical acts associated with the group. It also provides music for many events sponsored by others. There are two acapella groups affiliated with Oluponya, and several other artists, mostly hip-hop and R&B, but also an alternative jam band called “Silent Diner.”
Jackson will trademark “Oluponya,” a name he devised in high school and liked for its distinctiveness, for a sole proprietorship, for-profit business, but has given the students permission to continue using it. The student organization could also funnel new talent to Jackson and give him an excuse to visit the Grounds from time to time. “It would be great to come back for a visit in five years and see how [Oluponya] has grown,” he said.
He has been a music fan since he was young. His parents, who are Jamaican, sing and his brother plays the piano. His influences were Bob Marley, Luther Vandross and John Coltrane. More recently he has been listening to hip-hop and R&B, Maroon 5 and Kanye West.
Jackson, who has been writing his own music for years, wants to sell his songs and use Oluponya’s recordings of other artists singing his material to promote them. While it is good presentation of his work, it also gives the singers more exposure.
Jackson said he has sent Oluponya’s CDs to people he knows in the music business, but nothing has come of it yet. “That’s the nature of the industry,” he said.
“If you have talented artists with good music,” it will sell, he said. “Popular music is heard because it’s popular.”
Technology has made audio recording more portable. Jackson works with a Radio Shack microphone and a Dell desktop computer with a Cool Edit program that can handle up to 150 tracks, though he said “a studio would be nice.” He has recorded music in Humphreys House, his brother’s apartment and Dillard House, where he said the acoustics were such a problem they sang into a closet full of his clothes, which he said gave the music a “homey, comfortable” sound.
“If we wanted a more echo-ey sound we’d go out in the hallway,” he said.
Space limitations in the dorms, and working around his roommate’s schedule, pushed Jackson elsewhere, such as a spare room in his brother’s apartment. Now there is a recording area in the group’s office, so he has not had to record in his Lawn room, though he has held rehearsals there.
After graduation, he is starting a job in advertising, working on strategic account planning, and working in the music business at night. His long-range plan includes a degree in entertainment law and working as a manager, writer and/or producer.
“I want to control my own future,” he said.