When music business professor Serona Elton was 8 years old, she sat in the lobby of Criteria Recording Studios in Miami, waiting for her dad to finish his work. While she waited, she looked with admiration at the platinum and gold records that lined the walls. Suddenly, she noticed the Bee Gees stepping out of a limousine in front of the studio.
“I was so unbelievably star-struck and Barry Gibb autographed a record for me,” she recalls. “That was the first time I sort of came up close to the music business, and I was just totally in awe.”
Elton, who received her master’s in music business at the University of Miami, now works as an associate professor and director of the music business and entertainment industries program at the Frost School of Music.
But Elton made her mark at UM long before she started teaching at the school. When she was a student in the music business program in the early ‘90s, she and five other graduate students were approached by the program director at the time, Jim Progris, about starting a student-run record label – eventually named ‘Cane Records.
“We literally created it from scratch – there was no template to follow, no guidelines,” she said. “We just started with a blank page and said, ‘How are we going to do this?’”
Though the label itself was launched rather quickly, it wasn’t until a year later that its first album was released. The graduate students working at ‘Cane Records were responsible for the typical tasks associated with running a professional label: identifying the artists, signing them, going back and forth between the university’s attorneys and the artist, helping the artists during the recording process, manufacturing the albums and later marketing them.
Because the label has limited budget and resources, the students decided to change its business model. Artists now have more freedom rather than signing exclusive deals with ‘Cane Records.
“It wasn’t a very good deal for the artist to work with us and only us,” Elton said. “We decided the change was for the better.”
Elton has also worked as a consultant for Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group as well as the managing director for The Selena Brand, a company that manages the name, likeness and trademark associated with the late Latin singer Selena Quintanilla.
Elton’s experience in the professional realm has benefited her students.
“Serona has been the overseer of this label almost from its inception,” said John Redmond, the current faculty adviser to ‘Cane Records who is also a professor in the Frost music business and entertainment industries program. “She is the one who has really brought it along over the years.”
Although she served as the label’s faculty adviser from 2006 to 2011, Elton now focuses her attention on teaching and her position as program director.
“I want to make sure that my students gain the fundamental knowledge they need in order to go out into the music industry and really make a difference,” she said. “My goal is to impart knowledge and wisdom. I love when I hear back from students telling me that what they learned in class has been helpful at their jobs.”
Elton’s students, like senior Heather Ellis, think highly of her. Ellis, who is majoring in music business and minoring in marketing, said she looks to Elton as a role model.
“She’s so knowledgeable and well-connected,” Ellis said. “I look up to her as a professional and a person. She takes on so much and somehow manages to do all of it immaculately.”
Considering the music industry’s competitive nature, Elton makes sure to emphasize the fundamentals of the business to her students. She provides them with advice to be successful.
“Up-and-coming musicians need to understand the basics of the music business,” she said. “Even if musicians don’t intend to try to manage their own careers, they need to know enough to know when a potential manager knows what they’re talking about or if they’re blowing a bunch of smoke. You need to build a team of people to do these things for you while you work on your craft.”