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Independent record label finds home in New Kensington

Rex Rutkoski
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Andre Carter at the sound board inside the new Jams Avenue music studio / lounge along Eighth Street in New Kensington on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Andre Carter at the sound board inside the new Jams Avenue music studio / lounge along Eighth Street in New Kensington on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
The Jams Avenue logo at the new music studio / lounge along Eighth Street in New Kensington on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014.
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Andre Carter
The first artist signed to Jams Avenue is Ren Capri (real name Lauren Minenok) of New Castle, a senior at Youngstown State University. Here she performs at Hard Rock Pittsburgh.
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Andre Carter
Ryane Corwin of New Kensington is a pop artist for Jams Avenue Music and a Valley High School senior.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Andre Carter sits on one of the couches inside of the new Jams Avenue music studio / lounge along Eighth Street in New Kensington on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The couches will provide an area for listeners to relax and mingle as they listen to music of a featured artist.

Andre Carter likes helping people, loves music and takes great satisfaction in seeing others succeed.

That happy convergence of interests has the Pittsburgh marketing executive, entrepreneur and youth and community advocate excited about his latest project — moving his fledgling independent record label and event organization, Jams Avenue Music, into its first physical home in New Kensington.

Doors will swing open at 8 p.m. Nov. 12, kicking off Wednesday open-mic nights, providing entertainers throughout the region an opportunity to gain experience in front of an audience in a variety of expressions, including vocalists, bands playing acoustically, individuals performing with a recorded track, CD or MP3, spoken word, poetry and stand-up comedy.

The headquarters also will be a center for artist development and management, with services including video shoots and coaching on press-kit development, marketing, promotions and stage presence.

“We serve as a resource for people to get started in the industry and achieve their goals,” says Carter, a New Kensington native and Vandergrift resident who has been involved in the music industry for 20 years.

Initially, he hopes to reach performers throughout the tri-state and expand from there.

Recording will be done at Jams Avenue’s partnership studios in the South Hills, Sewickley and McKeesport.

The New Kensington office also will offer space for “open calls,” providing performance opportunities; songwriter collaborations, with Jams Avenue helping find a vocalist to perform the material, if needed; in-studio video production and “industry night,” with industry representatives invited to be on hand for networking.

He also wants Jams Avenue to be an entertainment hub that sells concert tickets for all Pittsburgh events and a base from which artists can sell their music.

Carter stages talent showcases at the Hard Rock Cafe, Pittsburgh, including the “Dream Idol” event there at 10:30 p.m. Nov. 22.

“He is a driven entrepreneur with an ear for talent, is tenacious, and I see him going to the wall for those he believes in,” says Roy Martin-Smith, sales and marketing manager at the Hard Rock. “Something like Jams Avenue Music is always needed for musicians. The music business is always going to be a struggle, maybe even more so now, so any support that a musician has is welcomed.”

Carter wants his label to be a one-stop shop for artists of all experience levels.

“Helping people is important to me. I love coaching, teaching and watching people and their projects grow,” he says. “I have a tightly knit family and was taught the value of lending a hand when I can. I try to surround myself and company with others who want to work together and help the underdog succeed, not take advantage of the underdog.”

He says he tries to educate prospective clients about the business side of the industry. “Even if they don’t sign with me, at least, they’ll learn something to take with them as protection from the next person who approaches them,” he says.

Carter, former chairman of the board and president of New Kensington Area Chamber of Commerce, credits “a great mother who loved to blast the oldies” in helping develop his interest in music. “Music means happiness and memories to me,” he says.

Initially, he wants Jams Avenue to focus on Top 40 pop, R&B and hip-hop music that is radio-friendly with commercial appeal. “We have to be able to play the music for our mothers, grandmothers and family members under 7 years old without offending them,” he says.

Regional pop vocalist Ren Capri (her real name is Lauren Minenok), 22, of New Castle, the first artist signed to Jams Avenue, is convinced that the label is an excellent fit for her.

The senior telecommunications major at Youngstown (Ohio) State University, who has been singing since age 5, has adopted her stage name to maintain a distinction between her pursuit of careers in music and sports broadcasting.

Through Jams Avenue, Capri has released “Let’s Go,” her first EP of her music, and is working on a full album. Carter discovered her at a New Castle music competition, which she won.

“If it wasn’t for Andre, I never would have thought I could write my own music. I was so intimidated by it. He was so supportive,” says Capri, who has performed throughout the Pittsburgh area, including singing the National Anthem at a Pirates game. “It’s so neat to be able to write what I am feeling and hear other people listen to it. If I can reach even one person and get them through something, that’s my goal.”

Deciding to go with Jams Avenue was an easy decision for her.

“I never met anyone who has the same vision, morals, everything; he just got me. My family loves him,” Capri says. “I could tell if someone could get me to the next level, it would be Andre. And he has pushed me to do more than I thought I could do.”

Possessing a powerful voice, Capri delivers a strong performance and, on covers, has an ability to take a recording sung by a male “and spin it into a female version,” Carter says.

Ryane Corwin, 18, of New Kensington was Jams Avenue’s second signing. She is impressed that Carter seeks the artist’s perspective.

“It wasn’t just about his ideas, and it made me feel like a part of the team,” says the Valley High School senior. “I didn’t feel like I was just some musician that made him money. I felt part of something bigger than that. I felt like family. He is an amazing guy, very professional and easy to work with. He knows what catches modern-day ears and what people really want and how to give it to them.”

Corwin, who plans to study dramatic arts and business in college, is working on an EP of original songs at Jams Avenue. She loves the pop genre.

“I want people to be able to relate to my songs and give them the desire to follow their dreams, just as I am,” she says.

“Both Ren Capri and Ryane Corwin have great personalities, are very likable, coachable, have a good work ethic, a willingness to learn and are passionate about music,” Carter says.

Corwin and Capri agree that an undertaking like Jams Avenue, which aims at helping musicians, was much needed.

“So many people have dreams of being a musician but don’t know where to go,” Corwin says. “This helps them believe in their goals and have a way of pursing them without thinking they’ll never have a chance because they don’t live in New York or California. It also brings the community together.”

“It’s really frustrating as a local musician. You see so many things happening in the music industry, and it is so hard to break in,” Capri says. “You really need someone in your corner to help you get to the next level.”

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or [email protected].

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