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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA2020 Racial Justice Movement

Alumnus, new singer launch debut album by their own record label

By Daily Bruin Staff

November 20, 1997 9:00 pm

Friday, November 21, 1997

Alumnus, new singer launch debut album by their own record
label

MUSIC: Third-year law student is also the head of his own
company, ‘doing quite well’

By Vanessa VanderZanden

Daily Bruin Staff

Some college students work part-time jobs while attending
school. A few take on full-time careers. But only the insane run
their own business concurrently with university matriculation. Or
at least the extremely ambitious.

"I always thought I’d be a total lover of music, but I thought
I’d be going to law school and maybe get into music or
entertainment. I never thought I would be a label," claims Kris
Munoz, who heads Key Records while attending Chapman University as
a third year law student. "I don’t know how I’m functioning. I’m
actually doing quite well at my school."

Waiting almost three years between her 1992 graduation from UCLA
and her enrollment at Chapman, Munoz had time to meet up with
singer/songwriter Denise Marsa and form the notion of beginning Key
Records. The independent label has thus far only released Marsa’s
debut album, "Self," but will eventually carry other artists hungry
to eschew the confines of large corporate dealings. However, Munoz
and Marsa plan to take their time with their new venture, playing
the Borders Books and Music circuit, with a show at the Westwood
store tonight at 9 p.m.

"We don’t want to get too big too soon," Marsa admits, though
enthused by the company. "We’ve heard a lot of stories where
they’ll let it get too big too quickly and they have too much
overhead and then there’s too much stress and they make the wrong
decisions. So we’re going to keep our stress low."

Yet, working mostly out of the home, the two have managed thus
far to achieve considerable gains almost tirelessly. While most
debut albums wait roughly six or seven months after their release
date to meet with media attention, it only took two weeks for
"Self" to get reviewed in "The Album Network." Shortly thereafter,
Marsa received a call from Gary Franklin at KHUM, a Humboldt-based
radio station.

"He called us up and said ‘It’s twelve o’clock. You’re goin’ on
the air in five minutes,’" Marsa remembers excitedly. "The first
song he played was ‘No Comparisons, Please.’ He said he just gave
it to his DJ and let him pick out the track he wanted …"

"Which wasn’t the single we were going to start with, but …"
interjects Munoz.

"… but he started playing it and said he was going to play
‘Sudden Mixed Emotions’ at four."

Soon, the duo set to work getting air time at Texas, Illinois,
and the University of Arizona. With a limited budget, though, it
can be difficult to promote as much as the larger labels, which
often spend millions of dollars just trying to sell a new artist.
Yet, many drawbacks come with that financial boom.

"I heard stories from all the other artists about how notorious
record companies were for not paying royalties, and they charge so
much money, and promotion is so expensive that by the time you’re
done after your first year you owe like $800,000 dollars," Marsa
laments. "You have to sell like millions of records to make any
money, and I just kept hearing all these stories about how artistic
freedom isn’t really given to you, too. You have to work with
certain producers and do certain things, and I’ve always been the
sort of person who likes to do her own little thing."

Yet, Marsa and Munoz became determined to put out a collection
of Marsa’s music that could stay true to her multi-format style
without completely sinking her into the money pit. The solution
became clear one day after Munoz found an article about the stellar
success of Ani DiFranco’s upstart indie label, Righteous Babe. The
two would strike out on their own.

"Granted, DiFranco put out like seven albums before she got
recognized, but she’s a major influence on our starting the record
label," Munoz concedes. "In the ’80s it was all corporate. It was
Warner, it was EMI, it was the majors. Starting in the ’90s, the
indies started coming around, you know. Nirvana started the whole
thing with Subpop."

"And for artists," Marsa adds. "I think artists started having
more control in the early ’90s, and now it’s at the point where
especially female artists like Sheryl Crow are producing,
co-producing, and ten years ago that was not happening."

"Not on your first album," Munoz supports. "Definitely not."

Soon the two went to work on cutting the album, which includes
the help of various musicians from cellists to guitarists,
percussionists to accordion samplers. Recorded at the underground
studio of Bruce Bouillet, the Key heads were shocked at the amazing
deal the engineer cut them. However, they were more surprised even
by the talented tech man’s interest in Marsa’s sound, as he is most
known for his assistance to Rage Against the Machine and various
rap artists.

"He was really like, ‘Man, you are a serious songwriter and I
love it and I want to be a part of something that I know can make
it,’" Munoz relates. "He totally empowered her and was behind it
100 percent. We went into the studio with that full on vibe.
Eclectic groups of people are liking the music and it’s just
cool."

Still, Marsa has a long way to go before she can claim to
experience a large financial success. However, hope is alive. After
all, it took Jewel two years before her album met with national
airplay, yet the talented musician now can be heard on multiple
stations in every major city across the country.

"Alanis Morrisette sold about fourteen million records. Ani
Difranco can sell two to three million and make the same amount of
money," Munoz continues. "She doesn’t have to sell fourteen million
because she is the label, she’s head of distribution, she’s a
force. She’s making the money that she deserves."

And, with her law degree soon to fit snugly on the wall of her
Key Records home office, Munoz will be able to figure out the
amount legally due to her and Marsa after "Self" begins to reap in
the profits. Even though right now times may be tough, there is a
hopeful future for the gutsy little business venture that took a
lot to get involved in in the first place.

"I was so scared to start law school that I was like, ‘Man, I
been out of school for three years and now we’re doing this record
thing,’" Munoz remembers. "But I had always said I’d wanted to do
it and knew it would be beneficial to me later. I’m excited, but
it’s been crazy. And I can’t believe I’m doing well. I’m shocked.
But, I have to. I’m on financial aid, so when I’m out I’m going to
owe Uncle Sam for a long time."

MUSIC: Denise Marsa plays at the Westwood Borders Books and
Music store, located on Westwood Blvd., Friday at 9 p.m.

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