Spy Hop Productions 

Behind the Music: Program reveals the complexities of “making it.”

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Utah’s Spy Hop Productions has long been hailed as a beacon of opportunity for youth with a passion for media, film and music. Its successful musicology program and student-run label Spy Hop Records trains students in songwriting, recording as well as producing and distributing albums put out by the label. Headed by veteran musician and songwriter Jeremy Chatelain of local group Cub Country, the musicology program as well as Spy Hop Records are cultivating promising acts.

The label recently signed and released albums by their first two artists: singer/ songwriter Sam Burton, and hip-hop whiz kid Malevolent M.C. The stark contrast and quality of the releases are testimony to the diversity and dedication of Spy Hop students. Each album is recorded, produced, designed and marketed by students in various programs.

Spy Hop Records operates just like any other artist-run label: Musicians have contracts, will see a return if the records sell and are supported in their efforts to promote each release. “I try to make it the students’ responsibility to do the entire thing. I just try to be around to answer questions,” says Chatelain. “The students recorded them at Spy Hop, gave them feedback, mastered them and created the artwork. They did all of it.”

Listening to the recordings, the production quality of the short albums is impressive. “I told everyone at Spy Hop that I was going to do everything to make sure they didn’t sound like demos,” says Sam Burton, whose Got Sent Up is a mature and genuine debut for an 18-year-old who started playing at open mics and only picked up a guitar three years ago. His pop-folk sound is influenced by contemporary indie/folk acts along the lines of Bright Eyes but takes hints from classic folk artists like Nick Drake.

Intricate accents in his guitar playing hint that Burton takes cues from the singer/ songwriter tradition. This quality can best be heard on the album’s title track, which Burton believes is definitive of his style. “I really like listening to people who have been doing this for a long time and still like getting up at open mics. It’s cool to see that passion still there,” he says.

Vastly different, but equally as talented, Ian Sanabria aka Malevolent M.C. wants to make one thing clear: “My name is malevolent but I don’t fit its definition,” he says in the title track off his debut Definition. What initially sounds like an in-your-face declaration and affirmation of the artist’s identity quickly turns into a charming introduction to what Malevolent M.C. is all about.

The album is a collection of free-form rhyming that borders on stream-of-consciousness writing. His lyrics sound like they were taken directly from journal entries-highly personal and free-form. Malevolent M.C proves potential in his ability to present lyrics in a unique way, weaving them into original beats created after licensing issues prohibited him from using samples on the album.

The two albums, released in June, and the industrious nature of the label are encouraging signs for the future of local music. Their albums are available through CD Baby, iTunes and local, independent record stores. The program’s goal is to release five fulllength albums with nationwide distribution and student artwork by the end of the year.

Sam Burton and Malevolent M.C perform this week along with Spy Hop Records prospects, witty hip-hop duo Roe and UniversAll, pop quartet Heterodactyl and rockabilly songwriter Orion Chacon-Hurst.

In The Venue
579 W. 200 South
Friday, Aug. 14
7 p.m.

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About The Author

Hattie MacLeod

Hattie MacLeod is a Salt Lake City freelance writer and a City Weekly marketing intern.

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