Turn it up

New Chico State music professor hopes to boost Chico’s music scene

SOTA Productions students record Chico Unplugged finalist John Kraus.

SOTA Productions students record Chico Unplugged finalist John Kraus.

Photo By robbie duenweg

During Anita Rivas-Gisborne’s days as a student at Chico State in the mid-’80s, she was an active member of the local music scene through her work as a DJ at Chico State’s KCSC radio station. She was also a champion of the do-it-yourself approach to concert promotion, bringing national touring acts such as The Replacements and Los Lobos to Chico.

Her relentless firecracker personality lent itself well to promoting KCSC-sponsored shows on campus and at venues around town. Today, having returned to Chico as a music law professor and supervisor of Chico State’s School of the Arts’ SOTA Productions class, she believes the local music scene has lost some of its luster, particularly when it comes to student-organized shows (especially in the absence of A.S. Presents, which has been gone from the campus for more than two years).

Rivas-Gisborne hopes by sharing her experience as a Los Angeles-based music attorney and by guiding students/artists through the business side of the music industry—providing hands-on experience with music production and concert promotion—that her students will be better equipped to support musicians and produce concerts that appeal to their peers.

“My goal is for all my students to become artist advocates,” Rivas-Gisborne said over lunch in downtown Chico. “Our big motto is that we want to galvanize the scene in Chico.”

But she isn’t just concerned with attracting musicians to town; ideally, her students would play a role in Chico’s becoming a nationally recognized music scene that cultivates its own high-caliber artists. In recalling her time promoting concerts in Chico, Rivas-Gisborne suggested young members of the music community need to step up their efforts to help their favorite bands connect with like-minded artists in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash.

SOTA professor Anita Rivas-Gisborne.

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“Once you’ve made a big enough splash in your region, then people in L.A., Nashville or New York are interested in you,” she said. “Then you can say, ‘Look, this is what came out of Chico and it was nurtured here. This is a good place for artists.’”

While the local scene is typically vibrant and creative, the idea that Chico’s musicians could use some direction is a sentiment that has been echoed in Chico of late. In fact, Chico State graduate and active musician Josh Hegg (of local bands Clouds on Strings and BOGG) recently organized a community “think tank” at the 1078 Gallery (Jan. 20) to discuss how better to foster a successful scene. Rivas-Gisborne said Hegg is an excellent example of the DIY spirit, something she hopes to instill in her students.

Chico State’s music-law program is one of a handful in the nation that cover entertainment-specific business issues, she said. And through SOTA Productions (which replaced the school’s previous music-industry production company, Wild Oak Music Group) students are getting hands-on experience. They identify talent, promote events on and off campus (like the Songwriter’s Guild shows and Chico Unplugged competition at Woodstock’s Pizza last semester), record artists and even do some filming and editing.

“There aren’t places that teach people about these things; it’s all beyond the average person, unfortunately,” she said. “But it’s kind of a stroke of luck. Normally you wouldn’t find a lawyer who would teach at this level unless it’s something really specific that they’re passionate about.”

And Rivas-Gisborne is passionate, indeed. Her lunch sat unnoticed before her as she animatedly discussed the increasingly money-hungry music industry (which she compared to the pharmaceutical, insurance and agricultural industries with their unscrupulous practices) that often leaves artists with little or nothing to show for their work. She pointed to music-streaming services like Pandora and Spotify that offer musicians a pittance for having their songs played thousands of times.

These new realities make it all the more important to develop artist advocates—which Rivas-Gisborne describes as business-savvy music fans—to protect the rights of musicians who often don’t know their work has real monetary value, she said. She has high hopes her students (many of whom are musicians themselves) will do just that as they make their way through the music scene in Chico and beyond.

“The kids in my class, most of them have musical training, they have an ear,” she said. “They are ahead of most people in L.A. They just need the business skills, and then they can begin finding their own talent.”