Coles Students Hit A 'High Note' With New Music Competition
KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 17, 2017) — Three Coles College of Business students saw their desire to promote the careers of Kennesaw State University musicians grow into a true entrepreneurial experience last month when they hosted the first annual High Note music competition, which pitted three of Kennesaw State’s most talented performers against singers from Georgia State University, and drew the attention of music industry insiders.
The High Note music competition – held Sept. 23, 2017 at the Austin Residence Complex Amphitheater – was organized by Coles seniors Royland Lyons, Broderick Armbrister, and Alex Stoecker. Together, they raised more than $8,000 to organize the event and worked with partners inside and outside the University to secure a venue, market the competition, and select the hosts, which were Emmy Award-winning local reporter Vince Sims and nationally syndicated radio personality Adam Bomb.
Five hundred students from Kennesaw State and Georgia State attended High Note. Kennesaw student Hannah Murphy won the competition and received a $1,000 donation in her name to UNICEF, a guitar worth $700 from Keller Guitars, and free admission to Writing Sessions of America’s October conference where she will perform for Grammy Award-winning artists and record executives.
Three years before the first performer took the stage at High Note, Lyons discussed the idea of an intercollegiate music competition one afternoon over lunch with Dr. Carolee Larson, Lecturer of Sociology, who is close friends with his mother. Lyons' friend Jake Harris was popular on YouTube at the time for his cover of the song “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift, which VH1 selected as one of the top five cover versions of the popular song. Lyons wanted a way to help Harris and musicians like him gain exposure.
“We wished there was a way we could help people know who Jake was,” Lyons said. “From there we started talking about all the untapped potential in the University systems. They focus so heavily on putting funding into sports but not as much on other positive things like art, music, dancing, and the theater. We thought ‘let’s put something together for musicians!’”
After a few false starts, Lyons, a marketing major, joined up with Armbrister, a business management major, last year to begin organizing the event. They reached out to Harrison Long, Associate Dean of the College of the Arts, who offered the two some valuable advice.
“He told us we should build support and backing for our event before we start asking for things,” Lyons said. “He said we should get other organizations involved first. And that’s exactly what we did.”
In May 2017, Lyons and Armbrister recruited Stoecker, an international business management major, who helped them pitch the music competition to campus organizations. They secured support from The Residence Hall Association to provide the venue and assist with marketing, worked with Volunteer KSU to bring on students to work the event, and received additional marketing support from the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life.
They also found valuable partners off campus. Georgia State University’s student run Panther Entertainment Group helped market the event and connected the organizers with Kevin Shine, owner of Writing Sessions of America. Shine staffed the judge’s panel with the casting director and the producer of The Four, an upcoming music competition television show on the FOX Network. Lyons and his team then reached out to Atlanta-based Cumulus Media, who provided the event’s hosts.
According to Lyons, the skills he and his co-organizers gained from Coles classes on marketing, consumer behavior, and professional sales were instrumental in their ability to gain support from these organizations.
“You have to know how to appeal to your target audience and find out what they want,” Lyons said. “For instance, philanthropy is important to Greek culture. We emphasized the charitable side of the event when talking with [the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life].”
To fund the event, the three solicited sponsorships from area businesses and campus organizations. Stoecker, who works as a talk show host for student run Biz Radio U, leveraged his connections to secure sponsorships from companies like Active Production and Design, Exploring, Inc., and Velociteach. Meanwhile, Armbrister used his experience as a senator in the Student Government Association to set up meetings with University officials. He and Lyons met with Dr. Kathy Schwaig, Dean of Coles College, who pledged $1,000.
“I was so impressed by their willingness to take on such a big project,” Schwaig said. “They love music and wanted to use it to unite our campus. They used their entrepreneurial spirit and their resolve to pull this event off and to pull it off well. I loved that the event connected our students with those at GSU.”
In total, the three Coles students raised $8,000 in cash sponsorships and in-kind donations. They also organized a GoFundMe campaign to raise an additional $1,000 that would go to the competition winner’s charity of choice.
“I can directly say that the Coles students’ actions clearly demonstrate a strong entrepreneurial spirit,” said Dr. Mark Hiatt, Assistant Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship who served on High Note’s judge’s panel. “They saw a great opportunity to develop a business venture that had true value and worked hard to make that vision successfully happen.”
Success Breeds Success
On the day of the competition, Lyons and his team accomplished what they set out to do. Students from Kennesaw State and Georgia State came together over their shared love of music, the organizers donated $1,000 to charity, and winner Hannah Murphy was invited by one of the judges to audition for The Four.
Rather than taking a deserved break from the challenges of planning a large-scale event, Lyons is already hard at work organizing next year’s High Note, which will be on Georgia State’s campus.
“We’re adding Georgia Tech to the competing schools next year,” he said, “and we hope to involve more universities every year. I’m also trying to find a Grammy-winning producer to work with the winning artist.” He ultimately envisions High Note as an annual event where each participating university sends one student to compete for an actual recording contract.
As he works on planning next year’s High Note, Lyons said that one thing he plans to do differently is not be afraid to accept “no” for an answer when dealing with potential partners and sponsors.
“If somebody says ‘no’ twice, don’t keep persisting,” he says. “We spent a lot of time going after leads that ended up being dead ends. You have to learn to deal with rejection.”