Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017 12:13 am
The business of spreading music success
HISO Music is one man’s dream of helping others’ dreams comes true
In a long brick building within a rented suite on Yale Boulevard in Springfield’s Harvard Park neighborhood, a quiet, yet profound revolution is underway. Here is the headquarters of HISO (pronounced high-so) Music Entertainment, a consulting company conceived by Springfield resident Ayo Abitogun to provide music business services to groups and individuals. The 26-year-old musician, rapper and singer-songwriter, also known professionally as Ayo Dele, is the inspirational leader of HISO, as well as the founder and CEO.
The organization formed two and half years ago when Ayo began building his own music career. While searching for professional members to add to his entertainment team, he discovered others searching for music business success based on his beliefs in positive thinking and avoiding the negative images and stereotypes found in certain forms of pop music today. As he shared his idea of engaging fellow music artists in constructive careers, the group around him expanded to include a trustworthy and enthusiastic team of dedicated friends and co-workers.
HISO Music (the letters stand for “a higher standard of” music) is now a growing organization with nearly 15 members working as recording engineers and in-house producers, photographers, social media experts, live music musicians and working artists. The suite of several rooms on Yale Boulevard houses a music recording studio, lounge, office space, storage areas and videographer studio. Abitogun books the recording studio on a regular basis, mostly for local rap and hip-hop artists who use the vocal booth for recording voice tracks and the HISO house producers for backing music and beats.
The group focuses on varied aspects of a music artist’s career, including live performances, management issues, recording releases and promotion, offering these products to acts signed to contracts with HISO. They’ve recently expanded to offer a DJ service, commercial photography and videography packages for weddings and private events, and graphic design work, including the printing of fliers and banners. Originally developed just for use by HISO artists under contract to the organization, these services are now offered to the public. Abitogun recently inked a deal with Lincoln Land Community College to provide occasional DJ and PA services through 2018.
The loose-knit but focused organization also hosts a weekly radio program from 2 to 4 every Wednesday afternoon on WQNA, the student-run, community-based, volunteer radio station housed in the Capital Area Career Center on Toronto Road. Hosts DJ Yinka, Sydney Lynne, and Ayo, with occasional guest spots from others, spend those two hours interviewing music artists, spinning tunes and talking about music.
Through a connection with Tiffany Mathis, a director at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois, HISO sponsored a Teen Talent Showcase night on Nov. 12 last year. Picked from auditions earlier in the year, budding student stars Shedric Lee, Tiara Michell, Seth Belford, Kaitlyn Stelivan, Dajuan Stewart, Jr., Priscilla Bartelhiem and Ja’Maya Hill performed at the club with help from HISO house producers. Shedric, originally from Cleveland, Mississippi, signed with the HISO organization under the artist name of Terrell Burns. He works on developing his music career when not attending high school classes at Lanphier.
Plans are in motion to offer opportunities at HISO for Boys and Girls Club members to learn in the arts, especially doing electronic tasks such as video editing, photography, studio recording and other jobs associated with the modern business model of the music industry. Ayo spoke passionately about the role of the Boys and Girls Club in not just offering after-school programs, but providing basic needs as simple as a meal or a safe place to go. One of his long-range goals is to connect with BGCs all over the country to offer the services of HISO to kids nationwide.
“HISO is all about offering opportunities to kids, especially those who really need something like this,” he said. “There’s a lot of younger people moving away from sports and towards using the newer technologies on computers and their phones. Don’t get me wrong, sports are great, but not everybody gets to play or wants to. We want kids to have a chance to do these other things with hands-on experience.”
Ayo Abitogun’s plans are far reaching, but not farfetched. By constantly affirming his commitment to helping others reach goals in order to achieve his dreams, he raises the concept of HISO to a new level. Indeed, he sees his small company growing into a vast national chain, based in small markets across the country.
“There’s no reason to offer HISO Music in just Springfield when other places have the same needs,” he explained. “With investors helping, I see this expanding like a Walmart or McDonald’s in terms of locations and reach. There’s a need in many communities for what we do and I want to fill that gap to help out and make our company successful.”
An extraordinary dream for some, but to Ayo it seems a natural progression from his childhood days visiting his grandmother in Nigeria. Both his parents were born in Nigeria and met in the U.S. while attending college in Tennessee, so he has visited their home area in Africa several times. During a stay with his grandma when he was a young teenager, something happened that gave his life direction. He climbed up a tree to better see a crowd gathered around someone with a boombox playing music. Watching the large group of young Africans all fascinated by the sounds of popular contemporary American hits from half a world away struck him as amazing and appealing. The revelation of being part of something so vast and reaching, and at the same time so vital and important to people’s lives, stayed with a young Ayo, and still affects his work today.
“Being up in that tree, hearing music by Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, then seeing the response of the crowd, was the earliest memory I have of just wanting to do music and to make a difference in the world,” he said. “I always thought music would be my gateway to helping someone with whatever they’re going through just like music helped me.”
Even though the thought was there, it took some time and hard knocks to reach a point where he could implement his plan of music delivering salvation to the world. After high school, a failed attempt to make things happen musically in St. Louis brought him back to Springfield. He returned rather unwillingly, as a 22-year-old coming back home without accomplishing the great goals of youth might feel.
Through the friendship of Yatti Ely, owner of the downtown nightclub, The Wet Bar, Ayo reestablished himself in town with a place to stay and found employment at Bunn-O-Matic, temporarily putting the music dreams on hold. While working at the factory, a realization that this was not the best use of his talents came quickly as he daydreamed with thoughts and inspirations of what he should be doing instead of concentrating on the doldrums of assembly-line work.
“A friend of mine told me to write down all the ideas coming through so it would free up my mind. I did and started what I call my ‘red book’ and it worked,” Ayo explained. “It started out with drawings of a simple logo of a crown with two glasses. By the time I was done I had written a book!”
Writings and musings in the “red book” became a blueprint for many of the HISO guiding principles and even produced the original-sounding company name. Years before in high school Abitogun and a friend dreamed up an idea of forming a business to make jeans and called it High Society. The company never got off the ground, but Ayo liked the way the words sounded, shortened it to Hi-So and let the letters stand for “high standard of music.” From writing these remembrances and thoughts he developed HISO Music as the name of his soon-to-be-established group. Within a few months of jotting ideas into the notebook, he began the process of forming a team to back his own music ambitions. Gathering like-minded musicians and artistically driven folks all set with a dream of making a mark in the music business led to the current setup of HISO, built on various departments dedicated to certain aspects of a music career, such as recording, publicity and booking.
As he began to manage other artists in the growing HISO roster, the cost of paying for studio recording time was “burning a hole in our budget.” With no HISO house studio available yet, and no quick return expected from royalties or song sales, Ayo and his young group faced an early financial dilemma. They solved the problem by diversifying and performing a string of tours in 2014 and 2015 through Iowa, Chicago, St. Louis and including Springfield events. The cash flow created by the live performance shows not only paid for the studio recording process, but the HISO brand name gained recognition.
Another benefit of the touring act came through establishing the SOHI House Band as a backup group to the HISO front person singers. Area musician Matt Wingo was the driving force behind the band formation and leads his band mates in learning how to play what each different singer needs. With much of rap and hip-hop using electronic instruments and “loops” (pre-recorded tracks that repeat), using musicians playing instruments makes the HISO live performances a special experience beyond most EDM (electronic dance music) shows or artists utilizing prerecorded backing tracks. Currently Matt and the SOHI musicians are learning the craft of being a studio band, something very different from live performances.
“Now that the HISO recording studio is going strong, we can record live tracks for our artists,” Wingo said. “That’s a whole other feel, working in the studio. But we’re figuring it out and learning as we go along, like we do here as a team, helping each other.”
Besides Wingo’s work as the live band leader, others at HISO Music each add their own flavor and talents to the mix to make the whole a working model of positive energy happenings. Ayo lights up as he talks about the music artists signed to the group and the others making contributions that bring it all together. Describing each person as a vital part of the organization, he praises his HISO teammates as friends, family and fellow dreamers.
Sammy Flores, Abitogun’s partner and HISO Music artist, is an integral part of the roster and the team. In 2016, Flores released a seven-song selection called Sammy with a Y, written, recorded and produced at HISO along with a fully realized story video to go along with the package. Sammy, originally from Wisconsin, describes herself as an “R&B songwriter, singer and poet” and performs regularly with the SOHI House Band and is currently working on her next record.
RJC, a rapper and maker of electronic music to back his tracks, started out with Ayo and HISO from nearly the beginning, putting the now 19-year-old record producer in high school when they began a partnership. Last year RJC (Robbie Collier) grossed nearly $15,000 for amassing over 20,000 listens to songs from his Blissful Ignorance collection on his SoundCloud (a popular online music listening/sharing/download site) page. RJC continues to collaborate with writers, rappers and producers all over the world through sharing beats and business online.
Working at HISO as the media guy is Benedict Taylor, a musician and producer who spends his time concentrating on presenting a good image of the organization and its clients. Taylor sees his role with the group as building a positive public perception of what they have to offer and how they proceed in accomplishing goals. He works with HISO artists on social media and through press releases to present news about the company’s progress and interaction with the community.
“How you present yourself to the public is so important in any business, but especially in what we’re doing to make HISO a place for kids and working artists,” explained Taylor. “Human contact is needed to make this happen and that needs to be a positive experience for everyone.”
Other HISO artists of note include Ayo, Shady Wayne (I Don’t Forgive is his latest release), DraMara and the recent addition of Shedric Lee as Terrell Burns, plus house producer Preston Reed, who creates tracks for house artists. Jayy Wills, also on the artist page, takes care of the videography department under the title of J.W.E., producing in-house videos and commercials for HISO, as well as offering retail services to the public. HISO photographer Jordan Minder currently studies at Illinois State University in Normal working toward a degree in studio arts, emphasizing photography. She specializes in portraiture and, as with most HISO members, dedicates her life to her art and to making it work as a functioning, viable occupation. In charge of DJ Services is Lagos, Nigeria, native Abdulwahab Atanda, better known in the Springfield community as DJ Yinka. His lifelong dream of spinning tunes began in Lagos and continues at HISO, playing a big role in DJ duties that bring in steady work and cash flow to the company.
As the reach and power of HISO Music Entertainment spreads and grows, Ayo remains true to his original beliefs of providing a positive environment for artists to build a career, reaching out to better the community and committing to making his dream a reality shared. As he speaks of the empowerment available through music and how it affected his life, the eloquence of true passion shines through in his words.
“Music saved my life by giving me a purpose and I always wonder how many other lives it can save, but HISO is more than music and entertainment. It’s meant to bring together many dreams to become one fulfilled dream,” Abitogun explained. “I didn’t see all this in my head when I was writing ideas in that red book. I didn’t foresee I could help this many people or someone would say that HISO changed their lives. But, man, in my heart I still feel I am that kid in Nigeria looking down from the trees wondering how to be part of helping people with music.”
Contact Tom Irwin at email@example.com.