Anyone who’s been to a hip-hop dance class sponsored by Southampton Town knows the dynamic dancing duo of Adam Baranello and Gail Benevente, two young teachers for whom dance is just one element at the core of an ever-expanding series of creative pursuits.
Through their own web site, MySpace and word of mouth, they’ve created a small but growing fan base that tunes in every time Adam comes up with a creative new T-shirt design, whenever the pair upload a new video featuring his pop music, or whenever they play concerts or teach at SYS, the Southampton Parks and Rec Department or Project MOST in the East Hampton schools.
Now that they have their own record label, AJB Productions, Adam, 29, and Gail, 30, who live in Nesconset, are perfecting the art of guerilla marketing for other artists—specifically Adam’s brother, jazz drummer Matt Baranello, and the rock group Black Sky Caravan.
The two dance instructors have been experimenting with innovative marketing since they were both in a dance company at Stony Brook University. They had volunteered to get the word out about the group’s shows, and designed a series of flyers that looked like missing person notices featuring the dancers in the show.
“It got people mad, but it worked,” said Adam.
Around the same time, Adam began to design T-shirts, using his trademark logo of a skull and crossbones capped with a pair of headphones. A friend had offered to silk screen 300 of his designs onto T-shirts, but when the friend failed to come through, Adam decided to paint directly onto the shirts himself instead. He’s done all his own painting ever since.
“It started from necessity and became preference,” he said. “Everything’s been mixed and cross-pollinated, but it wasn’t a conscious decision.”
The pair’s method of working is rife with challenges, the largest being that any radio station owned by Clear Channel Communications will not play artists who are not signed to a major record label. They meet those challenges by expanding a diversified business model, with teaching always at its core.
“We like to work. I don’t really have the desire to be a celebrity,” said Adam. “We just want to set up our business to grow. That’s part of our model, to always teach. We want people to know there’s other alternatives to ‘American Idol’ or wanting to be signed.”
Their work seems to be paying off. Through their internet marketing, they say they now have fans in 25 countries and are preparing for two big shows—a fashion show and movement workshop in Miami and a performance at a dance studio in Chicago this spring. They also perform frequently at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead.
An elementary school chorus in Orlando, Florida, will be singing one of Adam’s songs, “We Can Be,” during the halftime break at an Orlando Magic basketball game.
“It’s kind of like that song from the ’80s—‘We Are the World,’” said Gail.
“No, no. It’s more edgy than that,” said Adam, who describes his music as “low-fi indie pop.”
“It sounds the way it does on purpose,” he said. “There’s no Auto-Tune, no processing. We left the imperfections in.”
Adam and Gail are also registering students for new classes, sponsored by Southampton Town, that will start this month. Their classes at SYS are ongoing. They’re also teaching a combination of yoga and Pilates—“Yolates”—through the town this summer.
“It’s contemporary hip-hop movement, not old school,” Adam said of the pair’s dance classes. “We teach kids how to dance instead of how to do dance moves.”
Adam wasn’t always a dancer—in high school he was a hockey player and all-around athlete and was afraid to dance. Gail says that his decision to become a dancer closely echoes the plot of the play “High School Musical.”
“It promotes tolerance,” said Gail of their classes, particularly the ones that are taught in schools where students have no choice but to participate. She is ever mindful of young people’s attitudes about dance: “I remember in third grade, if a boy was dancing, they’d get the idea that it was gay,” she said, shaking her head.
Adam and Gail are racking up the miles to promote their business, both locally and throughout the country, but they believe their faith in their business model has just started to pay off.
“It’s very close-knit and organic,” Adam said of their work. “Everything we do is a small network of people and a lot of multi-tasking.”
“We don’t have any backers. We don’t have rich parents,” Gail said. “Everything we have is just from fans all over the world.”