Eric Gil-Contreras: Stepping out with his own record studio

When other kids were of an age to go to the zoo, Eric “Thugzy” Gil-Contreras was touring recording studios with his father.

To hear Gil-Contreras tell it, music is so much a part of himself that he might as well have been playing drums in the cradle.

Today, the Redwood City High School graduate and East Palo Alto resident is working hard on his record-producing business, Gritty Minded Recordz. Working with 12 different artists, the label has produced a handful of albums and plans to produce eight more in 2007.

It keeps the 18-year-old busy: traveling to record stores to pitch the albums, promoting at high schools as far-flung as Chico, having the albums recorded, designing CD covers, planning live shows, performing, managing some distribution and doing the rest himself, and maintaining the marketing Web site. The latter is a MySpace page, www.myspace.com/thugzythugg.

“That’s like the biggest promotion you can have right now,” Gil-Contreras said, because the site is so immensely popular with his target market, and because he can put four nondownloadable songs on it — samples that can’t be stolen. “Every one of my artists has a MySpace page.”

His work has earned him some attention. While in high school and working on his business more informally, he caught the eye of his economics teacher, and a representative from the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship came to speak to him about making his business the real deal, with a business plan. Later, NFTE chose him to compete in the Smith Barney/NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in New York.

NFTE’s text “taught me everything from how to do my taxes to how to have a full business plan,” Gil-Contreras said. “A lot of my friends, they think we just do this for fun.”

Aside from NFTE, Gil-Contreras has benefited from several other mentors, from an uncle in the norteño band Los Rieleros del Norte to his parents, who allowed him to perform and travel with his musician relatives to shows in Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina and other states while still a child.

He also is grateful to his business partner, Gustavo Gutierrez, and to Peter Pheap at the Redwood City Boys & Girls Club, who taught him to mix.

Part of his business challenge is trying to find artists who are good enough to make the grade, but who won’t fly to another label as soon as they get a little success, he said. Most of his artists are old friends and acquaintances, but he does listen to many demo tapes and brought on one artist that way, Gil-Contreras said.

In the future, he hopes to grow Gritty Minded to a major independent record label, with its own CD replication plant.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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