Singer, Songwriter, Entrepreneur

Design Thinking, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Global Commerce Music
February 28, 2022

Sydney Kistler ’22 loves performing music — and finds the business angle fascinating as well. The San Francisco native chose Denison because she knew the resources are here for her to develop both of her passions.

“I play guitar, sing, and write songs, and I enjoy the business and marketing aspects of the music industry, too,” she says. “I love that I am able to do everything here.” While Kistler’s zest for performance is flourishing through her Bluegrass and American Root music minor, at the same time she’s learning about international business through her Global Commerce major.

And that’s really just the tip of her educational iceberg.

Kistler’s newest venture, Denison’s student-run record label project called Roll Denny Records, pulls all her interests into one holistic (and slightly lumpy) bundle.

“I wanted to start a student-run record label to create a broader experience for students,” she says. “Something really interdisciplinary — combining sound engineering, business, marketing, media, and data analytics.”

Here are the building blocks of Kistler’s new enterprise.

State-of-the-art facilities and top-notch faculty

The Eisner Center’s recording studio gives Kistler access to a professional sound system. She took a sound editing and recording class from Tom Atha ’05, an entrepreneur with his own recording studio and music venue in nearby Newark. In Atha’s class, students in bluegrass and composition seminars create and record their original music.

Kistler also is working closely with her music professor Adam Schlenker. “He’s helping me understand how a record label works from an artist’s perspective. And we’re talking about making Roll Denny Records part of the music department’s coursework — it could be a great experience for student musicians.”

Academics with real-world applications

The Global Commerce capstone Global Crises and Opportunities for Reform, led by Assistant Professor Jessica Burch, expanded Kistler’s knowledge of global financial markets. “It’s been incredibly valuable to learn about how different financial systems are structured in other parts of the world,” says Kistler, who researched the music business in India as part of her study abroad coursework.

“I looked at the legal and financial sides of a record label and learned what works well. Examples from my global commerce courses have really informed me how to structure the record label project.”

Savvy learning through co-curricular entrepreneurship

At 22, Kistler already has a number of entrepreneurial experiences under her belt. She is president of Denison Enterprises, a student organization that evaluates peers’ business ideas and selectively awards funding to student entrepreneurs to execute their vision. She is also a Red Corps Fellow, a paid student consulting group that researches campus needs and problem-solves ways to fill them. Additionally, she completed a data analytics internship with LabConCo through the Red Frame Lab, Denison’s center for design thinking, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

Working with the business professionals at Red Frame, Kistler prototyped a late-night food delivery system, Roll Denny Delivery. Using the Red Frame design thinking blueprint, she learned from student focus groups, then met with campus food provider Bon Appetit. Kistler iterated concepts with Bon Appetit and reorganized their app on her way to achieving the final product. “I’ve had mentorship and coaching from real-life entrepreneurs through the whole process,” she says.

She wants to carry the Roll Denny brand through to the record label project, Roll Denny Records.

“Establishing a brand is critical. It’s important to connect with your customer — help them identify with the brand. If you miss that, you miss everything.”

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