By Ellen Frankman
In a time when media is no longer relegated to a single mode or manifestation, artists Adam Baranello and Gail Benevente have found a way to express themselves across nearly every platform. Riding the wave of new media, the team has come to embody what it means to be a new kind of artist, young, diversified and connected.
Baranello and Benevente are partners in A&G Dance Company and AJB Productions, though Baranello largely spearheads the latter. Together, the couple produce music, art, t-shirts, provide dance instruction to kids and put on choreographed productions to their music. Baranello’s fifth album, “Independent Matters,” is being released Saturday, June 13.
“The energy of this album is different because there is even more local support on this one,” said Baranello. He spent over a year dealing with record labels before realizing that he wasn’t willing to relinquish control at the expense of his own creative vision.
“The culture out here on the East End is one of independence,” said Baranello. “There isn’t a lot of corporate stuff out here and people are pretty adamant about that.”
The album title itself speaks to Baranello’s focus on the individual creating for him or herself, but the music and lyrics are also geared toward this message. “Can’t Put Me In a Box” and “Outcasts” are two of many songs on the record that speak to individuality and self-expression.
Aside from friend and guitarist Craig Kempf who lays guitar tracks for some of the songs, Baranello functions as a sort of one man band on the album. He writes, sings, and produces all of the music synthetically on a computer. Though both he and Benevente have confronted misconceptions about synthetic music that rag on its authenticity, Baranello insists that every note of music is his own creation and none of it is sampled or looped.
The latest album is significant for the couple in that it has generated the most hype and support from the local East End community than any of Baranello’s music to date. AJB Productions and A&G Dance Company got their starts online, and until recently, have predominately thrived there.
Baranello and Benevente first met in a dance company in college and realized quickly that they shared similar artistic goals for the future. Benevente had been a dancer since age three, and planned to combine her education in Early Childhood Psychology with dance in the hopes of opening a studio and becoming a dance therapist. Baranello, who was an athlete in his youth, had recently transitioned to performance art and was looking to expand his production.
“It all started in 2004, sketching it out in notebooks, sitting in diners drinking coffee, discussing the possibilities, and we began working together pretty much immediately,” said Benevente. Both had big ideas on how to incorporate the Internet into what they did and how they marketed themselves, and by 2005 both AJB Productions and A&G Dance Company were registered businesses.
The two tapped their first fans on Myspace, where they streamed videos of performances even before the creation of YouTube. Baranello and Benevente can laughingly recall using a video camera to record videos of their dances, taping the television as the old tapes played on VHS.
“For whatever reason, we knew how to navigate social media and use it to our advantage to show our art,” said Baranello.
Early on, Baranello also began painting t-shirts with original artwork in order to fund his passion for music. The two would receive envelopes with cash, money orders, Euros, even Australian currency in the mail and Baranello would stay up late painting each shirt by hand. The money from the t-shirt sales allowed Barnello to record his first album, and his albums have since been sold in over 30 countries worldwide.
“People I knew in the industry kept telling me, ‘Wait, develop, don’t put yourself out there, wait until you’re polished,’” said Barnaello. “But I wanted people to watch me develop.”
And both he and Benevente have brought fans along for the ride ever since. Within two years, they quit their side jobs and committed to the businesses full time. Benevente started running dance classes at community centers in Riverhead and Southampton and eventually the team registered with Artists in Schools, allowing them to teach and perform in classroom settings across New York State. They now teach hip-hop, yoga, and contemporary dance, working in collaboration with the Hampton Ballet Theatre School (HBTS) in Bridgehampton and through workshops across Long Island.
“The teaching element has always been and will always be a big part of what we do,” said Baranello. The two have found ways to integrate their music and art into the classes, not only to raise their profile as artists but also to incorporate and further their themes of positivity and expression. They’ve found success in using the music and art to focus their students’ attention, which they feel has in turn made them more effective as instructors.
But success hasn’t always come easy.
“I can remember crying on my bedroom floor with no money in my bank account at age 27 thinking ‘What am I doing?’” recalled Benevente. But they both agree that hardship is just an organic part of the process.
“I think as an artist out here you should struggle,” said Baranello. “I think the best art comes from being innovative and working within your resources and working within your needs.”
And since moving farther east from Smithtown, the two say they have felt even more embraced by the local community who now see them as full-time “local” residents. Some of the strongest support has come from WPPB 88.3, Peconic Public Broadcasting, which plays Baranello’s music and has helped spread the word about their programs and performances.
“The one thing that is so great about out here is that it has such a history of art,” said Baranello. “There is so much culture out here and it is very conducive to being creative.”