Eric Ellis: Local entrepreneur works to reach young people through the power of music

'We want a big stage and a big voice'

WEST CHESTER – In Tri-State business circles, Eric Ellis is best known for Integrity Development Corp. , the management consulting firm he started 23 years ago.

But since 2009, Ellis also has been working to grow another business – a record label called Positive Message Music. His goal: create songs that young people want to listen to without the profane, degrading lyrics that pervade so much popular music.

“What we’re trying to make is hit music,” Ellis said. “We want a big stage and a big voice.”

The company has a website , an app and a group of 12 artists who use the studio Ellis has set up on the lower floor of Integrity Development’s offices to record their songs. Ellis doesn’t charge his artists to use the studio. Members of the public can rent the studio at below-market rates, he said.

WCPO's Dave Marlo did a story on Positive Message Music in 2011. Click here to see the video or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uch74HffhUQ.

The venture hasn’t become profitable yet, but Ellis is confident that will come as more young people discover that good music doesn’t have to deliver a bad message.

“We are trying to go after the hearts and minds of young people and others,” he said. “Music is a way of influencing the values of this generation.”

Tragic Inspiration

A father of four, Ellis started the company after the fatal stabbing of 15-year-old Amber Robinson in September 2009.

Ellis’s daughter and oldest son went to high school with Amber at Lakota West, and the principal there asked Ellis to come speak at a school assembly to talk about the importance of making good choices.

“I decided instead of just doing an assembly, I would really try to deliver some messages through music,” he said. “I decided I wanted to start a musical revolution. My kids thought I’d lost my mind.”

Now Ellis’s daughter, Jillian Ellis, is one of Postive Music Message’s artists with a CD called “The Journey.” Her father is credited as executive producer and also worked with her to write the lyrics for “I’m Climbing Up,” one of the songs on the CD.

 

Jillian Ellis is impressed with how her father has built the music business and his own skills. But she said there’s a reason she and her brothers thought their father was crazy when he first talked about starting the record label.

“If you could have heard the music that was coming out of that office at the beginning,” she said with a laugh. “But you know, my dad is a pretty ambitious guy. He sets his mind to something, he can achieve it a lot of times.”

Jillian, as she’s known as a singer, took a break from college after two years at Wright State University to focus on her music and work for her father at Integrity Development. She hopes to be an international recording artist someday.

Jillian Ellis knows that sounds like an awfully big dream. But she has faith in her father’s vision now, and she wants to be part of having an impact on people through music.

Although the music industry is competitive, Edgar Smith said he believes Ellis has what it takes to make the business work.

"Eric is a true competitor," said Smith, the chairman and CEO of Cincinnati-based World Pac Paper and a friend of Ellis. "He's someone that is always seeking to improve, who's very results oriented. He's never satisfied, and he's passionate about what he's involved with."

He has such respect for Ellis, in fact, that Smith introduced him to Lee Hirsch, director of the documentary "Bully," when Smith brought Hirsch to Cincinnati for a screening of the movie. Ellis brought a CD of songs to play at the screening and was so moved by the movie that he wrote a song for the father of one of the young people in the film who had committed suicide, Smith said.

"Song is the universal language," Smith said. "I think the potential is unlimited for what he's doing."

Businesses Based On Respect

Ellis said he believes Positive Message Music’s financial success will come in time, he said.

“A successful business is an intersection between a need and an idea that is a good solution,” Ellis said. “There is no question about the need for redemptive music, value-based music.”

In the meantime, he also continues to lead Integrity Development Corp. Clients there have included Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing, Honda NA, the CIA and the United States Air Force. The company specializes in providing diversity and inclusion training.

It might seem a world away from the music business. But for Ellis it’s all about reaching people with a message, whether that message comes in the form of lyrics or corporate training – or even the book he wrote.

Integrity Development Publishing first published his Diversity Conversations: Finding Common Ground in late 2012. A second edition came out last year.

“It feels like I was born to help people to love one another,” Ellis said. “It sounds kind of old-fashioned. But I love people. And I love that I get the opportunity to help people respect one another more and care about one another more.”

 

For more stories by Lucy May, go to

www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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