Tag Archives: vanderbilt

Vanderbilt Needs To Embrace Music City

*Note: This piece originally appeared in the Vanderbilt Hustler on April 15, 2015.  It has been republished here so that all my work can be found in one place.

I was thrilled to see The Hustler put the spotlight on our student musicians in its feature “Making it in Music City.” As the former head of RVU Records and a WRVU DJ who has interviewed Vanderbilt’s musicians for the past three years, I know most of the people they highlighted and can’t think of any more deserving stories to be shared with the student body. From Two Friends’ meteoric rise in the EDM world to Nate Banks’ promising solo career and everyone in between, this campus is bursting with musical talent.

But you may not have known this if The Hustler hadn’t taken interest. Whether it’s our school’s self-centered culture of studying toward financial success, Blair’s focus on classical music or the presence of Belmont just down the street, some factor suppresses the vibrancy and visibility of a homegrown Vanderbilt popular music scene. And it’s a shame, because over my WRVU career I’ve met several talented artists whose musical aspirations have been limited by academic pressure and a lack of avenues to exposure.

To be fair, opportunities for aspiring musicians and music businesspeople have increased noticeably since I arrived here in 2011. The Business Careers in Entertainment Club provides wonderful connections and opportunities for interested students. Both RVU Records and Studio CRB allow musicians to record on the cheap, with the former offering audio engineering training as well. McGill Coffeehouse open mics are always jovial and at times feature spellbinding performances. Even VSG’s first-year CommonDores Leadership Council pleasantly surprised me by hosting an open mic in February, although in its naivete it alienated the performers from our campus culture by calling the event “Belmont.”

Nevertheless, despite these growing on-campus opportunities and mainstays such as Deanna Walker’s songwriting class, Vanderbilt students who hope to make it in the music industry must pursue their dreams on their own. The university’s alumni network and recruiting profile, so strong in areas like consulting and finance and engineering, are negligible in the business that gives this city its nickname. Many students drawn here by Nashville’s appeal find themselves trapped in the Vandy Bubble, unsupported by a campus culture that rewards individual drive and academic success above all.  Even as the Melodores have become national darlings and a cappella as a whole has flourished here, that growth has yet to translate into real investment in a college music scene by the Vanderbilt administration or student body. Instead of fostering a robust pipeline into Music City that would differentiate us from other top-20 schools and beautify our campus culture, our general reaction to musical ambition ranges from lukewarm appreciation to total apathy.

I’m aware that my reaction to this issue is probably stronger than most other students’, that my disappointment is likely not shared by everyone reading this and that most of you probably don’t have the time or desire to rectify the situation.  That’s why all I ask of you, the general student body, is to keep your ears open to the amazing musical talent we have here and try to attend at least one Vanderbilt student artist’s performance before you graduate. Unlike most of us, these classmates of ours will rely exclusively on peer support to make their living, so even liking their Facebook pages or sharing their songs online means more than you can imagine — and it takes almost no effort on your part.

To those of you who are moved by the paucity of a Vanderbilt music scene and want to do something about it, I have a couple of suggestions that would immediately increase visibility of and institutional support for popular musicians on campus.  The first of these is a campaign to build resources at the Career Center or Blair for those students who want to make or deal in music for a living. I’ve met Vanderbilt alumni in the industry, and I am astounded that the university hasn’t built them into a network to help its aspiring songwriters, artists and music business people. In a world where interpersonal connections dwarf academic success in importance, such a network would be a tremendous boon in helping students land that coveted internship at Sony Music or meet the producer who will turn their rough demo into a smash hit.

The second is to increase the number of musical opportunities on campus. Putting a few drum kits on Commons would be a great way to encourage first-years to form bands. In terms of performances, I don’t think it’s out of the question for VPB, Music Group and the BCEC to pool their resources to found a monthly Songwriters’ Night on campus, featuring some combination of professional and amateur musicians.  Certainly within the realm of possibility would be a weekly open mic at the Pub. A veteran Vanderbilt audio engineer once told me that John Mayer played there in the early 2000s (sadly I could not confirm it). Even if that isn’t true, how cool would it be if something like it happened in the future?

We can build a thriving music scene on this campus. The interest is there, as is the talent. All that’s missing is the cultural and institutional shift. If effective steps are taken to make it happen, Vanderbilt will have made it in Music City.

Julia Seales on The VU Backstage

Julia Seales brought us back from spring break with a great hour of music and talk.

Julia Seales brought us back from spring break with a great hour of music and talk.

We’re back, folks!  I spent spring break in London seeing the city’s historic sites, learning about Harry Potter and other British children’s literature, and having a jolly good time with some close friends.  But as fun as that all was, I was licking my chops to get back in the WRVU studio last night.  It’s the best way to end one week and begin another, an entertaining and enlivening conversation with a creative mind.

This time the creative mind on the air was Julia Seales, who brings her music to the arena of video production–many of her songs were written for her web series University Ever After.  We chatted about the impact of improv comedy upon her writing, her fantasy and fairy tale influences, and her skill as a harpist, among other fascinating topics.  Catch the full episode below!

Make sure to follow The VU Backstage on Facebook and Twitter!

Nate Banks’ New Single A Valentine’s Day Treat

Today belongs to the love songs.  And with his debut single “Some People,” Nate Banks has made his play to make his way onto your playlist.

Nate Banks, a Vanderbilt junior, released his debut single "Some People" today.

Nate Banks, a Vanderbilt junior, released his debut single “Some People” today.

The junior from Fairfax, VA has been involved in the Vanderbilt music scene since a brief stint with the Melodores as a freshman, but this is his first foray into the world of solo artistry.  And “Some People” makes a strong statement about his potential.  The song is driven by a playful, carefree ukulele riff that causes your mind and muscles to relax upon first hearing it.  Banks’ smooth, youthful voice beckons to you over the jaunty beat, entreating you to forget worldly troubles and stay by his side, where you’ll inevitably find the most comfort.  It’s the perfect message for a song being released on Valentine’s Day, particularly if you have a significant other in whose love you can lose your worries until you fall asleep.  And if you are celebrating Singles’ Awareness Day instead, perhaps “Some People” will remind you not to fret, and that as long as you have friends to keep you company, you too can find a way to release the worldly troubles that might be bothering you.  Check out the song on Nate’s website, or just listen via Spotify right here!

I had a chance to talk to Nate about the release of his single and his place within the Vanderbilt music scene.  Read on for the full interview:

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Curtis Mercury–“Passin’ Me By”

For the first time all semester, we didn’t need to utilize the RVU Records studio for this week’s recording.  Curtis Mercury was able to dominate the mic in the broadcast room, and our amazing videographer Tony Xiao was there to catch his performance on camera.  Check out Curtis’ performance of “Passin’ Me By,” complete with an explanation about the song’s inspiration as the beat fades out.

Curtis Mercury on The VU Backstage

It’s about time we had a rapper on The VU Backstage.

Curtis Mercury spit some great lines last night on the show.

Curtis Mercury spit some great lines last night on the show.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge hip-hop scene at Vanderbilt, or in Nashville on the whole.  Though Vanderbilt Spoken Word attracts many poets and draws large crowds to its performances, it seems there’s a disconnect between lyricists and producers on campus.  Fortunately, however, we were able to procure a talented rapper for last night’s show, one who’s self-produced most of his material.  Curtis Mercury tore it up on the airwaves.

 

 

 

We had a great conversation as well.  Check out the full episode below, and be sure to follow The VU Backstage on Facebook and Twitter!

Rapchat: Now YOU Can Join Vanderbilt’s Underground Rap Scene

Here at WRVU, we’re all about the underground music scene, whether we’re introducing you to fresh new songs or interviewing artists who may not even be college graduates yet (in fact, my show is entirely the latter). Recently, though, I discovered an app that is destined turn the entire Vanderbilt campus into amateur rappers. It’s called Rapchat, and it’s the long-awaited messiah of the Vanderbilt rap scene.

Drake consults with his ego before sending a diss Rapchat to Kendrick Lamar, Diddy, and Big Sean.

Drake consults with his ego before sending a diss Rapchat to Kendrick Lamar, Diddy, and Big Sean.

The app is simple and very easy to use. All you have to do is pick one of the pre-packaged beats (there are a few dozen from which to choose), hold the phone to your ear, press record, and spit some dope lines into the mic. Then you send your killer freestyle to your friends, who are connected to you via Facebook. The beats are actually not a total joke–it seems the developers crowdsourced them from Soundcloud beatmakers, and indeed you can check out the Soundcloud page of each of the beats’ creators. It’s a brilliant symbiotic relationship that provides Rapchat with its production and the beatmakers with an audience for their material.

Deep down inside, everyone wants to be a rapper, and I’m no exception. I started from the bottom of Rapchat over winter break and the rhymes have been flowing ever since. I make them everywhere; honestly, it’s hardly more obnoxious to rap into your phone than it is to take a shameless Snapchat in public, and will become less so as Rapchat inevitably takes over, following in the mythical footsteps of Yik Yak, Tinder, and Instagram. Of course, however, the most creative juices come out in the bathroom, where Rapchat becomes Crapchat.

Much of my fraternity now uses the app, and I’m proud to say that our brotherhood has never been tighter. The ability to instantly compose a diss track and send it to the entire chapter means that no one can really rise above the rest. We will come up as a crew or not at all, and if anyone breaks the code, they will certainly be cut down to size by some of our more caustic tongues: C-Flow, Blumin’ Onion, etc. Today you might not know these names, but tomorrow they will be the next A$AP collective, busting out thirty second nuggets of lyrical gold and shooting up the universal musical consciousness of the country.

The future of the Vanderbilt music scene--and college rap game everywhere.

The future of the Vanderbilt music scene–and college rap game everywhere.

The real beauty of Rapchat, though, is that none of your rapt listeners can tell if you’ve freestyled your lines or if they were meticulously prepared. I find that leaving this particular mystery unsolved builds up my intimidating aura more effectively; it leaves my audience with the force of my words ringing in their ears, bouncing around their brains, bamboozled by my dope rhymes with no choice but to assume that I invented them on the spot. Of course, I am sure to maintain a healthy distance between myself and any haters for the time being; I don’t yet feel as though I could take down Supa Hot Fire in verbal combat, and he is naturally the standard to which any good rapper must hold him or herself.

Anyways, the moral of the story is that I’ve been fighting to expand the Vanderbilt music scene since the fall of 2012, and now the tool by which this will happen finally exists. I want everyone reading this to download Rapchat and tell their friends to do the same. With any luck, Vanderbilt will soon be not only the happiest campus in the country, but also the dopest.

The Evolution of Matisyahu

Matisyahu, mid-2000s (top) and 2014 (bottom).

Today, Vanderbilt will host its most esteemed musical visitor, excluding Rites and Quake, since Billy Joel (and Michael Pollack) captivated a sold-out Langford Auditorium almost two years ago.  Matisyahu burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s, delivering a powerful reggae sound laced with traces of rock, hip-hop, and his trademark Judaism-inspired lyrics.  It was a wonder to behold him commanding the stage in traditional Hasidic dress, complete with yarmulke and full beard, while performing in a style that broke the mold of Jewish orthodoxy and tradition.  We listened in awe as “King Without a Crown” leapt to #28 on the Billboard Top 100, easily the highest a song with explicitly Jewish lyrics has ever charted.  We sang along to the powerful “One Day,” which was remixed with new verses by Akon.  And then those of us outside the reggae community allowed Matisyahu to slip from our consciousness.

The Matisyahu who will be walking around West End today looks far different from the Matisyahu of ten years ago.  Gone is the beard, as is the yarmulke–he wears a clean-shaven look topped by a mop of graying hair.  The music, while it still contains Judaism at its heart, has become more secular and more diverse in style, reflecting the man’s continuing spiritual journey.  But Matisyahu is as active as ever, having released his fifth studio album Akeda in June and touring extensively in support of the LP.  In light of this metamorphosis, let’s take a closer look at some of the highlights of Matisyahu’s decade-long career.

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