Tag Archives: WRVU

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.

The Hart Strings–“Pocket”

This song was untitled when The Hart Strings played it on The VU Backstage this past Sunday.  All the same, it had me dancing behind the studio mic.  It’s a great indicator of where this rising band’s sound is proceeding; once staunch adherents to the Americana folk genre, the newly minted quintet is experimenting with more rock-based arrangements.  “Pockets,” though, has elements of jazz that give it a classy sheen on top of its insanely catchy melodies–and now it has a title.  Check out our video of the performance!

Collin Labak on The VU Backstage

Another Sunday night, another great guest on The VU Backstage.  Collin Labak is not only the president of my fraternity, but also one hell of a musician and songwriter.  You can hear the influence of Julian Casablancas in his songs, which he gave us in a typical VU Backstage stripped-down fashion–the full versions feature layered synths and heavy production, but last night he gave us the raw emotion behind the music.  Check out the entire episode of the show here, and be sure to follow The VU Backstage on Facebook and Twitter!

Jillian Stein and a New Project

I have a second music child to look after now--RVU Records, Vanderbilt's student-run recording company.

I have a second music child to look after now–RVU Records, Vanderbilt’s student-run recording company.

Hi everybody,

Thanks for your continued support of The VU Backstage!  Jillian Stein was a phenomenal guest last night.  Her music gives off a very retro, late 60s-early 70s folk vibe, and you can easily draw comparisons to Joni Mitchell (who, as it turns out, is her chief influence).  Catch the full episode right here.

This next bit of news is extremely exciting and relevant both to the show and to WRVU.  It has taken weeks of development on my part and involved a litany of other people, both students and fully grown adults.  It required a fairly large investment by the Vanderbilt Student Communications board.  It has the potential to change the music scene at Vanderbilt FOREVER.

Jillian Stein played a great show on The VU Backstage last night.  Also, building suspense for the "bit of news" I'm about to drop.

Jillian Stein played a great show on The VU Backstage last night. Also, building suspense for the “bit of news” I’m about to drop.

Have I built you up sufficiently?


Irrelevant picture of a cat, to further build suspense.

HAVE I????????

Good.  The news is that Vanderbilt finally has its own record label–and I am the director.

RVU Records, as it’s called, is going to have an immediate impact on campus.  The project was conceptualized as a student-run recording studio, and in fact such a studio was built over the summer, in the space that used to house the WRVU studio.  (The WRVU has been moved next door and actually thrives in its new location, which has windows and thus doesn’t feel like a cave.)  The RVU recording studio will be run by student recording engineers and producers, who will focus mainly on recording Vanderbilt students.  This is why I wanted the position so badly; I see it as an extension of what I’m trying to do with The VU Backstage.  By giving student musicians the space and time to record their projects on campus, and by having other students doing the recording, Vanderbilt’s musical efficacy will grow by leaps and bounds.  Musicians will meet other musicians hanging around the studio.  Everyone involved will have tremendous experience to use, whether on a resumé or for their personal projects.

Yes, that is me howling into the mic in the new RVU Records studio.  Jared Rubens on guitar.

Yes, that is me howling into the mic in the new RVU Records studio. Jared Rubens on guitar.

The studio will also be used to greatly enhance the quality of WRVU’s in-studios.  As you all know, I have recorded my shows for over a year using the simplistic Garage Band setup in the WRVU studio, which works decently well but has the potential to mess up and doesn’t afford me the best ability to mix the recording.  In addition, the WRVU studio is fine for a single artist with a piano or a guitar, but for groups things get more complicated.  The Melodores were particularly tricky to record, as there were 13 of them (they barely fit in the room!) and only three mics.  We made it work, but there’s now a better way.  The RVU Records studio will provide the space and the proper recording equipment, as well as a ballin’ Logic Pro/Pro Tools rig, to record bands or large groups that appear on WRVU shows.  We also plan to take videos, so hopefully we will soon have the capacity to do something like this, which was made at Duke.

The attempts to open up the label arm of RVU Records are moving more slowly, but are carrying along steadily.  Our goal is to sign three Vanderbilt artists by the end of the year and help each produce, record, distribute, market, and promote an EP.  In this capacity, RVU would again provide a great opportunity for learning the workings of a label in a low-pressure environment.

Overall, the Vanderbilt music scene has never been more vibrant, and RVU Records has the potential to catalyze and unify it to a degree never before seen.

As always, check out The VU Backstage on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, and stay tuned for another great performance next week!


Teddy Lawrence on The VU Backstage

Hey y’all,

I regret to announce that last night’s show will be the last episode of The VU Backstage.  Due to  declining demand for WRVU and its product, the station will be shutting down immediately.  I have many things I’d like to say on this, but that will be for a later time.

VSC squashed Teddy's dreams by shutting down WRVU.  At least it was a great last hurrah.

VSC squashed Teddy Lawrence’s dreams by shutting down WRVU. At least it was a great last hurrah.


WRVU is not shutting down, and The VU Backstage will continue forever.  Or at least as long as there is good music at Vanderbilt.  And let’s be real…Nashville is Music City.  There will always be good music at Vanderbilt.

Anyways, Teddy Lawrence played a great show last night.  You can check it out here.  If you like what you hear, be sure to check out the EP recorded by his band, Northern Kin.

Also, I’d like to give a shout out to Eli Teplin for playing a great show at 12th and Porter on Wednesday night!  His music was great on The VU Backstage when it was just him and a piano and guitar, but with a full band that included John Mayer’s bass player, it took on a huge, atmospheric quality.  It was also nice to see a big crowd that was really into the music…an audience that buys into a performance is crucial for a superb concert experience.

Eli Teplin killed it at 12th and Porter on Wednesday night.

Eli Teplin killed it at 12th and Porter on Wednesday night.

That’s all for now.  Be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and tune in next week for Kenny and the Swordfish!

-DJ Zach

Julia Cole KILLS IT Live on The VU Backstage

Hey everybody,

Thanks to everyone who tuned in last night to hear Julia Cole perform!  DJ Nick and I had an awesome time listening to her play and talking to her about everything from her Houston roots to her new music video, Evergreen, to all of the shows she is playing in the future.  If you or anyone you know missed last night’s show, you can catch the whole thing here.  Also be sure to check out Julia’s Facebook, Reverbnation, Twitter, and Youtube channel.  She is a budding star so now is the time to jump on the bandwagon!

We love all the support we’ve been getting for the #vandymusicscene movement we’ve been spreading as well.  If you go to any live performances by Vanderbilt musicians or find yourself listening to any of their music on your computer or iPod, be sure to tweet about it and keep the movement going!  With your support, we’ll show the world that Vanderbilt is an important contributor to Music City!

Make sure to like The VU Backstage on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to stay up-to-date on our schedule of performers.  Next up: Eli Teplin!  You can prepare for his show by listening to his new EP, Telescope.

Til next time,

DJ Zach