Music industry studies majors help launch unknown artists, produce record label CDs

Yazmin Cruz

Photo Credit: Katie Chavarin / Staff Photographer
Photo Credit: Katie Chavarin / Staff Photographer

CSUN students are getting a hands-on approach to learning all about the music industry by attempting to launch musical talent into the music business.

Students enrolled in the music industry studies and music production courses are involved in a yearlong project that puts them in charge of the major’s record label, MIS Music Group.

Joel Leach, founder and head of music industry studies, teaches the course and said the class has a big draw with students because of the hands-on approach.

Jackson Johnson, 20, a music industry major and committee chair of publicity for the project, said the class is relevant because it teaches him everything about being in the music industry.

“It teaches you all the things that you have to learn the hard way, like what should I get paid for my music, and what should I pay my lawyer,” he said.

Students set out to find talent they consider marketable and commit to promoting and helping them record an Extended Play (EP) record with four to five songs and create a media kit that is sent out to record companies, Leach said.

In the past, the goal was to get the artist signed with a record company, but since the record industry is changing, students are now focusing on getting the artist’s music in a film or television show.

“It is more about the process than the end, it’s about what students get out of this,” Leach said.

Every year the project’s musical genre is different, he said. Some of the genres have included hip-hop, rap, country, jazz and pop.

Co-producers, who go through an interview process with Leach, spearhead the music project. Senior Scott Fulton, 29 and junior Joey Massa, 20, both music industry studies majors, are leading the team this year.

“It’s like having a part-time job,” said Fulton of the time he spends working on the project.

But Fulton and Massa are not alone. They were in charge of assigning their classmates to committees that would help in promoting and “breaking the artist,” Fulton said. Some of the committees include production, marketing, artistic design, artist and repertoire (A&R) and a publicity team.

“So far everyone has pulled in their weight,” said Fulton, who wants to become a music producer.

Leach is aware that students can get wrapped up in the project and end up putting in hours of work.

“I try to make sure they don’t do too many (hours) to damage themselves academically,” he said.

Leach said he steps back and gives students full control of the project, but he does have one rule, and it is to have different music genres represented during the search.

“I’m just here to steer them out of trouble and make corrections and adjustments,” he said.

Along with responsibility, the project aims to teach teamwork. The A&R and publicity teams worked together on getting the word out about their search for an artist, Fulton said.

Social media and radio spots on KCSN and KPFK were used to attract potential artists, Leach said. He added the talent search has brought in artists as far as Europe and Asia.

This year’s group, The Reflectacles, was chosen out of 60 artists. Massa describes the six-piece band as “a psychedelic rock band that looks like they came out of the 1960s.”

In the end, artists reserve the right to their work, record a professional quality demo and have a media kit that includes their information and CD at no cost, Leach said. He added that major labels have more than once praised the media kits created by students.

Leach said the project allows students to network giving them an opportunity to get their feet through the door. Past participants have been able to list their work on resumes and have been hired because of the reputation of the project.

“Do a good job – word gets out,” said Leach.

CSUN is one of the only schools that has such a project. Not even Chico State, which has a similar major, or USC have students work on a hands-on project, Leach said. He added there are schools in the Midwest, but they are not located in the record capital of the world.

“The program has a good reputation, and it’s not a scam like what you often see in the industry,” Thompson said.

The project may be fun but this is still a class aimed at teaching valuable skills, Leach said. His advice to his students is to have good character to stand out in the industry because “bad character is all over the entertainment business.”

The courses are three units each. Test and attendance consists of 80 percent of the grade given by Leach and 15 percent consist of the grade assigned by classmates, he said. The grade given out by students used to be 20 percent but Leach decided to change it because “students tend to give each other Christmas gifts.”