Drexel’s Student-Run Record Label Reshaping Music Business Education

Drexel UniversityWhen I was in school — and I did have to walk uphill in the snow to get to class, so get off my lawn — the campus radio station was where you had to be if you wanted a career in the music business. I chose Ithaca over Syracuse and Temple as soon as I found out that you could get your hands on the mixing board as a freshman.

These days, with online broadcasting, blogs, and podcasts, it seems like college radio is a ghost town at most schools. As an advisor to students at the University of Pennsylvania for a number of years, I watched it get harder and harder to attract talented students to volunteer radio gigs. After all, who wants to slog through a 3a-7a overnight shift — the radio industry’s unique form of hazing — when you can just whip an hour-long podcast together in about ten minutes using GarageBand? (Fortunately, my alma mater’s two radio stations are still going strong.)

If you’re an enterprising university official, and you want to create a greenhouse for future music business professionals, applying the campus media model to a working record label is a daring and effective move. It’s what Drexel University did in 2003, as a logical progression to an informal growth of music business activity on that campus. Throughout the late 90’s, I had watched — from across Market Street — at what the kids over there were doing, even when it didn’t earn them any credit. And I certainly got jealous when I saw Drexel alums get picked for regional music promotion jobs over my own interns.

MAD DragonWhat’s Drexel doing right? They’re actually giving students a working lab where they can sign acts — some of whom have been dropped by major labels — and launch full length albums. The creative restraints imposed on MAD Dragon Records — staff pressed for time, limited budgets, interns with fractured schedules — aren’t so different from those faced by executives at Warner and Universal. They have a distribution deal through Ryko, which forces them to focus on a blend of online and in-person marketing. Therefore, relationships with independent record stores are still important — just as they should be for

Some closing thoughts on this neat student record label:

  • I wonder if their University’s public relations manager loves them as much as ours was fond of our radio station. (In 1992, we wound up doing some major spin control over a promotion that went hilariously afoul. The cops were called, and I ended up on an elderly woman’s front porch, apologizing profusely. You can ask Andy, it’s his fault.)
  • Do they rotate A&R professionals every semester? Because that would jibe with the length of time that most of my A&R buddies spend in a position before being transferred or taking a new gig.
  • Knowing that a similar project is evolving at the University of Georgia, I wonder if there will be a trade association for college record labels, just ilke we had the National Association of College Broadcasters back in the day. CRIAA?

UPDATE: Their label roster includes Jules Shear. WHA?? But there’s something goofy going on with their all-Flash website, so I can’t click deeper to learn more. You’re an engineering school — please fix that code!

One response

  1. Hey, thanks for the shout out about MAD Dragon! I started this label in 2003 with lots of challenges, but lots of determination to give our students the most comprehensive exposure to the music industry possible within an educational setting so they can get great jobs upon graduation. And, they do! And, yes, we do change our A&R staff on a regular basis. And, hang in there, we’re re-doing our website very soon.
    Some of our other artists are: Hoots & Hellmouth, The Redwalls, Matt Duke (who just got upstreamed to Rykodisc as part of a deal I consummated this year), The Swimmers and Andrew Lipke. The whole entity under which MAD Dragon Records lives is called MAD Dragon UNLTD. It also includes MAD Dragon Publishing, MADKo Concert Promotions, MADFire Music Video Productions and DraKo Booking. All student-staffed, and all working on a national level. Again, thanks for noticing! It means alot to me and the students.
    -Marcy Rauer Wagman, Director, Music Industry Program, Drexel
    CEO, MAD Dragon UNLTD