When 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.
What’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!