By Jamie Hutchinson
The music industry program at Minnesota State University Moorhead finds music students turning knobs and flipping switches as they employ the latest music recording technology while running their own record label, Undeclared Records.
The label gives students the chance to receive music industry experience while at the same time offering MSUM musicians the chance to make a professionally recorded album and have it released on a record label at no cost to them.
“It is a full-service label from A to Z,” said Ryan Jackson, professor of music and technology at MSUM. The label has a board of directors just like any indie or major label, and they choose the artists, produce them, arrange the music and, if need be, help find other players to perform on the tracks. After artists submit demos, students narrow down the list to the top picks, choosing which artists will have albums recorded and released on Undeclared Records.
The label began four years ago and releases one or two albums from a variety of genres each year. Past years have seen releases by hip-hop artist O’Shay, folk rock band Brother Owl and, more recently, alternative rock band The New Arizona. After narrowing down a list of 25 submissions from last year, the label is in the process of recording albums for students Michael Beatrez and Hannah Hoeschen.
Beatrez, a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, has played in several bands, such as The Weeping Covenant, Bear North and Sound. Hoeschen is a singer/guitarist who has performed with the MSUM Jazz Guitar Ensemble and performed solo as one of five performers at MSUM Dragon Entertainment’s 1711 Music Fest back in May.
No release dates for the albums have been set, but they are shooting for next spring, Jackson said.
“We’re in the recording and production phases right now with one of the artists,” he said. “The other artist will be starting here very soon.” The recording process can take months because of the difficulty of getting people’s schedules to mesh and because some artists come with more developed songs than others. However, this isn’t a burden to students at Undeclared Records; it just gives them the chance to help artists reach their full potential.
“Sometimes the artists will come in with a really well-developed idea of what their sound is and sometimes, gosh darn it, the song is just really good but it’s not a developed thing,” Jackson said. “So we want to take that artist and make them better than they thought they would be.”
The music industry program at MSUM has been around for over 30 years and over time has grown to keep up with the always-evolving music industry. While record labels and recording studios used to have people who performed single specialized roles, this is no longer the case, Jackson said. The model changed and a lot of those jobs were merged into fewer jobs with multiple roles. The music industry program at MSUM takes this holistic approach by having students perform a multitude of tasks. This opportunity to have full-on job experience at a real record label has seen many students succeed after graduating.
“I’ve got some engineers out in Los Angeles and in Denver right now that were hired freelance right out of their internship and then eventually became staff,” Jackson said. “I’ve got two students out in Los Angeles who are doing incredibly well in terms of event management and things like that.” However, none of this would be possible without Dragon Studios, the MSUM recording studio where Undeclared Records operates.
Utilizing the latest version of Pro Tools, the studio offers an up-to-date console and not only provides two larger rooms for full bands to record in but a small, intimate recording booth too.
“This is a professional studio,” Jackson said. “It’s not indicative of what you would see in a state school. It’s more indicative of what you would see in a professional facility.”
According to Jackson, the music industry program at MSUM was “a thing here before it was a thing pretty much anywhere,” but even so, it has kept a relatively low profile over the years. “It’s probably too much of a well-kept secret,” he said.
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