Arts & Culture

Campus cultivates ‘musical ecosystem’

Self-starting undergrad artists take advantage of musical opportunities on campus

By
Contributing Writer
Monday, April 1, 2013

Musically inspired by topics ranging from marine ecology to sketch comedy, Eric Axelman ’12.5, Michael Goodman ’13 and Ryan Glassman ’15 have joined the growing collection of Brown undergrads and alums sharing their musical talents with the world beyond College Hill. The three students are each working on their own albums, learning to navigate the processes of recording and promoting their art.

 

Sea of sounds

If there is a market for salt marsh rap, then Eric Axelman ’12.5 has it cornered. What began as a spoof project for the environmental studies concentrator last September blossomed into a mild Internet sensation — at least in marine ecology circles, Axelman said.

“Bertness Rock Anthem,” written by Axelman with beats by Loren Fulton ’12 and filmed by Nik Gonzales ’12, is a tongue-in-cheek valorization of one of Brown’s marine ecology laboratories, Bertness Lab, and it has garnered close to 6,000 views on YouTube. The music video was screened last week at the Beneath the Waves Film Festival, a prominent marine ecology media event, and will continue to play at mini-festivals throughout the spring and summer, according to the Film Festival’s website.

Though the track is tongue-in-cheek, the rest of Axelman’s seven-track album “Conversation,” which he released with Fulton last April, navigates the dangerous waters of relationships, identity and the complex nature of human communication. “People were telling me a lot of my songs were about conversations,” Axelman said about the album’s title.

For three years, Axelman helped run Common Ground: Justice and Equality in Palestine/Israel, a student organization that exists “to get the Palestinian voice heard on campus — get people to see voices they haven’t heard before,” Axelman said. The logistical aspects of his role — organizing events, publicizing and postering — honed Axelman’s promotional skills, he said. These skills helped him organize a series of house concerts in Providence this semester that netted between 220 and 270 attendees each, he added.

Like Brown artists Andy Suzuki and The Method and Clyde Lawrence, Axelman leveraged Brown’s unique facilities and collaborated with peers to get “Conversation” off the ground. Fulton, his roommate of three years, provided the beat to each track, and the pair was able to record a few tracks in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts.

But at one point the recording process fell victim to a much-hated repeat offender: Fulton’s senior thesis. “We finished mastering the tracks the day we released and first performed the album, about three hours before we went on stage,” Axelman said.

Though Fulton has moved to Washington, D.C., and Axelman will return to his hometown in rural Maine this summer, the duo illustrates how the Brown environment fosters surprising opportunities for creativity and collaboration across disciplines.

 

Do-It-Yourself

Michael Goodman ’13, a New York City-based mod-rock singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, performs under the name Goodman and has invested significant time navigating the independent music blogosphere.

“I’m a bit of a neophyte when it comes to web visibility, but I’m learning,” Goodman said. Yet over the course of his time at Brown, Goodman has taken a proactive approach to sharing his music with quirky and unexpected corners of the do-it-yourself press. Maintaining an online presence has become something of a golden fleece for self-starting musicians who hope to catapult themselves from the position of college campus darling to that of a musician with a wider audience. Goodman’s approach illustrates one response to the complex, evolving relationship between creativity and self-management in the digital age.

Goodman’s self-titled EP and full-length album “What We Want” possess a playful rock-and-roll appeal, tempered by the sweeter stylistic evocations of dulcimer, ukelele and mandolin. Before his arrival at Brown, Goodman played with Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, a recording studio and music collective founded by a friend from home. He was quick to engage with the “burgeoning … musical ecosystem” at Brown, he said, noting that the Brown Concert Agency speakeasies, which feature late-night concerts by an auditioned handful of student groups, began during his first semester.

He also joined the Music Board of the campus publication Clerestory Journal of Arts, which releases a CD of musical submissions to supplement its written content.

After recording “What We Want” in a friend’s basement last summer, Goodman said he chose to stick with a digital-only album format. To the advantage of  musicians pursuing their crafts while still in college, digital albums are cheaper and more convenient to market and distribute to cost- and time-conscious peer audiences. But while relentless engagement with the usual lineup of social media outlets and free virtual music players — Spotify, BandCamp, Facebook, SoundCloud — is standard practice for any serious musical project, artists in college face the additional geographic and academic constraints of university life.

Goodman’s solution: good old-fashioned fishing. “I got in the habit of emailing my album various places in my free time,” he said. As a result, he has enjoyed the spotlight of several independent blogs, radio stations and podcasts, including the blog “Music That Isn’t Bad” and the podcast “Unpopular Culture,” according to his Facebook page.

A double-concentrator in modern culture and media and literary arts, Goodman is unsure about the precise direction his music will take when he graduates, but he is interested in pursuing music and sketch comedy, he said. “They’re both visceral art forms … (with a) similar creative process: it can be fragmentary or cohesive,” he added. The next step may be to release a vinyl album, he said.

 

Moving with the music

Ryan Glassman ’15, who DJs and produces electronic dance music under the name “Area 6,” has performed at SexPowerGod, opened for Tokimonsta at the Fall Concert and kept Spring Weekend cheer rolling at an afterparty with Glitch Mob. But Glassman said his first-year networking with producers at NextHYPE, a promotion company in Providence, led him into exciting territory where Brown students are rarely to be found — DGAF, a heavy bass night downtown at The Colosseum.

Glassman is a music and electronic music experiments concentrator and said he is frustrated at times by long waits to reserve studio space in Steinert Practice Center or the Granoff Center. He added that he credits Jim Moses, technical director of the program, with much of his development as an artist at Brown.

“I was still very inexperienced as a DJ when I got to Brown,” Glassman said, adding that he only began producing dance music halfway through his senior year of high school and began DJing shortly after that. His independent work has been blogged at earmilk.com, he said.

Encouraged by his experiences on and off College Hill, Glassman plans to release an EP, “Raise ’Em,” through a small start-up label called Relentik Records this spring, he said.

The label was started by producer Adam Pollard, who is “kind of Internet-famous,” Glassman said. Glassman said he followed Pollard on SoundCloud, sent him two demos and “got picked up because (he) was unknown.” He added that he plans to make the EP available on iTunes, Spotify and Beatport.

Nearly all the production happened last semester, when Glassman took advantage of a light course load to get into the studio more frequently, he said. The EP will feature the rapping and vocal efforts of Vitto Di Vaio ’14 and Christina Ames ’15, respectively. In the meantime, Glassman is excited about pursuing electronic music academically and professionally, he said, adding that he was extremely grateful for the “super supportive” environment at Brown.

Topics: