While Brown’s campus is known for its rigorous academic curriculum and diverse student body, it is also home to a thriving music scene. For some, College Hill is where a hobby of playing music became something bigger.
Chance Emerson ’23.5, a computer science and archeology concentrator, started college thinking music was simply his favorite pastime. Now, as he prepares to graduate, he sees it as a viable career.
“Through both the people I met and the things I got to do with them, Brown gave me a launching pad to make music an achievable future,” Emerson said.
Emerson recalled having never played a live show before beginning college. This year, he was able to go on a regional tour playing for hundreds of people a night with his established band, Blues Traveler.
“My close friend, bandmate and often co-writer and co-producer Jack Riley, … I remember the two of us sitting in Andrews common room in December of 2019 fiddling with a song, trying to get the tampering to sit right and having it come out in January,” Emerson recalled. “That song now has close to two million listens. … Seeing all of us get a lot better and do things we never thought we would do is awesome.”
Jack Riley ’23, a computer science and music concentrator, stated that his journey with music began in high school and continued at Brown. This passion eventually came to define his college life, he said, especially when he began seriously producing music remotely during his sophomore year.
“I’ve met most of my closest friends through bands and music classes. I spend all of my free time producing for many artists on campus and it’s most of what I think about all day,” Riley said. “I couldn’t imagine my Brown experience without the wonderful live music scene here and the awesome people who make it up.”
Performing with Blues Traveler was a highlight of Riley’s college experience. After about 50 shows, he noted the unique challenges of playing with several close friends in a stressful, live situation.
Emerson and Riley also reflected on some of their fondest moments creating music with the band these past few years.
“Honestly, one of my favorite highlights was (in) my first year during March, when we played a rock show in Andrews Commons,” Emerson recalled. “That was a defining moment for me and my bandmates.”
“I especially enjoyed getting to tour as support for Blues Traveler in the fall of 2022, when we drove around the Midwest in a minivan, spending eight to 10 hours a day with each other. We got a good chance to connect,” Riley said.
Emerson shared some insights on his personal music-making process, stating that everything tends to be rather spontaneous for him. “I’ll get these musical ideas or melodies that just pop into my head, and then I’ll record them into my phone and then I’ll listen to them and work on them over the course of the day,” he said.
Riley, reflecting on the steps he takes to produce music, said he believes that a good song can be beautifully produced in several ways, and the direction it ends up going is often dictated by the sound of the writer.
“I often like to make things ‘wrong’ in some way, maybe being messy with a guitar line or ‘violating space’ with a hard reverb cut,” Riley said. “I feel like screwing up and being open-minded is a nice way to innovate in music production; even if I don’t get the sound I want, it might lead me to a whole new interpretation of the song.”
Both artists have plans to continue making music after graduation, taking their skills and their love for music to a higher level. Emerson recently completed a 10-song album called “Ginkgo” which he produced over the past two years.
“It was a very challenging record to write and make because it was the first record I feel like I made thinking that I was really a musician,” Emerson said. “It was the first time I felt like I wasn’t doing something just as a hobby, but I was doing it at a professional level.”
Emerson noted that this album — headlined by his single “House We Share,” which was released in October and recently hit one million streams — was the first professional body of work that allowed him to be involved in the music industry.
“I started working with management in Nashville, Tenn., and I think I’ll be down there when I graduate, so I’ll be doing this kind of folk-rock, pop-rock singer-songwriter thing,” Emerson said.
Riley is planning on doing freelance music production after graduation, a continuation of his work over the last few years meeting new artists and making songs.
“I feel like I’m just getting started — there’s a lot more that I want to do, and Brown has taught me that I can make that happen,” Riley said.
Riley expressed gratitude toward all of the musicians who have trusted him to work on their songs, as well as his friends and family for their enthusiasm and support. Emerson, meanwhile, thanked both his peers and his fellow bandmates at Brown who encouraged him to continue on his musical path.
The experience of touring while working as a full-time student will stick with Emerson even after leaving College Hill.
“It’s crazy that five STEM majors, in their junior year spring and senior year fall, were able to do 36 shows for around 13,000 people, all while finishing our computer science homework backstage,” Emerson joked. “It was a memorable time.”
Robayet is a staff writer most intrigued in stories related to science and technology research, University News and sports! In his free time, he loves listening to the same few songs on repeat and reading horror novels!