Monday, December 16, 2013

The College Experience with Emily Becker

>> College is a cool place, especially once you hit the point where you're able to take classes on things you're actually interested in.  So even though it was a 9:30am class twice a week, I was super excited to take a course called Music in Media.  It sounded cool and interesting and not like calculus, so I couldn't lose.  While in class one day, I happened to notice the girl sitting next to me doodling in her notebook. It's a pretty standard thing, but her doodles involved Fall Out Boy lyrics and they looked great.  I commented on how cool I thought they were, and one thing led to another, and that's how I befriended Emily Becker.  Through conversations in and out of class, I found out that she and I shared a lot of common interests, especially musical interests.  We ended up going to some shows together and then seeing each other at shows without realizing the other would be there too.  Now we share another thing - In addition to photography and graphic design, Emily now also runs a music blog called Gratuitous Dancing and it involves some of the most personalized and unique features I've seen.  Read on and get to know Emily.

Please state your name, age, and what school you attend / what year you're in.
     My name is Emily Becker, I’m 19 (so close to 20!) and I’m a Sophomore at NYU Steinhardt for Studio Art. 

When and how did you first get involved with the music scene?
     When I was 9, my cousin started a band (it wasn’t really a band, she rewrote Disney songs and made her friends sing them with her) and I was the weird fourth grader who would rather work behind the scenes than be in the band. I wanted to be their manager. I had a huge book of blank paper that I would use to write up contracts and design stage set ups, and I drew all these horrible girl-group costumes, it was very 2003. I was writing on this waxy paper with ball point pens and it smeared everywhere, but I was so proud of myself. 
     When I was 16, I started getting into music, listening to punk and pop punk, started realizing that what my friends at the time liked wasn’t very good, and started hanging out more with my friends in the art program. They got me into weirder music, got me considering groups like The Pixies and Velvet Underground. At that point I was pretty sure I’d be teaching high school art after college, but the more I explored music, the more I realized that I wanted to be involved in the music scene. I started writing music and blogging about it, and the summer before my senior year of high school I interned with Red Light Management. Since then I’ve reworked my blog, started looking at different parts of the industry, and taking every job I’m offered. 

If you got involved at a relatively early age, was it hard having to deal with age restricted shows?
     My age wasn’t much of an issue while I was in high school—people knew how old I was and I couldn’t drive, so I wasn’t going out late at night or working jobs intended for kids older than me.

What experiences have you had so far in the industry?
     Before my senior year I worked with Red Light Management as an intern. That was my first job in the music industry and it was great, because I got to see the business side of managing a band. The band I was working with was releasing an album during the time I was interning, so I got to really feel the frantic energy of everything coming together. That being said, I also learned that working in a cubicle is so beyond the wrong place for me. I can work on a couch, I can work on a train, I can work in the back of an art history lecture, but put me at a desk in a rolling chair and suddenly I want nothing more than to fall asleep on my keyboard. I definitely prefer the unconventional workplace.
     My first media gig was photographing Warped Tour, which was an opportunity I got thanks to my friend Andrea who does band photography, I have an interview with her on my blog, and talking to her about being a photographer in the music industry and experiencing first hand was one of the best learning experiences of my life.

Now that you're in college, has that aspect gotten easier? Are things more accessible to you now?
     It’s actually gotten harder, because people assume that I’m over 21 now, and that’s still a year and a half off. I almost got kicked out of a show I had helped organize because the venue manager hadn’t asked beforehand how old we all were and had made the show 21+. We convinced her not to make us leave, but it bruised my ego.
     One of the hardest parts is knowing that there’s no reason for me to be barred from a show—I’m straightedge, so there’s no risk of me trying to sneak drinks. The worst was missing the Panic! At The Disco release show at Sleep No More—I had been to Sleep No More before, it’s an 18+ place, but for the release show they upped it to 21+ and that was the only time in my life I wished I had a fake ID.
Do you find that you have more or less free time generally as a college student?
Art students don’t have a lot of free time to begin with—most work gets done outside of class. But since I take a lot of freelance jobs, I find my time gets parsed up a lot more than it would be otherwise. It’s also a matter of making myself dedicate free time to finding jobs and writing about music. If I decide I want to just take a week off, that’s a week that there’s no content on my blog and a week’s worth of music news I fall behind on. 

Being actively involved in the music industry, how often have you been tempted to skip class or put off an assignment in order to attend / play a show? How do you make the choice?
     I have skipped class for a show I was helping to organize—I felt bad about it, but it was the first show I had ever helped put together, and I would have regretted missing that a lot more than I’d regret missing a history lecture. 

Have you ever arranged your schedule based on music related obligations? Have you ever had to turn something down or reschedule something based on your school schedule?
    The biggest problem is having Friday classes—if I go to a show Thursday night, there’s no way I’m waking up for my 8am class across campus. I’ve started structuring my schedule with that in mind. I’ve been very lucky with scheduling so far, but I plan on working full time over the summer, so I don’t know what’s going to happen when I’m booked solid all week. 

Are you often faced with tough choices when it comes to priorities and scheduling as a student who's also involved in the music industry?
     The hardest part is trying to work out how to balance a major that rarely coincides with the industry I’m involved in. I’m in a program that demands a lot of time and credits, which means I can’t take music business oriented classes that could help me outside of school. I had something else to say about this, but Alvin and the Chipmunks are on the radio right now and it’s eating into my thought process. 

With your blog, how do you decide what content to post? How do you choose which artists or shows to cover on the site and as a photographer? Does that take up a lot of time in itself?
     I made the decision when I started my blog [Gratuitous Dancing] to review every band that followed me on twitter or tumblr. I call it “Are You Following Me?” That was just a way of forcing myself to branch out and explore types of music I otherwise might ignore. But in doing that I’ve discovered some of my new favorite bands, and I’m actually working on the street team for one of those bands now. I’m designing merch for them. I’m talking to their manager. If I wanted to really sound egotistical, I would say was a great decision that I made to do that review.
     As far as going to shows, location is huge. I live across the street from Webster Hall, which means if there’s a ten dollar show and I’m not doing anything else, I’m probably going to a gig. I feel like at this point I haven’t earned the right to be picky. I think I need to gain some experience and some credibility before I can make decisions. I take the jobs I’m offered, photograph whatever I can, and eventually I’ll be at a point where I can pick and choose. And that’s part of my blog schtick—I do a section called “Tales of a Music Biz Wannabe” that’s all about the jobs I take and what happens.

As a photographer, do you ever struggle to find space to store your equipment, especially since you're dorming? Is traveling with fragile equipment ever a struggle?
     Carrying my camera bag across campus has resulted in several bruised shoulders, but I think finding and buying the right equipment for photography is the biggest issue I have with that particular area of my work. I’m a teenager, I’m unemployed, I can’t afford the lenses I need to shoot jaw dropping indoor concert scenes.
     And a lot of people feel that artists don’t need to be paid, which is another issue. I do free work for friends in the industry, because when you’re getting your foot in the door, that’s what you do, you form a community of people that can rely on one another. But sometimes I get asked to do way more than I was ever intending to, and I’m still not getting paid, and it makes me worry for my financial stability in the future. 

In your dorming situation - Do you struggle with roommates? Do they ever complain about you taking up too much space or being too loud with your musical endeavors?
     I tend to live with musicians and artists, so we understand each other pretty well. We’re all pretty nocturnal and we tend to just drop everything to start new projects. I’m obsessively organized so if anything they struggle with me trying to clean up after them all the time.

What is one of the biggest obstacles you've faced while trying to progress your career while still in school? Have you faced many tough obstacles like that, or has being in school helped you take those next steps?
     I do a lot of graphics work, and I’m self-trained in photoshop, so figuring out exactly what I’m doing is unbelievably difficult. I have to ask a lot of questions of the people I’m working with. It eats into my confidence a little bit, because I’m constantly being reminded that I’m just a college student and I don’t have the training and experience that other people in the industry have.
But I’m finally taking digital classes within my major, and I look back at all the little issues in my art and photography and it’s unbelievable how much better I could make things now. That’s one of the benefits of still being in school while I’m working—if I don’t know what I’m doing, I can take a class, if I don’t have a piece of equipment I need, I can borrow it from the photo cage.

How has being in college helped you advance your involvement in the music industry? Do you think the pros of being in both outweigh the cons?
     I don’t have to make a decision yet about what exactly I want to do. I still have time to explore and I have the safety net of being a student. I have the chance to meet people in a safe environment, at seminars and in classes where I don’t have to impress anybody.

Do you think it's been beneficial to start your career / path in the music industry while you're still in school?
     I have so much time to learn—being in school while I’m starting a career is the way to do it.

What are your plans for after graduation?
     I want to tour manage for a while—I romanticize life on the road way too much, I can admit that, but I want to travel, and I hate airplanes, so I may as well do it by bus. I get stir crazy, so I think a few years on the road would do me good. I’d like to be the pit reporter on Warped Tour, that would be a dream come true.
     After that, work at a label, make tour posters, design merch… a few years ago, my mom bought me a huge book of tour posters, and I just look at those and get so excited for the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll start a rock band. 

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