Friday, February 28, 2014

The College Experience with Kate Russell

>> Now, the point of me creating this feature was to highlight the people struggling to balance things like school, opportunity, networking, etc.  I came up with the idea because I've had such a hard time with the issue of prioritizing school over a potential great career opportunity, and I wanted to see other forms of the struggle, and how other people deal with it all.  What I realized is that it would be a good addition to the feature to have the site's staff participate in this exploration as well.  So, while I'm interested in hearing everyone else's perspective, maybe there's someone out there who wants to hear mine.  I'll be answering the same questions that I ask everyone else, so while it'll be weird to answer my own questions, I'm looking forward to how this will add to the feature series as a whole.  Let's begin, shall we?

Please state your name, age, and what school you attend.
Oh hey guys. I'm Kate Russell and I'm a soon to be 21 year old finishing up my third year at good ol' NYU.

When and how did you first get involved with the music scene?
I guess it happened when I was in high school.  I had attended my first concert just before high school actually, the 2007 Honda Civic Tour featuring Fall Out Boy, Cobra Starship, +44, The Academy Is..., and Paul Wall.  That first concert basically featured all of my favorite acts at the time (yes, I liked Paul Wall too. It happens), so it was an amazing experience to finally hear the songs I'd been listening to for so long performed right in front of me.  It was June 5th, 2007 and I remember it like it was yesterday.  I briefly met Pete Wentz and Gabe Saporta after the show and it was something that made me think, "yeah I can definitely get into this live music thing."  I didn't go to another show until almost a year later though.  After finishing my first year of high school, I attended The 2008 Bamboozle Festival in May 2008.  That experience changed my life.  I started this site a month later, and it was that year that I started going to local shows thanks to my then friends in A Rocket To The Moon.  So, after seeing some bigger acts, I was exposed to the local (Long Island) scene which was fresh and fun and once I started this blog I knew there was no turning back.

If you got involved at a relatively early age, was it hard having to deal with age restricted shows?
It's been THE biggest pain.  I started this site when I was 15, and at the time I wasn't getting many press invites because it was so new and initially I used it like more of a cool music journal.  Once I was 16-17 I started getting invited to cover shows, and that's where the trouble started.  I was always too uncomfortable to admit that I wasn't 18 yet.  We've all seen Almost Famous for the most part, and unfortunately things don't work that way when it comes to age restrictions anymore.  So I had to answer my first press invites with excuses like "I'd love to cover that show but unfortunately I'm already covering another show that night" [lie] or "I have a scheduling conflict" [I meant homework], etc.  I felt super cool to be getting invites but suuuper lame for not being old enough to go to some of the 18+ shows.  I had more free time when I was younger, but I couldn't get into certain shows with an age restriction.  Now that I'm old enough for most shows, I have much less free time. Life is weird. I'm still dealing with the 21+ issue, but as of March 12th 2014 I'll be a grown up and I can cover whichever events I want and I cannot wait to not have to ask if there's an age restriction ever again, ever. 

Now that you're in college, has that aspect gotten easier? Are things more accessible to you now?
The fact that I go to school and live in New York City now has made things more accessible in the sense that all of the venues are just a subway ride away, or a walk away in many cases as well.  I have a wider range of venues and therefore shows that I can potentially cover, but like I said I still have to wait a few more weeks to pass my final obstacle age-wise. 

Do you find that you have more or less free time generally as a college student?
Way less. Waaay less.  In high school, I had some homework, occasional shows, and this site.  In college, I have classes that are far more involved, the need/want for internships, a part time job, a boyfriend, and this site.  In September, I started working part time at a balloon/toy/fun store in Tribeca called Balloon Saloon.  I work a lot, but that's what happens when you actually enjoy your job.  I interned with Golightly Media, a PR agency full of lovely ladies, last semester (Fall 2013).  That was super engaging but it felt like a second job (because it was).  This semester (Spring 2014), I'm interning at Wiz Kid Management, a music management company whose roster includes The Strokes, Albert Hammond Jr, and more.  It's a great position but between that, the job, and school, I feel pretty overwhelmed.  I'm fortunate in the sense that I'm so overwhelmed by all good things for the most part, so I can't really complain about not having any free time.  I do the best I can, and it just brings up those ideas of balance and prioritizing I'm always talking about.  Being overwhelmed comes with the territory of trying to establish a name for myself while I'm still a student.

What experiences have you had so far in the industry?
Well, you're looking at it.  I've been able to do a lot through this site of mine.  I've been doing press on the Long Island date of the Vans Warped Tour every year since 2010 which has been so incredible.  I get to talk to some of my favorite musicians, and be introduced to artists I might not have met otherwise.  The press team for Warped has their shit together and it's been a fantastic experience each year.  I also covered the CBGB Festival and CMJ this past fall, each for the first time.  Basically, lots and lots of interviews and acoustic sessions and the like.  I've been able to meet lots of great people this way and I wouldn't give it up for anything.

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 a show?  How do you make the choice?
Uh... Well... (I hope mom and dad aren't reading.) Yes, of course!  It's always a very hard decision that I never feel 100% okay with either way.  I try not to skip class because I'm at NYU and tuition is ridiculous, so I hate the thought of voluntarily skipping a class I pay so much for.  So with regards to that, I have skipped a class or two over the years in favor of covering a show or doing a session with an artist who is only in town for one day.  It's rare, but I think about how far into the semester it is, if I've missed that class already, what is being covered in class that day, and the likelihood of me being able to work with this artist again any time soon.  Mental pros and cons lists are definitely made.  I'm more likely to put off an assignment in favor of a show but only because my professors are generally super understanding, as long as I tell them if I'll be submitting something a little late.  But usually I'll attempt to hand something in on the due date, and worst case scenario, I offer to fix it up.

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?
Like I said above, it's always a super tough call when it's music/career vs. school.  On the one hand, I'm at this school because it's supposed to help me further my career and get a good job after I graduate and help me make connections and blah blah blah.  It does do that - I find the networking opportunities here incredible and that's what I love most about this school in particular.  But at the same time, I've been pursuing a 'career' for a fairly long time now, and I'm at a point where I'm looking to take the next step with it.  It's hard when I get an opportunity that could help me make another connection or accomplish a major goal, but I have to worry about my school schedule and/or homework.  I've asked for nights off from work to cover a show, but I make a point of making up for those lost hours at a later time.  But I can't exactly ask a professor if I can skip class to go interview a band they've never heard of.  I've definitely had to reschedule a lot, and the same goes with turning things down unfortunately. 

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? 
 Yes! Yes.  I have to prioritize shows a lot of the time.  It's New York City, so there are several shows happening every week.  While a lot of them seem really interesting, I obviously can't go to all of them.  I've missed shows of bands I really like, and I've missed friends' shows because I have work or a huge paper to write, or because I can't make the trip out to Long Island and get back in time for a class.  The whole thing is such a pain, but at the same time it's been a huge learning experience.  It taught me how to decide which shows I *have* to go to, and which I can skip in favor of getting work done and seeing that artist next time they're in town. The worst example was during CMJ.  A few times I had to reschedule interviews last minute because I forgot to factor in the fact that I had class during all that chaos.  So not only did I have to reserve the class time for class, but I also had to take into account travel time from the press area to that class, and back.  That week was a whirlwind of excitement, frustration, and fun.  I'm looking forward to a time when I can cover it and give the music my full attention without having to push something back so that I can do my homework. Worst excuse for anything, ever.

Do you find it hard to find the time and a quiet space in which to listen to an album fully before reviewing it? Also, do you find it hard to find a place to do interviews or acoustic sessions, or to edit videos? 
(Wow these are detailed questions, gosh)  Sometimes you just have to turn the headphones up and the world down. It's more of a struggle to find the time to really sit down and fully take in an album, for me at least.  Since I'm still in school, I obviously don't have an office or anything.  There's always the idea of doing something in Washington Square Park or some other cool park, but that's risky where sound and weather are concerned.  But I've gone the park route and it can be done.  I've also done interviews in vans and the office of the artist's publicist, so those are good options.  Doing sessions or interviews at a show, even if it's before doors, can be tricky.  Sound, empty space, lighting, and timing are all potential issues.  The good thing is that generally there are at least a few options, but it would be much easier if I had a headquarters for The Music Obsession other than my small dorm room. 

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 try to use headphones whenever my roommate is around. Generally the stuff I listen to isn't offensive or anything, but sometimes you just have to jam The Lonely Island and sometimes not everyone gets the joke, you know?  So I opt for the headphone method.  I also go downstairs to the lounge of the dorm at times just to be able to spread out and not worry if my roommate wants to go to bed when I *just* started editing a video or something.  It's another scheduling conflict mixed with potential noise complaints and bad vibes, but I tell my roommates up-front that I'm a music person and we all do our best to make our own endeavors work.

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?
Time management is my enemy. Always has been, and hopefully won't always be but we'll see. I've been learning strategies and seeing what works with regards to prioritizing and making tons of to-do lists, so being constantly on my game has been a positive in that way.  Being in school has helped in the sense that I've been able to meet people I wouldn't have met otherwise.  Sheila, the contributor for the site who does The Family Breakfast feature, is from New Mexico.  Without us both having been in the same Intro to Music Business class, we very likely wouldn't have met which would have been fairly tragic.  On a bigger scale, I've had classes with guest speakers who I've been able to meet and speak to after that class.  Where else could I have spoken to real investigative journalists, actors, film makers, politicians, and more?  NYU has helped me make soo many connections, and you know the classes are great too, but the networking abilities I have here are insane.  I mean, many CMJ panels take place in NYU buildings, and several showcases happened in venues nearby the "campus" which made things much easier with regards to covering the festival and still having classes.  It's a weird experience, because being in school while taking the next steps in my life is both a blessing and a curse, but in the end these trials are only helping me adapt for what I could face when I'm out.

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?
Initially, I didn't want to go to college.  I started this site as a sophomore in high school, so by the time senior year rolled around, I wanted to be done with school and just pursue music stuff full time.  I knew that that wasn't really an option given the competitive market for even starting positions in companies, so to college I went.  I really can't say enough how being here at NYU has further opened doors. 

Do you think it's been beneficial to start your career / path in the music industry while you're still in school?
It was hard having started in high school, but it left me ahead of the curve at the time and it helped me get into the college I'm at now.  So, my logic is this - if you're passionate about something, get involved!  Start a zine, reblog some cute songs, tweet a link, make signs - do something.  Even recommending an album to a friend can really make a difference. A friend recommended that I should listen to Cobra Starship and 6 and a half years later, here we are.  If you really feel strongly about something, do whatever you can to get involved.  Start writing for a school paper, join a club oriented around organizing shows on your campus - anything.  It's a pain at times, and it takes determination but after years of struggling, I'm able to look back and say I'm happy I did what I did when I did it.  Also, pursuing internships is also super valuable, just make sure you're smart about where you work and what you get from it.  
You are valuable! Your ideas are valuable! Remember this, always.

What are your plans for after graduation?
For now, I'm going to keep experimenting with internships, and from there I'll decide where I want to end up immediately post-grad.  Long term, I would love to someday run a small label, or even a record store that also sells collectibles... I love the idea of running my own business and combining all of my passions.  So, those are my goals. Wish me luck.

- Kate Russell

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