Sunday, November 29, 2015

The College Experience with Casey Buckley

>> Hey hey hey! Hope everyone is excited to see this feature come back to life! It's been almost a year since we've had one of these on the site (crazy, right?) so here's a brief explanation of what we're doing here: The College Experience is my way of discussing the pros and cons of taking steps to have a career while still being a student, or how the desire to be involved with the music industry could interfere with the pursuit of a degree. I'll be asking a selection of folks the same basic questions regarding their school, their role in the industry, their struggles, and their goals. I'll also ask about each person's individual projects, whether they are photographers, musicians, publicists, writers, promoters, and the like. I think it'll be interesting to see how each person deals with the difficulties of balancing and prioritizing the various obstacles faced by students with big ambitions.

>> Today we're highlighting Casey Buckley, a hardworking musician who made a point of graduating from Northwestern before committing 110% of his focus to music. Read about Casey's album Take The Good and what Casey learned from interning with Red Light Management, graduating early, and making tough choices on the road to pursuing multiple dreams. 

Please state your name, age, what school you attended, your major, and what year you graduated.
My name is Casey Buckley. I’m 25 years old and graduated Northwestern University in 2011. I majored in Political Science with a focus on International Relations.

When and how did you first get involved with the music scene?
I’ve been a musician my entire life – singing and playing both piano and violin from a very young age. I began seriously playing guitar in high school and started writing songs my freshman year of college.

Were age restricted shows ever a problem for you?
Yeah, it certainly limited what I was able to go out and do on the weekends. I couldn’t get into a lot of bars/clubs to see the musicians I wanted to. As far as my own shows, I just played at coffeehouses. If I played at a bar, they’d mark my hand with an X so I couldn’t drink – but then none of my friends could (legally) get it wasn’t always the greatest.

Now that you're out of college, has that aspect gotten easier? Are things more accessible to you now?
When I finally turned 21, it was nice to not be limited by age in terms of places I could play as well as shows I could get into myself.

You were only 20 when you graduated. Would you say that finishing school that early gave you an advantage or did it make certain things more difficult?
Graduating college early definitely gave me an advantage in terms of having less student loans. Northwestern wasn’t cheap, so being able to have three years worth of loans rather than four has been nice. I’ll be happy once the loans are all paid off and I can be (more) financially free!

You're wholeheartedly pursuing music now, but what experiences have you had in the industry up to this point?
My first industry job was an internship at an artist management company. I worked at the NYC office of Red Light Management. I learned so much in the very short period of time that I worked there – and made some really great friends in the process. If anyone is looking to get involved with the music business, I definitely recommend starting with artist management. It’s a discipline that gives you visibility into just about every aspect of the music world.

What did you learn from that experience with Red Light? 
Aside from the practical lessons about seeing how things work, the overarching theme of what I learned is that you are as good as your hustle. I was working multiple jobs at the time and still aimed to give 100% in each. The head of the internship program at Red Light took a chance on me (given that I had zero experience at that point) and gave me an amazing opportunity – I owed it to her and to myself to take full advantage of that opportunity.

Being actively involved in the music industry, how often were you tempted to skip class or put off an assignment in order to attend or play a show? How did you make those choices?
Luckily, I didn’t have any evening classes – and I didn’t schedule any daytime shows! Academics come first at school – there’s plenty of room elsewhere to find time. I have carried that thinking over with me into the ‘real world’. My social life is the primary casualty of my dual responsibilities as a musician and citizen of the real world.

Were you often faced with tough choices when it came to priorities and scheduling as a student also involved in the music industry?
I wouldn’t say I faced too many tough choices – I tried to always plan a few steps ahead of everything to avoid serious conflicts. Proper scheduling is key to most things in life.

As a musician, did you find it hard to find a place to practice or focus on writing? Was it hard to coordinate shows and performances for the same reasons?
This is definitely true. I was lucky that Northwestern had a music school with plenty of practice rooms available to all students – it wasn’t necessarily a quiet place to write, but it was a place where I could play at full volume all hours of the day and night. That being said, I’m sure the people in my freshman year dorm were happy when spring quarter ended and they didn’t have to listen to the guitar any more. As much as I tried to play outside, the Chicago weather often forced me indoors. Luckily for me, a guy down the hall (who happened to be a good friend of mine) had a habit of playing through Jimmy Hendrix’s greatest hits. People tended to forgive my quiet acoustic strumming a bit more easily than they could his rendition of ‘Little Wing’ or ‘The Wind Cries Mary’.

Did you ever struggle to find space to store your equipment? Was it ever hard to afford the equipment you needed?
I was lucky that my instruments made it through college unharmed. A notable incident happened during my third and final year of school – my roommate was sick of listening to me play the ukulele and decided to padlock the strings. He was nice enough to put a (clean) sock in between the padlock and the wood so it wouldn’t scratch the instrument. I can’t remember how I convinced him to take it off... Being able to afford equipment was a definite struggle. I just made do with what I had. At the end of the day, all I needed was my acoustic guitar to write songs. Don’t get me wrong, though – it is nice to have other instruments and effects!

Did you struggle with roommates aside from the padlock incident? Did they ever complain about you taking up too much space or being too loud with your musical endeavors?
As long as my instruments didn’t obstruct any common areas, my roommates were fine from a space perspective. The volume was definitely an issue – especially if they took naps throughout the day or needed peace and quiet to study.

Did the recording of your new album, Take The Good, overlap with your time in school? How did you balance writing and recording with your class schedule and assignments?
Recording didn’t overlap with school, but a good portion of the writing certainly did. A few of the songs were written while I was still at school and others in the year immediately following college. It’s sometimes hard to strike a balance between writing and other obligations, as inspiration doesn’t always follow a schedule. I always have a voice recorder handy and either whistle out a tune or hum it if I need to be really inconspicuous. I have stacks of notebooks at home filled up with lyrical ideas – either written down when I had one handy or transcribed from my voice recorder.

Was your time in college and your dedication to get a degree influential to your writing for that album?
It definitely was influential given that, had I not attended college, I would not have been placed into any of the situations that served as inspiration for these songs.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing for people to know about Take The Good? Is there a specific message you want people to take away from listening?
Take the Good covers so many different aspects of the personal side of growing up – which of course involves a heavy dose of romantic relationships – that it’s a bit of a ‘make your own message’ record. I left conceptual space in each song so the listener can bend the music to their own life – allowing them to let the songs resonate with them as best fits.

Overall, what was one of the biggest obstacles you faced while trying to progress your career while still in school?
One of the biggest obstacles to any artist nowadays is the financial one. While being in school arguably sets you back further in that respect, it also allows you to self-fund and build your own musical platform.

How did being in college help you advance your involvement in the music industry?
I took some poetry courses which had an interesting effect on my writing – but other than that I wouldn’t say college directly helped my music industry career. It does however, allow you to work elsewhere in the real world – which is a very real issue many younger musicians don’t consider.

Do you think it's been beneficial to start your career path in the music industry while you're still in school?
If you want to pursue a full time job on the business side of music, it’s definitely best to start as early as possible. Get an internship as soon as you can and keep building your network. From an artistic standpoint, just create. I’ve been creating my whole life and will continue to do so forever. It’s not something you just wake up one day and decide to do (but, hey, maybe it is for some people). Don’t schedule art, but make time for it.

What have you been up to since graduation?
As I mentioned before, I have some student loans that I’ve been taking care of. In addition to that, studio time isn’t free and I’ve foregone the crowd-funding route so far. I’m not independently wealthy, so I work to make sure I can continue to exist and make music.

What would you say to someone debating how to pursue a career in the industry while still in school? What advice would you give to a younger you?
First off, I would tell them to graduate. Having a degree and completing it in 4 years or less is only going to make your life easier. Sure, anyone can point to some successful dropouts (Gates, Zuckerberg, Mayer) – but there are exceptions to most rules. Brilliance doesn’t disappear when you’re handed a diploma. As far as advice for a younger me, I’d probably tell myself “you should never have to break up with a girl twice.”

What's next for you now that Take The Good has been released?
I’ve already started writing new songs and have recorded a few of them. I think a few more tours are in order and then we can start looking at some new releases and hopefully a sophomore album!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Nope, thanks for reading!


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