Spring 2022 Issue

Music Makers

Wrenegade Series Celebrates William & Mary’s Musical Talent

By Claire De Lisle M.B.A. ’21

From rock and Americana to electronica and pop ballads, William & Mary alumni are making waves in the music industry in a wide range of genres.

Now, you can listen to selections from W&M alumni in a custom Spotify playlist anytime. There are some bands you may be familiar with — like The Lone Bellow and Car Seat Headrest — while others are waiting for you to discover.

The playlist was created by the W&M Alumni Association as part of the Wrenegade Music Series, a weeklong virtual celebration in October 2021 of W&M students, alumni and faculty who perform, produce and enjoy music.

In any given semester, almost 25% of W&M’s undergraduate students take part in a Music Department activity. In panel discussions, Jamie C. Bartlett, associate professor of music and associate director of choirs; Alex Blue V, assistant professor of music (ethnomusicology); Richard Marcus, assistant professor of music and director of bands; and French and music double major Paul Hardin ’22 described how the Music Department is offering new opportunities for students in areas such as ethnomusicology, audio production and the business of music, as well as interdisciplinary offerings. For example, Hardin created a musical comedy called “Spectacular” as his honors thesis project, inspired by his COLL 100 class about 17th- and 18th-century French theater and political scenes.

Russell Taylor ’96, a musician and executive producer, shared how the pandemic has both challenged and improved his ability to thrive in the music business. Because he wasn’t able to record in a studio, he had to hone his recording skills at home.

“COVID forced us in our industry to learn more and expand our knowledge base to be better artists, creators and businesspeople,” he says. “Touring is our lifeline. When I’m able to tour, that’s when I make the bulk of my money. With COVID, we were immediately shut down. Though I was able to record and I had a cursory knowledge at the time of preproduction work at home, typically you would go to a recording studio and have all the musicians come in, but we couldn’t do that. You have to learn to improvise! It was curse-filled and frustrating … but now I can record anything in my home studio.”

He encouraged students and alumni looking to enter the music business to be goal-oriented, learn as much as they can about all aspects of music production and be patient for the rewards of the work.

“At William & Mary, you study hard, you get an A. But in the arts, the same rewards do not exist,” he says. “You have to learn to set personal goals for yourself and build in your own rewards and your own sense of what quality work is … but at the same time, if a lot of people don’t like your work, you can’t build a successful business from it. It’s a tightrope.”

He says although there is nothing quite like the energy of a live performance in front of an audience, the pandemic has opened up many new ways for musicians to make money other than touring, including brand partnerships and livestreamed performances.

To listen to the Spotify playlist, watch the panel discussions and enjoy a virtual showcase of W&M student a cappella groups and ensembles, visit https://wmalumni.com/events/wrenegade. To learn more about getting involved in future music-related events and other alumni activities, contact engagement@wm.edu.