Here's a few essential truths: Musicians dream of being signed to a label; some kids dream of running their own. And our own Butler University is working on perfecting a formula to make both kinds of dreams come true with their newly revamped in-school music label, IndyBlue. At IndyBlue, recording industry studies students take the reins completely, first finding up-and-coming artists, then guiding them through every part of recording and marketing a new album.
Cutler Armstrong, an instructor for the College of Communications, has been involved in IndyBlue since it started in 2006. In recent years, Armstrong says the program has been updated to maximize student involvement.
"I wanted this to be a capstone experience for both the students and new artists," Armstrong said.
One of the first artists signed with the IndyBlue label is singer-songwriter Jenna Epkey, who Armstrong noticed during a live performance. He reached out with an email and convinced her to begin working with IndyBlue on her new album Hologram.
"IndyBlue really helped Jenna realize her vision of what she wanted to do with her music," said Armstrong.
He brought in New York-based Andy VanDette, chief engineer at Masterdisk, to polish it up.
After recording wrapped up, students began marketing Epkey's album, including soliciting radio play and finding films and TV shows willing to feature her tracks. Students also helped search for shows for her. This direct action required in this process makes the program realistic; they get a taste of the real recording industry as they sign real artists and uphold contracts.
Butler graduate Nathan Rix was very involved in the production of Epkey' album. He took the lead during the recording process, and his decisions were pivotal in the process of making the album.
"This was a huge stepping stone for me," Rix said. "I honed in on my craft, and I proved to everyone what I could really do."
To Rix, the experience was valuable because it was so real. He was able to handle the majority of the work without supervision, but he could consult with other students and Armstrong if needed. Now that Rix has graduated and is trying to build up his own client base, he's grateful for the experience.
"I wanted it to be real for the artists and for students to have a realistic experience dealing with these things instead of just talking about them," Armstrong said.
Epkey, an Indianapolis native, moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 2008 to record a country album. Although she enjoyed the opportunity to work on her music, she felt her identity as an artist was being compromised, mostlybecause she wasn't singing her own songs. In 2010, she and her husband moved back to Indianapolis.
"I felt like my image was becoming more commercial. My songs weren't 'me,' " Epkey said. But at IndyBlue, Epkey feels she has artistic freedom and can do what she wants with her music. She chose everyone who was involved with her album, and she was able to oversee the entire process. Armstrong hopes to sign more artists like Jenna, who he thinks is perfect for IndyBlue. She isn't a beginner, nor is she too advanced in her career.
"We were very comfortable with her when we met her because we had a common vision," Armstrong said. One of his favorite things about Epkey is that her music appeals to a wide demographic of people, since it crisscrosses genre lines, from pop, to soul, and yes, still a bit country.
So what's next for IndyBlue? Armstrong just said goodbye to a batch of graduating seniors (including Rix), but he hopes that student involvement will continue to grow as the program becomes more prominent on campus. Next year, the label hopes to expand and work with artists at various stages in their careers.
"I'm hoping this will be something that draws students to Butler University when they are looking at colleges," Armstrong said.
Listen: Epkey's album Hologram is available at jennaepkey.com, iTunes and Spotify.
Jenna Epkey performs a song from her new album in this student-produced video by IndyBlue Entertainment on their Youtube channel.