For many people, the opportunity to discover, engage with and contribute to local music scenes is a crux of the college experience. This is especially true of Indiana University, a campus that forms the heart of a musical climate as vibrant and prolific as Bloomington's. From local gems like Mike Adams and Busman's Holiday to the talent that the city's ever-expanding list of indie labels and promoters bring into town, there is something compelling happening on almost any given night.
Add to the list student-based promotions group called IndieU, which aims to bring a new generation of talent into that local spotlight.
"We empower musicians by building a brand through both physical and digital media," Robert Cartsens III, IndieU's senior representative at IU says.
The organization began two years ago under the name 18LoveMusic. At that point, it was a content publisher based at Northwestern University focused on reviewing and promoting the work of unsigned artists. But it did not take long for IndieU to develop more ambitious goals.
"We still publish content, but have taken the wheel in terms of promoting artists and building a fan base in the real world," Cartsens says. "Our overall goal is to develop a fan base for our artists while supporting their autonomy as independent musicians."
In partnering with artists like IU sophomore and singer-songwriter Rachel Waite, IndieU coaches young talents to better promote themselves in both digital and physical spaces.
"In this day and age it is so easy to put your music out on social media and music websites, but it's also really easy to get lost amongst everyone else that's trying to do the same thing you are," Waite says. "Having the guidance and support of IndieU has definitely helped by lending me an extra hand to help support and showcase my music."
An IndieU event on April 30 at The Bishop features Waite alongside electronica artist Sweater Disco, emcee Eli (REN) and indie rock sextet The Alamo Freeze.
"The chance to be able to show off your music live to possible fans is invaluable," says Michael McReynolds, a first-year student at IU who performs as Sweater Disco. "The showcase coming up at The Bishop will hopefully put Sweater Disco on the Bloomington map a bit more."
While promoting and showcasing student musicians will surely go a long way towards boosting their careers, it's what IndieU has planned next that could be a game changer for these artists' ability to make a splash in the regional scene.
"With the release of our application and updated website, artists can now upload music, share content, gain followers and keep fans in the loop about upcoming shows," Cartsens says.
He insists IndieU's streaming component has more benefits than apps like SoundCloud and Bandcamp. "Instead of logging in and just uploading music, IndieU artists can share their music online while local representatives work with them one-on-one, promoting their tracks, booking shows, and increasing overall awareness."
Still, one might wonder what the benefit of yet another streaming service could be. But, as these artists see it, it comes down to the specified exposure that a community like IndieU can offer. "They don't have tons of artists and the ones that they do are kind of tied to their geographical locus," says Gray Stephenson of The Alamo Freeze. "So they've got a little bit more of a focus."
"It's a growing operation, so they're trying to work out of a few college campus hubs, and kind of expand out from there," bandmate Brian O'Conner says. "But definitely with the goal of finding unsigned bands and then trying to promote them through their growing network."
That network, which is a for-profit venture made mostly of student volunteers, is making strides to put the work of unsigned artists into the hands of their peers and potential fans, while balancing those touches with a rigorous schedule of live events. As Stephenson puts it, "We're glad to be playing, and they're giving us more opportunities to play."