Mon Hills Records – Part 1
“I’d really like to see it get to a point where student label isn’t even used in reference to it I’d like to see it get to a point where Morgantown music is synonymous with Mon Hills Records.”
That’s Chris Kuskey at Mon Hills Records, West Virginia University’s student run record label. I recently traveled to Morgantown to meet with some of the student’s who run Mon Hills at the CD release party of one of their artists, 18 Strings. Here’s Josh Swiger, a Grad Student at WVU and the General Manager of the label to explain what exactly Mon Hills is.
“It’s the University’s Record Label. The music industry program is very new. When it was developed they were like ‘well, were going to develop these classes you know for industry that’s copyright publishing event management what not.’ All of those things are done in Record labels. The idea was to create a label within the university that actually signs artists, produces their records, does their publishing, copywriting, does their promotion – does all the things that a record label would do. It’s like a hands on experience thing while you’re taking your classes. You can walk out with your degree and have some actual experience.”
Another Grad Student, Alex Merandi experienced Mon Hills as an undergrad the first year it existed.
“Professor Velichkovski, it’s all…it’s because of him. He’s the man, I mean…he made it all happen, he’s behind everything. Since he has all the experience, you know, he’s here to answer any questions for us. And he wanted to make it a student run label and that’s what it’s all about: the students running it so…the opportunity came about, I jumped on it and I just remember the first meeting and I tell ya, I was just intimidated by the whole thing cause I was like “I don’t know how this stuff works?!” But here I am… just finished producing post-production on 8 videos, I’ve done three albums last semester as part of my Graduate Assistant work. “
That’s not all. During the show, Alex was busy taking photos of the band. Every time I would ask one of the students what types of things they had accomplished through the course of working with Mon Hills, they’d each rattle off a fairly impressive list of feats. According to the General Manager (Josh Swiger), that’s exactly what they need.
“When I was here in the 90s, I didn’t minor in music but I took some of the ensemble classes and it was always kind of like “there’s more than just this” I had to learn on my own you know read books make mistakes, go down the right roads go down the wrong roads. You know, stuff that took 2 years, I could have done in 6 months if I’d’ve had a little more organized education about it.”
He hopes to use his 20 years of experience as an independent music producer to develop the program in a way that truly gives students the tools they need.
“My name is Tucker White and I’m the manager of distribution and sales at Mon Hills. I am also an A&R representative. I recently just transferred into the program I was previously an industrial engineering student. Realized that it was not what I wanted, I was really chasing money. I had done band all throughout high school, and the arts and things like that, and I saw we had the program and I just…I thought it was the perfect fit. And I’ve loved it ever since I switched. The reason I even joined industrial engineering was because I didn’t want a typical business degree. And so I’ve always just had a business mentality. This degree offers that. It offers my musical abilities to flourish as well as my business talents.”
Many of those I spoke to wanted to encourage younger students to follow their artistic aspirations if they have them. It may sound idealistic, but their approach to the arts is hugely practical. I asked Rebecca Chiartis if she felt like she was getting something out of Mon Hills that she couldn’t find in a typical classroom.
“Oh, definitely! It’s much different than sitting in a lecture hall. It’s all my hands on learning and doing things that are gonna get released to the public and not just things that me and my professor are gonna see…. I actually have to work on them. It’s a professional experience for me I’m about to graduate and I’m getting put into a workforce and it’s a good experience because it’s what I want to be doing.”
In Part 2 of this story, we’ll talk a bit more about how the label functions and hear from one of their bands, 18 Strings.
For more information, check out the Mon Hills website! http://monhillsrecords.com/