INSIDE Chico State
0 Febraury 13, 2003
Volume 33 Number 10
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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On Wings of Song
Student-run Wild Oak Records achieves cruising altitude with its fourth release

Bands Gone Wild CD cover

Fame’s underpinnings—the smoke, mirrors, and guy wires that make such illusion possible—find an academic spotlight in CSU, Chico’s Music Industry and Technology curriculum. This fairly new degree program, which begins its sixth year under the direction of Paul Friedlander, reshapes ingenuous students who “like hanging out with bands” into practical, informed technicians capable of navigating the currently amorphous recording industry. Along the way, the 80-odd majors assist professional musicians via Wild Oak Records, the program’s student-run and multi-armed label. Last semester, Wild Oak released its fourth CD, Bands Gone Wild, a six-band compilation featuring artists from throughout the state. The Nov. 19 release was followed by a Dec. 6 showcase concert at the BMU auditorium.

As proof of the record company’s legitimacy, CD orders arrive not only through its Web site, wildoakrecords.com, but also from such high-profile vendors as Amazon.com and cdbaby.com. In 2001, the label received a $4,000 work-study grant. Having survived its infancy, Wild Oak now looks forward to its own modest notoriety.

“We’re the largest program west of Nashville,” says Friedlander, whose facility with superlatives belies his stronger interest in education. “Now, specifically, we’re raising the academic and experiential criteria to distill the number down to about 60 students. We help reframe the notion of being involved in the music business as not merely getting a job with a big record label, but having the entrepreneurial and business skills to find a niche. You don’t need to have the brass ring, because that ring didn’t really exist in the first place.”

Several graduates’ success stories substantiate this last assertion. One former student now works for Left Bank Management, a large Los Angeles-based promoting firm. Another lives in Nashville, when he’s not on the road with top-10 country act Diamond Rio, working as the band’s monitor mixer. A third is closing in on a music industry master’s degree and works for the Monterey Blues Festival.

But these achievements require their share of sweat equity. Along with the two-semester thrill of running Wild Oak, students take such nuts-and-bolts courses as music industry management, record label administration—which includes a wide-eyed look at the legal side of recording—event planning and operation, and rock music history.

Paul Friedlander, Music IndustryPaul Friedlander, Music Industry

Paul Friedlander, Music Industry

More than ever, diversity and flexibility are the keys to surviving in the recording world, Friedlander emphasizes. “The confluence of new technologies has sparked this huge big bang, which has sent the current business model of the music industry into space,” he observes. “The whole industry is in a gaseous state, and what planets will form to create the new music business solar system is yet to be seen. During the last 15 years, record labels have consolidated, and large ones have bought up small ones. However, there wasn’t a dotcom industry 15 years ago, and neither were there as many independent and vanity labels selling one or two CDs. So the number of jobs has been maintained or perhaps even increased. However, the kinds of jobs and the assurance of job budget monies have changed and, in fact, are in severe decline. Retail is all but dead. Tower Records will probably go into bankruptcy this year, and that will be the last of the large chains to do so.”

Ironically, the industry’s queasy state has helped solidify Wild Oak’s presence in it as a mid-sized, independent label with 23 employees—though all but one is unpaid. Next fall, with the degree program in full swing, Wild Oak plans to promote itself and its products even more. “We think this new CD is a real step for us,” says Friedlander. “The bands are more accomplished. They’re more regional than last year’s [featured in the local compilation Four Corners]. They tend to have a larger audience. We really like the material and think a number of these bands are quite radio-friendly.”

Taran March

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