Making Music as an Undergraduate

The Guardian sits down with aspiring musician Thaddeus for an inside look on the life of an undergrad artist.

For many successful artists there is a distinct leap of faith into the industry, a point where you either make it or fail and face the repercussions. There was a time when a 19-year-old Tyler, the Creator and a 24-year-old Frank Ocean got on a plane to New York with nothing more than a few dollars and big dreams. There was a point where Kanye West decided, “I didn’t graduate: I decided I was finished,” and headed off to Los Angeles to follow a dream. For every success story of big risks and massive rewards, there are hundreds if not thousands of stories that don’t end nearly as well. The life of a young artist is an interesting window in which there is so much hope and potential, as well as conflict — something I have always been greatly interested in.

The struggle between artistic dreams and school is apparent to so many undergraduate students. There is a distinct conflict for these individuals: they must hold back their lofty dreams of a nationwide tour for a term paper that may be due next Thursday. To gain insight into this phenomenon of hope and aspiration, I sat down and picked the mind of an undergraduate artist named Thaddeus to better understand what the young, inspired, and hopeful artist deals with each day.

Thaddeus is a 21-year-old Lo-fi soul and R&B artist who currently attends the University of Southern California, where he majors in music industry. Reigning from Jacksonville, Florida, Thaddeus found himself at USC after countless auditions with the goal of using Los Angeles to trampoline himself into the music industry. Thaddeus and I were able to discuss the conflict between following one’s dreams and staying grounded in school, being surrounded by artists, the evolution of his own personal music, and what we can expect in coming months from the young artist himself.

Thaddeus was immediately able to address a major aspect of his artistry — his name — and described how it has allowed him to define himself. Thaddeus uses his birth name as his artist name, saying that while “[his] name never felt as if it fit him as a kid,” his reclamation of the name as an artist was a “rebirth or restart” for him. As many undergraduates are so lost and seeking to carve out their identities, it is insightful to see in this situation how creating art can lead the way.

As a music major at USC, Thaddeus’s undergraduate experience is vastly different than those at many other universities. I was able to ask Thaddeus how his specific environment has affected the way he makes music. Thaddeus promptly informed me that his program gets “so, so, so, so competitive” and that he is “constantly surrounded by people who are really driven and do the things that [he] hopes to be doing at an almost higher level,” which does nothing but motivate him.

Most importantly, Thaddeus discussed how his interests as an artist come into conflict with his school requirements. While he recognizes that it is “super easy to forget about school,” he believes that “there is value in being a student and there is value in getting a degree.” However, the internal conflict for many undergraduate students with ambitious musical dreams shone through when he explained “there is a part [of him] that recognizes that it is impossible to fully work as an artist while [he] is in school.” He quickly added that he’s not going to drop out but will continue to make the necessary sacrifices in order to do what he loves and thrive academically, while still trying to get enough sleep.

I was able to ask Thaddeus about the effect of easy-to-release music platforms such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp. He explained that the prospect of virality doesn’t take away from the artistry. “Social media and streaming have entirely changed the way we as artists can market ourselves,” he said, noting that “it’s nuts.”

As we concluded the interview, Thaddeus and I discussed his upcoming work and what we can expect from it. He made clear that his latest project, “Underhum,” is straight from the heart and was written in a quick flurry of personal emotion within a few days. With roots in Southern rock and a heavy emphasis on soul and R&B, Thaddeus hopes to be the next artist to break through in this new era of streaming and overnight stardom. With hopes of one day working with artists such as James Blake and Moses Sumney, one can follow the humble beginnings of the undergraduate artist from Jacksonville and watch the power of new media potentially change a life.

So many people struggle with uncovering their artistry and realizing their true goals. Through Thaddeus, we can see a blossoming young talent who has aspirations to climb to the top but must remain grounded through education. Thaddeus can be found on Soundcloud with the handle “underhum,” where he hopes to be releasing a great amount of music over the next few months. As the embodiment of all those undergraduate artists that require time to create but must make sacrifices to succeed in the classroom. Thaddeus hopes to be the next streaming trend — and his music shows his ability to make bounds in the industry.

Image courtesy of Thaddeus.

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