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The Daily Tar Heel
Diversions

Student musicians balance bands and books

Chapel Hill is home to a wide variety of musicians from all genres and backgrounds, a good portion of them being students. In terms of balancing the two full-time jobs of student and musician, student bands have to delegate their time more rigidly and decide on where their priorities lie.

Staff writer Lily Escobar talked to Sam Khoujinian, from the psychedelic band Virgins Family Band, and Gabriel Reynolds, from folk rock band Morning Brigade, on what the experience is like for student musicians in Chapel Hill.

Diversions: With academic stresses such as midterms and exams, how do you decide on whether to play a show?

Sam Khoujinian: Well, we sort of all decided that we wanted to play music professionally and so for us, the choice to choose academics or music was an easy one. Unless the assignment or the exam was going to determine the course of our college career, we would choose to play the show. If it was a significant exam, we would probably take a few hours to set it even but then we would play the show anyways. I mean, we committed ourselves to making art as a profession — we can’t really forsake that profession by doing other things.

Gabriel Reynolds: Morning Brigade is a serious commitment for us. I don’t think we’ve ever given up an opportunity we wanted because someone had an exam or an assignment — you just grin and bear it because it’s something you care about. I was once up with homework ‘til 6 a.m. the night of a show and gave a presentation the next day, and I’m sure my bandmates have even more dramatic examples. Sometimes it sucks but it’s worth it.

Dive: Do you feel as though your success could be largely accredited to your student successes?

GR: Being students helped because it gave us a lot of opportunities and provided a sort of built-in fan base of friends and classmates. It’s hard to imagine our story starting another way. At the same time, we’ve worked hard to give people actual reasons to like us, and when we toured the East Coast and got a great response in other states, it felt like we had succeeded. We made big strides once we stopped thinking of ourselves as just a student band and considered things on a bigger scale.

Dive: What are some of the biggest challenges with being students and musicians?

SK: Definitely time management, definitely. You know, there are deadlines. The thing with music is when you’re doing it independently and you set your own deadlines. With school, they’re set for you. There are people telling you for you when things are due. There are people telling you what assignments to do. And you have to balance doing those successfully on time, given the constraints that others are putting on you, and the music you want to make and release within your own deadlines.

Dive: What are some of its pros?

GR: The campus scene is great place for a band to start — you get loads of support and there’s a lot of encouraging energy. And we can’t overstate how helpful the University-based events and opportunities have been for us — Carolina Creates Music and CUAB really made things happen for us back when we weren’t sure how the whole being-a-band thing worked.

Dive: Do any of you balance work, school and music?

GR: Many of us have balanced all three at once, myself included. It’s just a matter of time management and not taking on an irresponsible amount of responsibility. We never feel like we’re imposing on anyone in the band because we know it’s just as important to them as it is to the rest of us.

Dive: Do you have any advice to students considering starting up a band?

SK: It takes a lot of work, and it’s extremely frustrating. Sometimes it’s just not fun at all. It depends on why you start a band. If you start a band just to play music with your friends and have fun, I completely support it. I think that’s a fantastic idea and it’s extremely therapeutic and wonderful for people to do that. It helps you immerse yourself in the music without thinking about the other parts of being in a band like marketing and promotion and booking gigs and things like that. My advice is play as much as you can.

But, if you’re trying to play music professionally, if you’re trying to make a living playing music, you have to be ready for tons and tons of frustrations. You have to be ready to not be appreciated as much as you think you deserve to be appreciated. As far as being an independent musician now, you have to be ready to commit to something that will feel very unrewarding, extremely unrewarding. Then, once you feel how unrewarding it is, you have to question, why am I doing this? Am I doing this because I love playing music or am I doing this because I want to make money and I want the fame and stardom associated with being musicians? And once you can answer that question one way or another, you’ll know whether to continue playing in your band or not.

diversions@dailytarheel.com

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