Feature images courtesy of Christian Torres, Michael Arteaga and The CPP Music Department

Starving artists: Cal Poly Pomona musicians’ path for sustenance

By Gwen Soriano, September 12, 2023

Student Chris Bridges sat in a seat of the music management department at Georgia State University in 1996, with just a No. 2 pencil in his backpack and dreams of becoming the next big artist. Just three years later, the world knew him as Ludacris.

Much like worldwide icon Ludacris, young Cal Poly Pomona music artists work hard to produce hits in hopes of gaining talent recognition.

Music industry studies student Joaquin De Castro is a producer, songwriter and solo musician who takes influences rooted in the J-Pop, or Japanese Pop, and rock genres. Switching from studying English his first year to Agricultural Business to Music, De Castro can be found sharing his newly focused passion for the gift of musical composition to his campus peers.

As president of the CPP Music Entertainment and Industry Club, De Castro has worked hard to not only hone his own work but to share his gained knowledge amongst other local aspiring musicians.

“That feeling I had when I was able to get it right and have my music sound good — I want every musician to have that feeling,” said De Castro. “That feeling of, ‘This is possible, and this could be great.’”

Courtesy of Michael Arteaga

Music industry studies student and hip-hop composer Jacob Tejada, or “JT of NGK,” shares a similar love for his own song production.

Tejada takes musical influences from early 2000s hip hop, a very popular genre in today’s top hits. Yet, despite performing familiar melodies to the general public, the music industry studies student described his own struggles fighting for recognition and success in one’s own art.

“As someone in the industry, people will ask ‘Why do you matter?’ and ‘Why should I care about you?’ and there’s a constant pressure to stay relevant,” said Tejada. “That’s the hard truth. No one gives a damn about you until people give a damn about you.”

Student artists like Tejada and De Castro utilize local gigs in order to build their audiences. De Castro credited an influx of new listeners from a Tik Tok video of himself performing a song going viral, yet is still in search of ways to gain traction towards his streaming sites, like Spotify and Apple Music.

Setting aside the demands and pressures of music production, no artist can deny the value of being a part of the music community.

“If you really enjoy what you’re doing, you’re not going to stop doing it,” shared Tejada. “And I guess with music, I saw it that way.”

Courtesy of Jacob Tejada

Taking a look at the student body’s music tastes, the campus’ top artists mostly belong in the hip hop, country and EDM genres.

Being an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Music and ranking #4 in the best California universities for music business degrees, CPP supports young musicians looking to learn industry-standard skills in music production of all genres.

Alongside the education provided by the school, student-artists take on extra work to reach wider musical audiences, such as off-campus promotional concerts and events.

“The journey as an up-and-coming artist can be very long,” said De Castro. “It’s a variety of skills that takes time and practice to hone. The best part is that it’s worth it. It’s one of the most fulfilling skills.”

On an opposite spectrum of musical genres, Music Industry Studies student Damian Torres is the lead vocalist and guitarist of the local metal and punk rock band, ZOMBIELOAF. Additionally, Torres creates solo tunes inspired from ‘80s hardcore punk and ‘90s grunge.

Much like De Castro, Torres switched over to the music department later into his college career after experimenting with different music-editing software and encouraged students with a hidden passion to explore it.

“Personally, when I transferred to CPP, I was a film student for three years,” shared Torres. “I’d always say to myself, ‘I would never be a music major. It makes no money and I’ll never get support from my parents.’”

Small musicians who perform more niche genres, such as De Castro and Torres, found difficulties in reaching local listeners and supporters. Both young artists explained the two-part job that comes with claiming a spot within a creative industry: the production side and the marketing side.

Luckily, student-built organizations like the CPP music club hosts production workshops and networking events for the musicians on campus to master their skills and showcase their talents.

With all of the resources made available on campus, student artists like Torres continue to persevere through the hardships of the music industry and express themselves using their individual talents.

“Regardless of what I do, I’m going to do it well and I’m going to find my place in it,” said Torres. “Don’t let anybody stop you from doing that.”

Courtesy of Christian Torres

Feature images courtesy of Christian Torres, Michael Arteaga and The CPP Music Department

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