Building records, not breaking them
Avi Hirshbein ’19 creates Basement Records to showcase talent on and off campus
Brandeis students exhibit talent in all areas — including music. With a trek to Slosberg Music Center, a night at Chomondeley’s Coffee House or a walk by the chapels, that becomes clear. Students sing, play instruments or rap, but until now, nothing has connected these young musicians to each other or to the outside musical community. Avi Hirshbein ’19 seeks to change that with the establishment of Brandeis’s own record label: Basement Records.
Hirshbein, a first-year who hopes to pursue an independent interdisciplinary major in Music Business, has loved music since childhood. As a musician himself, he sings a little, but he primarily writes songs and plays the piano, the ukulele and the guitar — all of which he says he mostly “taught [himself] to play by ear.”
Hirshbein’s passion eventually shifted from performing music to producing it. In an interview with the Justice, Hirshbein explained, “At one point in my life, I realized that I’m not going to be a famous musician, [so] I might as well be the one behind them.”
Hirshbein decided that working for a record label would be the ideal way for him to merge his passion for music with his proclivity for business. “When I came to Brandeis, I saw that there wasn’t really a big music business scene, so I was like, ‘I’m going to create it. I’m going to bring it.’ … Since there’s no big music business scene, it’s actually a great opportunity for me to create this environment of a record label.”
The record label, Basement Records, will function “as a real record label does in the outside world,” according to Hirshbein. “They sign artists, they make sure what they’re recording is what they want to portray and they just market that — promote it to everywhere [and] make sure they do concerts [and] commercials.” Hirshbein describes Basement Records as “a pedestal for aspiring musicians … who want to be famous in this microcosm of Brandeis” and as “a springboard for anyone who wants to potentially make a career out of their music.”
Though Brandeis lacks a prominent music business presence at this time, campus record labels aren’t unprecedented at other universities or even at Brandeis. Schools like New York University and Syracuse University have notable music business programs and student-run record labels, and since 2003, Brandeis has had B-Deis Records. According to Hirshbein, however, B-Deis Records focuses primarily on “getting artists to perform at Chum’s,” while his own Basement Records will focus on helping artists “in producing new music [and helping] them with the songwriting stage [and] with the recording stage.”
In its official club description, B-Deis Records says it “serves to use Chums as a practice space and provide musicians on campus with the tools needed to practice live music.” Basement Records, on the other hand, serves two slightly different functions: one is to get Brandeis artists exposure in the Brandeis community and the other, to advocate on behalf of career musicians to larger record companies.
Since arriving this past fall, Hirshbein has worked to realize his vision. “It’s actually been a long process,” Hirshbein explained. “I’m a freshman, so I didn’t really know what went into creating a club.” In the past months, Hirshbein has created a constitution, executive positions and a year-long plan. Last Tuesday, he had a meeting to request official recognition of Basement Records as a Brandeis club, and on Sunday, the Brandeis Senate approved his request by unanimous vote. Hirshbein has yet to request funding, however, because chartering requires more widespread support, and at this time, his priority is “to get it recognized [and] get the engine running,” he said.
According to Hirshbein, “the next step is starting — gathering a team, having a meeting [and] discussing the year-long plan.” Hirshbein’s core team consists of a marketing director, a business executive, an events leader, a head of artists and repertoire and himself, the head of operations. Hirshbein has already filled all positions but events leader.
Regarding artists, Basement Records will work with “anyone who’s talented,” according to Hirshbein. “I’m a fan of music,” he went on to say, “not just rap, not just pop. Any music — but obviously it’s not only my ears listening to the music. We have a whole team of ears. Any genre, whether it’s singer-songwriter, country — we’re not specifying a genre. We’re just exposing their talents to the school,” he explained. Initially, members of Basement Records will seek out artists, but Hirshbein hopes to eventually receive a large influx of demos and recordings.
Although Hirshbein knows that he and his team have a long way to go, he retains faith in his dream: “Little by little, I have a feeling it can — I know it can — become big. I know it can become something that Brandeis can be proud of.”
In addition to the benefits Basement Records can bring to aspiring Brandeis musicians, Hirshbein believes the label also has the potential to help Brandeis on a larger scale. “It’s going to represent Brandeis in the music business world,” he explained. “And even after I’m gone, it can create a legacy towards music business.” Right now, Brandeis has only one class for music business: Introduction to Music Business (MUS 61A). Hirshbein hopes that Basement Records will — in addition to everything else — reveal a market for music business and encourage the University to create more classes on the subject.
Hirshbein has the support of his growing team, and in an interview with the Justice, Head of A&R Tommy Michel ’19 explained his hopes for the impact of Basement Records: “It’s the best way to bring opportunity to the aspiring musicians here on campus … if people felt like the record label was established and they believed in it, then we could recruit all across campus.” Going on to explain how Basement Records will differ from existing labels, Michel adds, “We’re trying to take a stance that’s not like the other main record labels, which usually give incentive to the label itself and the producers.” Basement Records, on the other hand, will shift the incentive to artists and advocate more on their behalf than the average record label would. According to Michel, “that allows artists to more freely show their music … [and] in that way, the label will change the record industry.”
At the Senate meeting on Sunday, Hirshbein presented his club for official recognition to the Student Union. Assuaging concerns of exclusivity, Hirshbein explained that he had no intent of making Basement Records audition-based; rather, the label will work with any aspiring musician. Hirshbein also shared that his ultimate goal would be to have an annual music festival at the end of each year to showcase all of the label’s artists. Before leaving the room for the vote, Hirshbein played a demo recording of Ethan Brown ’19, a student who had already expressed interest in working with Basement Records. Afterward, all members of the Senate voted to officially recognize Basement Records.
With this official recognition, a team that continues to grow and a list of artists to contact, Hirshbein told the Justice, “[Basement Records] is taking shape. Everything’s taking shape. It’s going to be up soon.”