With the rise of technology, aspiring musicians with an ambition of creating music for the masses are tapping into a world of endless possibilities with so many tools at their fingertips in El Paso and across the globe.
Long gone are the days of artists sending in demo tapes or a compact disc to record companies hoping and praying that theirs would be discovered out of the hundreds sent each week.
A UTEP professor says that it is no longer necessary to start a new life in entertainment hubs like New York City or Los Angeles to make it big thanks to innovative platforms that make self-promotion incredibly easy for artists.
“I definitely see a scene of people that are proud to make music here, and not travel outside of the city to do that, including some former students,” said Christopher Reyman, assistant professor in UTEP’s commercial music program who also holds a doctorate in commercial piano.
One of the first social media platforms, MySpace, was launched in 2003 as a way to share artistry and allow artists to connect with people globally. Before Facebook and Twitter took over, before Instagram and the latest TikTok platforms began consuming time, lovers of music flocked to venues to hear the artists in their community debut their music live.
SoundCloud reports that it has 76 million users in the United States and that it reaches more than 175 million users globally each month. Using the platform for independent music distribution became an industry standard since 2008.
For several years, SoundCloud has been allowing artists to measure how music is received and thus gaining marketing power before being discovered from the comforts of their home and environment.
El Paso’s own Khalid, who won three American Music Awards just a few weeks ago, was discovered on SoundCloud.
Tunji Balogun, vice president of A&R for RCA Records, stumbled upon one of his uploaded tracks, “Location,” signing him onto a recording deal before he graduated from Americas High School in 2016. The success of that first track eventually garnered him MTV’s “Best New Artist” award in 2017.
A story like Khalid’s is rare, but it shows the changes in the growth of the music industry, along with the power of self-promotion in the world of social media. UTEP boasts a commercial music program in its music department, educating aspiring artists to reach their dreams in everything from music business, performing, composing, arranging, music technology and sound engineering.
“We have 40 to 50 students in our program here at UTEP that includes all instruments,” Reyman said. “There is a scene here that is distinct from what is happening on the east or west coast. A lot of people in the area are not traveling to perform, (they) are choosing to stay here instead and pushing others to do the same.”
The bicultural nature of the community also plays a big factor in keeping and attracting talented musicians to the area. Concert master of UTEP’s symphony orchestra, Roberto Jurado, explains how delicate the situation is for many aspiring musicians in Ciudad Juárez and other parts of Mexico. Jurado is currently studying a master’s degree in music after accepting a teacher assistantship in the department. He studied his undergraduate degree in Juárez.
“Right now, the situation in Mexico is very delicate, a lot of doors have been closed,” Jurado said. “Many Mexican musicians have come to the U.S. and other parts of the world because of this. I prefer to perform than to teach and thus am preparing myself for that. I am very happy with the program here at UTEP; I honestly didn’t expect it to be as good as it is. I hope to study for my doctorate once I complete my masters.”
Whether a musician is classically trained working towards a career in performance or an aspiring musician with ambition of creating music for the masses, the tools at their fingertips are allowing them to stay home in the comforts of their hometowns.
Reyman has several jazz recordings, including “Koan Ensemble” and the “Chris Reyman Trio,” continuing to perform around El Paso while writing and recording new music. He advises students to diversify and do a bunch of different things.
“You never know what will stick,” he said.
Rebecca Reza may be reached at [email protected].