Interview by Chris Patino
Get ready Brown (and RISD), ‘cause Benevolent Records (BR for short) is about to change the music scene on campus like you wouldn’t believe.
The all Brown-RISD student-run music record label is expanding exponentially. It started with Lindsay Sack ‘19, a passionate music student who felt the music scene on campus needed to change. For musicians, producers, and aspiring music business leaders, it had been very hard to find the place to collaborate and celebrate this passion in an industry model. There was always a music scene on campus, but many students were left in the dark, especially if they weren’t a musician with musician friends to form a band with. Now music enthusiasts from all realms can join forces and make the magic happen they always dreamed of. The label aims to provide the resources students need to flourish musically and artistically.
Can you describe your individual experiences with music, specifically those that led you to starting Benevolent Records?
Lindsay: Music was always something that I was passionate about in some way and really liked, but it was never a huge part of my life. I would secretly google "Jobs in the Music Industry," but it was never something I was going to do. But when I came here, I decided to take music theory, and that started getting me into it. It was also around the same time that I signed up by chance for WBRU, which was honestly one of the best decisions I've made because being in it and getting the chance to work in music, meet people who are involved in music, and go to shows on campus triggered a realization in me that this was something I really liked. Second semester of last year- I had been a Computer Science concentrator until halfway through- I made the decision that if this was something that was calling out to me to as much as it has been for so long, I needed to go after it. It was the best decision I've ever made.
Anna: Music has been a big part of my life since I was a child. My parents are musicians, not as a career but as a hobby, and I used to play in a group with all of my brothers. It’s just really been an integral part of my entire life. But I never really loved performing or felt like that was what I wanted to do. At the same time, I wanted to participate in music in some way, and so I feel like this record label is a really cool way to allow me to do so, and also extend the opportunity to others to participate in music without necessarily being a performer.
What exactly does the label do?
Lindsay: So we're the only student run record label on campus. There are two sides to it: the more tangible aspect of what we provide is resources like help with recording, performance opportunities, promotion, marketing, things like that that directly cater to our artists. But the core of what we want to do is to build an environment of people who love music and a space for people to create music and feel welcomed to do so. Because right now, the music scene here- while I feel like there is a lot of talent and a lot of incredible people- is sort of segmented, and there are a lot of voices that are not heard. So a lot of what we're doing is trying to give opportunities to these people who are so talented but who aren't heard because they don't fit a certain genre.
What are the short and long term goals for the label?
Lindsay: Our short term goal is just continuing to form who we want to be as an organization and providing more concrete opportunities. We just had our first show, and we're definitely planning a lot more in the future. We also want to start to really work with our artists because so far we have been more focused on establishing ourselves as an organization. Our long term goal is to create a space where people can find music because I have found a lot of opportunities for music here, but I have had to go all over for them. So to be an organization that, if someone is interested in music, they can come to, and we can provide all these avenues for them whether they are a songwriter or someone who is interested in the industry. We want to help people make meaningful things.
Can you talk about the process or any challenges involved in putting together something like the Benevolent Records Halloween Kick-Off Show? Was it what you had envisioned? What would you do differently next time?
Anna: The event was definitely challenging in some ways but I think in most regards it was very easy to put together because there are so many talented musicians at Brown who want to perform, and there is an audience for it. So if you do the small easy task of pairing these things together, then you can create really cool events that might require a lot more work if you were in other places.
Lindsay: PW also made it really easy for us. A lot of the planning that we're doing for future shows is more creative and out of the box, and going forward we want to focus on more of that. We want to expose that side of Brown more and really challenge the musicians, but we also understood the fact that we had our first show on Halloween weekend and there are limitations to that; people probably aren’t going to come to a small, acoustic concert or a weird experimental show on Halloween. So I think we had to compromise a little bit of creativity because we needed to cater to what the night was and we wanted a solid showing. But I know we were really proud of how it went and it was great to see how happy people were to perform. I feel like we have a start and now we can expand on that.
What events does Benevolent Records have planned for the future?
Lindsay: One thing that we are going to try to do the second week of November and make a regular thing is to have an open mic. I went to an open mic a few weeks back in Providence by a company that puts them on every month, and it was super small and intimate. Basically it was an opportunity for people to share music in a pretty un-intimidating space. So we're definitely going to try to do that, and it will be the kind of thing where you play one or two songs and everyone who wants to do it can do it. We're planning a show for second semester that we're really excited about. Basically, we're going to work with different film makers who will each choose a song from one of our artists and make a music video. Then we're going to get a space, Granoff if we can, and have a live music video concert where the artist performs live in front of the video. I think it would be really cool to tap into other organizations and get more of that collaboration going on.
Anna: Our first event was awesome and so fun, but I think there are even more groups and genres on campus that we just haven't even tapped into yet, and different art forms like you said Lindsay. This is a lot live music which is awesome but hopefully in the future we can also be mixing in other art forms with music.
What are your future career goals/plans?
Lindsay: So this is a bold statement, but I am going to change the music industry because I don’t think the way it is right now is how it should be. I have seen certain companies that, to me, are the core of what can be good with it- companies like Sofar Sounds and NPR music- but I feel that right now there is something missing in the industry. I don’t know what that is yet, but I’m trying to find it through my classes and through projects and exploring things. What I do know is that I want to be part of the industry and make a new space in it because there are so many things wrong and there are so many things that could be better. Music is the most powerful thing in the world, and the fact that it's commoditized and that not enough of it is heard . . . there is just so much more that can be there, so I want to figure out how to get that.
Anna: Well I don't have as good of an answer. (Laughs) I'm studying economics and want to do that for a career. But what is important to me--and Benevolent Records will hopefully do a good job of this--is making it so that people for whom music isn't the one and only thing they want to do, can still be participating. Even if you aren't pursuing it as your dream career you can still be a part of it and have it be a part of your life. I've got nothing more concrete than that. (Laughs)
If you can meet any musician, who would you meet and why?
Lindsay: I would have to say John Mayer. I don't really listen to him much anymore, but he was the first musician that became all-consuming for me. I felt like the transition that he seemed to be going through that he shared in his music was something I was experiencing at the same time, and I related so strongly and was so changed by it. Like I said, I don't really listen to him that much anymore because his music is so strongly associated with a different time for me that it’s hard to connect, and also my taste has changed a little bit. I’ve gotten more into the root of what he’s doing like soul and blues. But I would like to have a conversation with him because he seems like such an intelligent guy.
Anna: Can this person be dead? I would chose to Amy Winehouse. I don't think there would be many questions that I would have for her because I feel like music is something that is so natural for her. She doesn’t even think about it, it just comes out of her. So I would just sit there and listen to her sing her something.
What song do you wish you wrote? You can choose multiple.
Lindsay: There's so many! I'm going to steal that question! “Hope She'll Be Happier” by Bill Withers, not so much lyrically, but because I was so taken when I heard that song. “Midnight in Harlem,” Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Anna: All of the lyrics that Chance writes are just so clever and funny, same with Kendrick. In terms of melody, I really like Erik Satie's "Trois Gymnopedies", that’s like the prettiest melody.
Lindsay: Bohemian Rhapsody too. I saw Lake Street Dive perform it a month ago, and singing along to that song live is the most incredible release. I can't imagine writing that.
Where can people go if they are interested in getting involved with the label?
Lindsay: Reach out to us! We're happy to meet up and talk about what we're doing or get ideas. If you're interested in the industry side, come to our meetings every other Wednesday at 9:00 PM in Wilson 101. For the artist side, there is an artist application that you can fill out. It’s on our Facebook page, or you can email either of us and we can send it to you. Fill it out and our people will reach out to you so you can get involved!
Anna: Yeah, we want everyone!
Lindsay: Even if you can't be involved directly, please come support our shows and listen to our artists' music because there are so many people doing incredible things here and more people need to hear them.
Any final thoughts?
Lindsay: The main thing that I have learned from this process is that if you believe in something strongly, just do it and don't be afraid of it. Personally, the transition from computer science to music was not an easy decision because it meant going from security to total questioning. But don’t be afraid of what you want. Music is an incredible thing. Also, shout out to our leadership team because they are some of the most incredibly talented people with amazing ideas who are so committed to the organization. We are so grateful to be able to work with them.
Anna: Honestly most of what Lindsay and I are doing is just connecting all of the talented people at Brown to make something together. We're not trying to make this one specific thing, we just want to be a space where people can do whatever they want. Whatever genre, whatever style, whatever anything, come to us because we want to help you produce your ideas!
You can reach Lindsay or Anna through their emails at Anna_Croley@brown.edu and Lindsay_Sack@brown.edu. Make sure you check out the Benevolent Records Facebook page for more information, and fill out the artist application if you’re interested in being a Benevolent Records Artist!