Collaboration is Key: AU Second District Records is creating the soundtrack to the school
Student-run record label and artists work together to produce songs and organize performances for the end of the semester
From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's November 2022 print edition. You can find the digital version here.
Secluded from American University’s main campus in the basement of the Kreeger Building is the production room where singer-songwriters and producers part of AU’s student-run record label, Second District Records (SDR), spend their Friday afternoons.
Livvy Billington, a sophomore in the School of Communication, signed with SDR as a singer-songwriter in the fall 2021 semester. Billington is in the process of recording her new single, “front porch,” where she sings of times where she’s laughed, cried and spilled secrets on her front stoop. Since joining the record label, Billington has found not only her music supported, but also a sense of community. “It's fun to be surrounded by people who love music, and especially at this school,” Billington said. “So the fact that I was able to find people who are genuinely just so passionate about music is like, all I've wanted.”
Aside from the artists, SDR divides their members into teams based on interests and strengths. Members are sorted into either the PR/creative team, PR/marketing team, audio-tech team or artists and repertoire team.
Grace Becker, a senior in the Kogod School of Business, is the PR/marketing leader of SDR. Additionally, Becker helps Billington with writing in the studio. As a freshman, Becker tried to join SDR as an artist and was rejected, so she thought she would never be involved with the label. In the fall 2021 semester, Becker rejoined SDR and became the co-president with Rudolph Travers, the current audio-tech team lead.
“Rudolph and I were basically the only members of SDR come fall 2021,” Becker said. “So we worked our best with really trying to get campus awareness of it, letting people know that there’s a student run record label, tapping into audio tech and tapping into business entertainment people who would be interested.”
The club, which now holds 104 members, has grown by finding performances and venues for their artists throughout the local D.C. community and at AU. For their revival concert last spring, the artists performed at Union Stage. Becker also encouraged Liv Wood, a sophomore in SOC, to audition to be an artist after she’d worked on the public relations team. Now, Wood is working on her own high-energy pop EP that recalls her and her friends’ messy breakups, planning to release it at the end of the semester. Wood is experimenting with a new U.K. synth genre called garage, while sticking to her singer-songwriter roots.
“She was so supportive and she was the one that really helped me actually, like formulate ideas,” Wood said of Becker.
Drew Dale, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and SDR’s co-president, focuses on planning events. Musically, he loves experimenting with different genres, like Wood. He has mostly worked on producing electronic music, but he also aids artists in other genres of music. “I think one of my main goals is to give my members as much access to all the resources that AU provides,” Dale said. “So whether that's with us, or whether that's with another club, I want them to be able to have access to whatever interests them creatively, whatever interests them professionally.”
Dale collaborated with SDR artist Kang Ewimbi, a junior at the University of Maryland College Park also taking classes at AU, to record an amapiano style song. Amapiano is a South African deep-house genre with longer, more drawn out music that is exclusively created from synths.
“I released an Afro type song, coming off the heels of the R&B song I released in August or July,” Ewimbi said. “And then the next thing I believe is gonna be: who knows?”
Jordan Model, who performs under the name Wrenmo, a sophomore in SOC, is planning to release an album with SDR this semester. Although Model records and produces his electronic style music on his own, SDR helps him mix and master his songs and release his music on streaming platforms.
“Seeing just a few people express interest in my music and show support around campus, it's very warming,” Model said.
For his upcoming album, Model is planning to collaborate with artist Ari Guzman, who performs under the name Ari The Indigo, a senior in the School of International Service. Guzman wrote and rapped verse for Model’s song in five minutes after she listened to the funky electronic track titled “Baby Now.”
“Ari is the first person I met here that I'm doing a collaboration with,” Model said. “I think her style is really unique from the other artists that I've worked with.”
Singing and rapping heartfelt hip-hop tracks in both Spanish and English, Guzman draws inspiration from her Mexican culture and family. After signing with SDR last year, she plans to release her first song in only Spanish.
“I don't want to be boxed in,” Guzman said. “I don't want to just be a female rapper or a female, Latino. I just want to be an artist, I want to be known for whatever I put out whether it's singing, rapping.”
To make SDR artist's music available on all streaming platforms, the club purchased a subscription to a platform for every artist that distributes music called DistroKid. The artists own all the rights to their music. PR/creative team leader, Isabella Horowitz, a junior in Kogod, is planning new content this semester. She is currently planning TikToks, music videos for artists and Spotify canvas videos.
“We kind of give them a glimpse at how a real record label would work in terms of PR,” Horowitz said. Although every member has their own niche, the club also wanted to create a learning environment. Any member can come into the studio during a session and learn how to use a soundboard.
“We’re trying to help them create a story and how people can relate to it,” Becker said.
Outside of their weekly meeting as a club, artists can reach out to their producer anytime they are ready to get in the studio and record. SDR also plans to host social events for their members at least once a month, such as karaoke nights.
“The fact that I was able to find people who are genuinely just so passionate about music is all I've wanted,” Billington said.
Billington’s new single, along with the rest of AU SDR artists’ new releases, are planned to be released at the end of this semester.