Student Emily Schaller shows the sound card to another student. All equipment is used by Butler University label, Indy Blue Entertainment. Photo by Ben Caylor.
ERIC NOFZIGER | PERSONAL JOURNALIST | [email protected]
Disclaimer: Emily Schaller and Haley Morkert are Collegian staff members and therefore cannot be interviewed as a conflict of interest.
Think of your favorite song. Consider for a moment all the work that went into creating it: the countless hours of writing, recording, producing and mixing. Would you believe that a group of students professionally make and release music right here on the Butler campus?
Indy Blue Entertainment is Butler University’s own record and music publishing company. Over the past semester, student musicians and artists from the Indianapolis community have used the recording studio in the basement of the Fairbanks Center to create music that will eventually be released under the Indy Blue label.
Cutler Armstrong, a lecturer at the Eugene S. Pulliam School of Journalism and Creative Media, along with other faculty members, started Indy Blue a decade ago to allow students in the curriculum of the music industry to release their recordings under the Butler brand.
The label has been used for different projects over the years, but briefly fell dormant around 2017, before a group of students decided to revive it last year. Langford Lessenberry, a dual major in digital media production and music, discussed the thought process behind the label’s relaunch.
“Emily Schaller, Haley Morkert and I were on Butler’s trip to Los Angeles to talk to another school that had their own record label, and we were kind of jealous of the opportunity,” Lessenberry said. “We spoke to [Armstrong]and he said we should get [Indy Blue] operational again, so we took Griffin McPhail on board and the four of us kind of woke him up.
The group was slow to involve more people and assign tasks, while Armstrong applied for and received a grant through the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association. Then they got to work.
Schaller was something of a “CEO” of the label, making sure all the books were in order, while McPhail, a fifth-year music education student, coordinated with local artists. Lessenberry and Morkert served as mixing engineer and recording engineer, respectively, and McPhail and Lessenberry also contributed their own performances. The band received help from many other students and faculty members in a number of areas, including sound recording and general studio setup.
“I learned a lot about what it takes to record high quality music,” McPhail said. “Butler’s facilities are really high quality, and being able to work with this caliber of equipment was really great.”
The fruit of their collective labor is an upcoming sampler, which will feature four songs from four different artists and will be officially released through Indy Blue Entertainment. the Sunset Stilley’sa local band with Butler student Garrett Phillips, contributed a song to the sampler, as did Butler graduates Kealy Welage and Gavin Zawacki. The McPhail-recorded track also lands on the sampler, along with Lessenberry’s song which was recorded with collaborator Matthew Polson.
The songs were fully recorded and mixed here at Butler but will be sent for mastering by Andy VanDette, a professional sound engineer whose credits include David Bowie and Whitney Houston, using the aforementioned grant money. Once the mastering is complete, the sampler will be released digitally via streaming platforms. In addition, leads will be sent to Custom vinyl little elephant in Toledo, Ohio — owned by Butler alum Rob Courtney — where the physical recordings will be pressed as keepsakes for those involved in the recording process.
While this process might seem too daunting for someone who’s never been in a studio, those involved say an abundance of experience or knowledge isn’t necessary to get involved with Indy Blue.
“I basically started mixing from scratch,” Lessenberry said. “I knew the ideas but not quite how to do it, and a lot of us really did. We just figured it out.
Students interested in helping out with Indy Blue can simply volunteer any sort of performance skill to a project, or they can enroll in a course called MI 357 Experiential Application. The class is a repeatable, pass-fail, three credit hour class that provides a beneficial real-world experience.
Students don’t need advanced skills to enroll in MI 357, but those in the class with no prior studio experience will need to take the time to learn the ropes from older students first. to start their own work. Armstrong presents the course as a way for students to express their creativity and collaborate with like-minded peers while earning higher-level college credit.
Along with the obvious technical skills gained from working in a professional studio, the students said their experience with Indy Blue taught them many valuable lessons.
“Even if you’re not going to get into audio, everything is interchangeable,” Lessenberry said. “Once you hang out with people who know what they’re doing, you’ll do better in any discipline.”
McPhail echoed that sentiment, adding that the hands-on aspect of the program was one of the most rewarding parts.
“I’m a music education student and working with kids is a whole different world,” McPhail said. “It was just nice to get hands-on experience with something I didn’t really know.”
Although those most involved in reviving Indy Blue are graduating this year, they hope the project will continue in the future through the mentorship of younger students. This semester, the band is bringing back those who helped out during last semester’s recording sessions and embarking on some sort of training program so they can take over next year.
Students like Lessenberry and McPhail are excited about the idea of keeping the label alive even after graduation. They appreciate the unique potential for continuous learning and innovation brought by close collaboration with other dedicated students.
Armstrong would also like to see the release of new music under the Indy Blue label become a campus tradition that benefits the entire Butler community.
“I see a lot of traditions at Butler that have been going on for 80 or 100 years,” Armstrong said. “It would be great to see enough passion in the students to keep them going, and it becomes an expectation and an excitement, like, ‘Oh, there’s going to be some new stuff that we can listen to. That would be great.”
You can follow Indy Blue Entertainment on Instagram @indyblue.entand stay tuned for the upcoming release of the label’s four-track sampler.