480 Collective

Mastering the St. Thomas Sound: Tommie Record Label Debuts

It didn’t take long for inspiration to hit. Just hours after opening the doors to the University of St. Thomas’ new Schoenecker Center, music business students were already collaborating on their first big idea: a Tommie record label.

“It sounded a bit crazy and daunting at first,” Owen Hjerpe ’24 said. “But it was also really exciting.”

Students enrolled in Music 480 – the capstone seminar for music business majors – had just met for the first time in their brand new “classroom.” Surrounded by the cutting-edge technology of the Schoenecker Center’s new live recording studio, they decided to blow up instructor Dr. Steve Cole’s syllabus for the semester and embark on something completely new.

“They wanted to do something that they could pass on to future generations of Tommies, and I was a huge fan of that,” said Cole, who leads music industry studies and recording arts at St. Thomas.

In a nod to their capstone course number, students branded their budding record label the 480 Collective. Over the next 16 weeks, they moved at lightning speed, signing artists, producing tracks and marketing their finished work across campus.

Housed in the Department of Music, Film & Creative Enterprise, the music business program has seen 40% growth over the last five years. As students face an ever-evolving creative landscape, faculty work to foster a seamless connection between the artist, the art form and the creative economy. Recent alumni are working with some of the most important firms in the music industry, including Universal Music Group, Live Nation, Warner Music Group, TikTok and Best Buy.

“We create the art, but we also ensconce our students in the larger creative economy that this artwork flourishes in,” Cole said. "It’s important that our students feel like they have the skills to pursue a career in the field from both the artistic side and entrepreneurial side.”

480 Collective artist Salomé White performs her original song 'Here's to 20' at Tommie Fest.
480 Collective artist Salomé White performs her original song “Here’s to 20” at Tommie Fest. “Signing my first artist contract was such a surreal experience,” White said. “My music started off as just a voice memo on my phone of me playing the ukulele and singing, and the 480 producers were so incredible at turning my ideas for my song into reality.” (Abraham Swee/University of St. Thomas)

In February, a call went out to St. Thomas students to submit original songs for the 480 Collective’s inaugural release. Artists were selected based on the organization’s mission to discover and uplift a diverse group of campus creatives.

Music business major Maggie Wuollet ’24 served as a member of the label’s management team and worked closely with the St. Thomas legal department to draw up artist release forms.

“The collaboration and support we felt across campus was incredible,” Wuollet said. “Staff across the university worked with us to bring this to life. To have that real-world experience, it’s been very rewarding.”

Schoenecker Studios

With an eclectic mix of Tommie artists – rappers, pop singers and instrumentalists – ready to record their work, it was time to welcome these music makers into the university’s new recording studio.

Music business students work with Dr. Steve Cole to mix a track in the control room of Schoenecker Studios. (Abraham Swee/University of St. Thomas)

The Beatles had Abbey Road Studios. The Rolling Stones used a mobile studio. And the University of St. Thomas is now home to the aptly nicknamed “Schoenecker Studios.” Found in the heart of the new STEAM complex, the studio features a live recording area, control room and plenty of open space for collaboration.

“A large part of the inspiration for this record label has come from the space itself,” Cole said.

In addition to industry-quality speakers, headsets and microphones, the recording area boasts a new Kawai grand piano. Across the room is a Pearl Masters drum set recommended to St. Thomas by the current drummer of Styx, Todd Sucherman. Blending it all together in the control room is a revered Neve recording console – the company has been making mixers and consoles for decades and some of the most famous records in the world were recorded on Neve products.

I think the students saw the space and were blown away. And I think they realized that the University of St. Thomas made a significant investment in the arts and them, as artists, and they were very, very inspired by that.”

Dr. Steve Cole

Hjerpe pulled double duty this spring. A music business major and member of the 480 course, he served as a producer, collaborating directly with artists to shape their tracks. As an accomplished saxophonist, he also found himself selected as one of the contracted artists.

“It’s been a great experience for me because I was able to experience the 480 Collective from both sides,” Hjerpe said. “I had this incredible opportunity to contribute to someone else’s track, while also contributing my own work. I think that’s a really great opportunity to have as a musician.”

Owen Hjerpe records an original work in the new recording studio inside the Schoenecker Center.
480 Collective producer and artist Owen Hjerpe records an original work in the Schoenecker Center’s new recording studio. (Abraham Swee/University of St. Thomas)

Hjerpe’s original track, titled ‘you’ll never know’, was inspired by his love of video game soundtracks and jazz. The solo work merges math rock, orchestral elements, synths, and, of course, saxophone.

“Creating a label, producing these tracks and then getting used to recording myself on my own instrument was such a big learning experience,” Hjerpe said. “It was a big ask for both the producers and the artists, but we accomplished it by lifting each other up.”

A creative approach to music business

Creating a record label from scratch served as the ultimate encore for these graduating students, testing their abilities to create music and make a living off it. They spent considerable time defining the organization’s culture and mission, one based around artistry, community, and radical collaboration.

“When you start with a mission that you believe in, and when that mission is your guiding principle for how you go about doing your work, then you’ve created something that's enduring,” Cole said. “Culture is king.”

480 Collective artist Claire Eileen performs her original work 'cubicle' at Tommie Fest. Eileen says her biggest musical inspirations include Clairo, Phoebe Bridgers, Lizzy McAlpine, and Ben Rector. She first picked up a guitar in second grade, and the first thing she learned how to play was “You belong with me” by Taylor Swift.
480 Collective artist Claire Eileen performs her original work ‘cubicle’ at Tommie Fest. Eileen says her biggest musical inspirations include Clairo, Phoebe Bridgers, Lizzy McAlpine, and Ben Rector. She first picked up a guitar in the second grade. (Abraham Swee/University of St. Thomas)

Music business and psychology double major Kaylen DeBois ’24 is excited to take what she’s learned and embed herself into the local music scene.

“Not only have I learned about running a record label, the business aspect and everything that goes into it, but I’ve also learned a lot about collaboration and working with a group that strives to authentically represent these artists,” DeBois said.

Album cover art for The Collection, VOL. I by 480 Collective
After 16 weeks of work, the 480 Collective released their first album, “The Collection Vol. 1.”

The 480 Collective’s inaugural album, “The Collection Vol. 1,” made its live debut at this year’s Tommie Fest. The May performance on John P. Monahan Plaza outside of the Anderson Student Center featured artists performing their tracks publicly for the first time. Hours later, the new music, ranging from classic country to indie pop, debuted on streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify.

It was a celebratory end to a “crazy idea” that started in Schoenecker Studios just weeks prior.

“The Schoenecker Center made this dream real,” DeBois said. “If it weren’t for this building, I don’t think we’d have the same drive to do this. We wanted to match the energy of this new, exciting building with this new, exciting endeavor, and we were able to learn so much in the process.”

The 480 Collective is expected to become an enduring addition to campus, with a new group of students taking over the reins as music producers during the fall 2024 semester.

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