For years, Duke’s very own label and recording studio Small Town Records has been empowering young artists and giving students interested in the music industry the invaluable experience of creating music. Despite the immense challenges posed by the pandemic and the lack of in-person concerts, Small Town Records’s artists, producers and personnel have continued to do what they love and have a variety of projects slated for the spring semester.
On Jan. 29, Small Town Records’s Chelese opened for Smino at K-Ville, which was a virtual concert through Zoom and DukeGroups organized by Duke University Union. Before the concert, Chelese provided a statement to the Chronicle through Small Town Records’s VP of Communications, Lauren May.
“I’m over the moon to be opening for Smino! As a musician, it’s always exciting and rewarding to perform,” Chelese wrote in an email. “Even more so when I get to share the virtual stage with someone as talented as Smino is.” Chelese has a new single, “So Into You,” that that will be released Feb. 12 on Spotify.
Chelese is one of three senior artists for Small Town Records this spring, the other two being Jacob Rubin and Sara Held. According to May, Small Town Records wants to share these artists’ music most of all this spring, so new project announcements may be rolling out in the next few weeks as artists return to the studio.
Making music is difficult enough in normal times, but in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, May noted that Small Town Records has taken several precautions to ensure the safety of their staff and artists. Currently, only one artist and one sound engineer are allowed to enter their studio. This makes it more difficult to schedule and mix the separate recording tracks, but this has not deterred several artists from releasing new music over the last few months. Small Town Records is also working on implementing home recording into their workflow to alleviate the scheduling constraints of going into the studio. May expects that artists will return to the studio in early February to continue work on their projects.
Several of the Small Town Records artists have also published music recently, with LOGAN, Jack Taylor and TGBEAM all releasing new projects. In December of last year, LOGAN released her holiday-themed EP, “All is Bright (Acoustic),” which shows off her emotional and powerful voice while marking a daring foray into a new realm of acoustic music. TGBEAM’s most recent EP, “BEAMIN,” dropped last October and sees the artist combining his rapping, singing and songwriting talents to produce an engaging set of tracks. Jack Taylor’s debut single, “Silence Says It All,” was released on Jan. 1 of this year. The track’s bold statements of personal regret sing above a bed of synths for a very emotive effect. We can only hope that these artists and all of the other incredibly talented individuals at Small Town Records are able to get back into the studio soon and continue their projects.
In the past, Small Town Records artists have performed as opening acts at Duke’s annual LDOC concert, with Sara Held opening for Aminé in 2019 and LOGAN for Two Friends in 2020. While it seems unlikely that the LDOC concert will be held in person, May hopes that Small Town Records will continue their partnership with the LDOC committee and have one or more of their artists perform on April 23.
STR held a Zoom panel with their alumni on breaking into the music industry on Jan. 28. This falls in line with the summer workshop series that Small Town Records held last year aimed at promoting and enabling more diverse interest in the music industry following the police killing of George Floyd. May said that they hope to hold more panels focused on educating the Duke community on the music industry this spring and that she expects more alumni from the label will be involved in those panels.
Alongside the education panels, Small Town Records also plans on recruiting more staff this spring. Although they are not currently looking for new artists, they are looking to expand the roster.
“We want to have fun with music,” May said. “We love music and [we] want to make music.”
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that Chelese's single "So Into You" will be released Feb. 12.
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