By Shaye Graves
When students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) want to dive into the campus music scene, they need only turn to the Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) Music Committee, WSUM Student Radio and EMMIE Magazine to find themselves happily submerged. While these three student organizations are a handful of many music-oriented campus groups, over the years they’ve lodged themselves in the very heart of Madison’s music scene.
The first recreational activity sophomore Will Skalecki engaged in upon transferring to UW-Madison this year was attend WSUM’s concert festival Snake on the Lake at the Frequency, where the bands Whitney and Hoops played for the student body’s music lovers.
“I was so impressed,” Skalecki said. “And then I saw WUD Music’s fall lineup, they had incredible artists like Destroyer and Jeff Rosenstock coming. I just could tell the music scene here is something special.”
As vibrant as our campus’ music scene is today — playing an integral role in student and even community recreation — its evolution is equally enthralling.
Coming to Life
Music has been a part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison since the beginning. In the midst of endless possibilities, ideas in the making and visions soon to be reality, WUD Music came to life first. The WUD Music Committee began as the Union Dance Committee in the late 1930s. Before they had the money and connections they have now, the committee mainly threw dance parties, turning the Rathskeller into a nightclub for students.
Although the university began experimenting with radio in the first decade of the 1900s, it wasn’t until 1997 that WSUM came to be. The station organized itself with paid and volunteer DJs whose mission was to broadcast alternative music to the Madison community.
EMMIE Magazine is the most recent addition to the bunch. A group of students founded EMMIE in 2011 to fill a gap in campus publications. While other campus publications like the Daily Cardinal and Badger Herald dabble in music-related content as part of their arts and culture sections, EMMIE Magazine focuses entirely on music. The current editor-in-chief, Mia Sato, was around when EMMIE was only two years old. Now a senior, Sato joined EMMIE as a freshman.
“I remember it being really kind of crazy,” Sato said. “The editor-in-chief at the time had a big group of her friends also involved, so it was more playing around and having fun than a super serious music publication.”
A Time of Transitions
Through trial and error, WUD Music, WSUM and EMMIE have all come a long way.
Today, WUD Music books and promotes weekly concerts on campus that are all either free or discounted for students. The committee is staffed with around 40 members all dedicated to booking great shows. Will Skalecki is one of the committee’s newest members, and he spoke to what a typical WUD Music meeting is like:
“The meeting is devoted to avails, so that’s when a member has been in contact with a band’s manager and they have a certain price range they’re thinking about. When thinking about who to book, we keep in mind both who we want to see and who we think the campus as a whole wants to see. So a member gives a pitch for the band and we listen to some of their music and talk about why it would be good to have this band, and then we vote. Usually we only vote no if they’re asking too much money and we don’t have a fanbase on campus to back it up.”
Recent venue renovations extended WUD Music’s venues from the Rathskeller to include Varsity Hall, the Sett and in the summer months, the Memorial Union Terrace. Venues are just one of a few aspects of the evolution of WUD Music Director that Halle Luksich has noticed.
“The biggest difference I’ve seen since I started with WUD my freshman year is that we’ve been solidifying a path to inclusive practices in areas from safety to diversity,” Lusich said.
For example, WUD Music has become more progressive in that they make a point to have gender-neutral restrooms at their shows whenever possible in their active effort to create safe spaces.
WSUM has undergone many changes as well. Program Director Emili Earhart is a senior who’s been a part of WSUM since she was a freshman, witnessing little changes over the past four years.
“I think there’s definitely more opportunities now to get involved, like our music appreciation club wasn’t around back then” Earhart said. “There are definitely more DJs now than there were then, and we’re always growing.”
Part of this growth entails collaborating with other student organizations, most frequently WUD Music. Snake on the Lake, for example, usually has WUD Music support.
As EMMIE Magazine has only been around for six years, the magazine has done a lot of maturing in a short amount of time.
“I think our content has changed a lot, especially in the last two years,” Sato said. “I feel like I’ve seen EMMIE take on more difficult topics whereas before it was about lighthearted things, and we still have that, but we’re not afraid to look at music not as just happening in a vacuum but happening with other social and political and cultural changes.”
Additionally, EMMIE has a bigger presence on campus, especially because the magazine has started reaching out to WUD Music and other organizations to do collaborative events. 2017 is EMMIE’s second year partnering with the Wisconsin Alumni Student Board (WASB) to put on a battle of the bands competition for students.
Making a Mark
The various threads involved with WUD Music, WSUM and EMMIE’s growing identities are all sewing these organizations into the foundation of student entertainment, offering a little something for everybody. WUD Music tries to accommodate everyone they can with the acts they choose to book.
“I love how diverse the committee is and how everyone has such different tastes,” Associate Director Shannon Kim said in a post on the Wisconsin Union blog. “The different tastes in music are super important so we can book acts for everyone on campus, not just a small group of people.”
Also to this end, Lusich said one of her biggest goals for WUD Music this year was to make strong connections with other organizations, which she believes they’ve done well with. In the past few weeks alone the Committee has collaborated with WASB, First Wave, Hoofers and Wheelhouse.
When music fans aren’t at shows booked by WUD Music, WSUM offers a fine array of eclectic programming to listen to on the radio. WSUM’s commitment to unique programing virtually guarantees listeners will hear something they’ve never heard before every time they tune in.
EMMIE integrates students even further into the campus music scene by engaging them with interactive elements like playlists and competitions. The publication also builds bridges between local artists and music fans on campus by providing these artists with publicity to familiarize students with the local music scene. EMMIE sets itself apart from other publications who write about music with its personable voice.
“I’ve always encouraged my writers to be funny have your own voice, not just be an objective viewer of the situation, Sato said. “EMMIE’s voice has always been this lighthearted, kind of mischievous problem child of PubCom which I think is an awesome, funny identity.”
A Bright Future
These core organizations have strong identities, but that said, they are always experimenting, reshaping and moving forward. The future holds great things for each of these groups, especially as they’re collaborating to form the bedrock of not just the university music scene, but the community music scene as well. The leadership changes each year, leaving lots of room for growth and change in different directions.
“I think [WUD Music] is going to keep following the inclusivity path,” Lusich said. “There are so many great people on the committee and they’ll keep having great new ideas on how to improve!”
WSUM has more concrete plans in store. This year has seen adventures in podcasting and other new forms of radio broadcast.
“We have some bigger changes coming up with a second stream that we’re starting,” Earhart said. “It’s hard to tell what changes are gonna happen but staff right now are more dedicated than years past. It’s gonna be really cool.”
Technology is at the forefront of EMMIE’s future plans, too.
“Integrating the technology we have instead of keeping it all on print, like updating the website and doing playlists,” will be important, said Sato. “Multimedia is for sure the future.”
EMMIE has already had success pioneering new technology tactics on campus this school year. The magazine’s web presence is designed to supplement its print publications and engage music fans in new ways.
“We’ve tried integrating social media, like the livestream we planned with Killer Mike before his RED Talk this semester,” Sato said. “And this year I worked with my social media team to put money behind posts, which is a really new concept for student publications.”
While WUD Music, WSUM and EMMIE Magazine are the backbone of UW’s music scene, their reach doesn’t end with students.
“Something I’ve realized is people really like WSUM and don’t think of it as just a student thing, or think that WUD shows are just for students,” Earhart said.
Because these organizations are are so dedicated to inclusivity and innovation, they’ve become integral to the Madison community at large. And they plan to continue this upward trajectory.
“We have a really exceptional music scene,” Skalecki said. “As long as we keep pushing boundaries, it’ll only get better.”