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Blue Hawk Records Busts out with ‘Eighteen’

Eighteen is a consequential age; it marks the border between youth and adulthood, between adolescent angst and alleged independence. Blue Hawk Records, the student-run record label at Monmouth University, wanted to capture that transitory stage and spirit in the mood and music of its 18th compilation EP, aptly titled Eighteen.

“We want to capture the newfound independence and freedom that comes with turning that age in both our music and artwork,” wrote Blue Hawk Records Creative Director Michelle Etienne in the creative brief sent to the University Art Department class. The label partners with the department to produce the graphic treatment for promotional material and for the EP itself.

“After the year we have had, our students needed to do something liberating,” says Joe Rapolla, chair of the Music & Theatre Department and director of the Music Industry program at Monmouth University. He continued, “I wanted to enable that expression for this class. We met in person, under all the most stringent safety protocols—25 of us in a theater space designed for 150—so the team could feel the energy of the room.”

It seemed to work. The label team put together a musically diverse collection of well-produced songs written and performed by student-artists.

As in past compilation projects, students from across all majors and programs at the University were invited to audition to perform on the release. “Some students approached the assignment with complete songs that only need to be recorded and produced, while some came with frameworks of songs that need a lot of arrangement,” Rapolla said.  

Even for students who joined the project with only a rough idea for a song were welcome, he added. Rapolla emphasizes that the Blue Hawk Records experience is about more than just performance; it also involves the comprehensive work of music professionals, which includes artist development.

As Rapolla puts it, “our team loves the challenge of developing an artist, producing their music, and helping them to realize their vision. During the process they inject a newfound confidence in the artist, and in themselves. It’s really wonderful to see.”

One of the artists on Eighteen, Mona Ray Cobb, came to the audition with no music, no instruments, and only a few lyrics that she had penned. There was a lot of work to do with the artist and the song.

“When Mona first showed up to audition, what immediately stood out to me about her was her confidence in who she was as a person and a singer. Her first words were ‘I am not a songwriter, I just like to sing, and I’m just auditioning for the experience.’ The song wasn’t complete, but her courage to come and at least try was all I needed to see,” explained co-GM/A&R rep and Monmouth University football team wide-receiver, Ezrah Archie. “Her audition to me felt like a ‘Hey, if you help me, we’ll have something special, because I don’t have all the tools for knowing where to go with what I have.’ Knowing that I had the qualities to take her from point A to the finish line, I was passionate about getting her on the album because I felt like she was deserving of the experience more than anything,” he said.

Archie and the team helped turn Mona Ray’s song outline into a dynamite upbeat pop song about having a passion and taking a chance.

Recorded and produced in the midst of a pandemic, the record label class had to stay focused, make good decisions, and figure out all the kinks to make the most of the production process of the album through the restrictions imposed by health and safety guidelines. 

In total, the team chose six great artists for the 18th compilation album. The lineup includes Alexander Giorgi, a senior business administration student, Brian Smith, a junior communication student, Josh Heckler, a sophomore music industry student, Kid Ace (Asad Whitehead), a first-year music industry student, Sarah Lambert, and Mona Ray Cobb, a junior political science student.

Alex Jeffrey, a music industry student and production manager for the release of Eighteen, said, “We were blessed with fantastic musicians that made all the artists’ visions for their songs come alive. Student musicians such as Mikey Sanchez, Ethan Christiansen, and recent graduate BJ Biedebach were critical to the success of the recording sessions. The sessions went so well, and everyone had a great time recording their songs.”

The label will celebrate the release of Eighteen with a virtual live simulcast on April 21 at 8 p.m.

The live show, hosted by Monmouth junior and label co-GM Kayla Booker, will be broadcast live from both the University’s radio station, WMCX 88.9FM, and Instagram Live on the Blue Hawk Records Instagram page, @bluehawkrecordsofficial. The worldwide release of the EP, on all major digital streaming channels, will be April 30.

Thanks to a newly formed partnership, Eighteen will be distributed through music industry service provider Vydia, which will feature Blue Hawk Records as its first university label partner as part of its new content management, distribution, and royalty tracking platform for the music industry. Other Vydia partners include Apple, Spotify, TikTok, and YouTube.

COVER ART by Aariana Flippin