Student musicians find conflict in choosing between careers


Senior Mark Matsuki cues up a track by scratching. Scratching is a technique that produces distinctive sounds by moving a vinyl record back and forth on a turntable.


Senior Mark Matsuki gets home, throws his backpack to the side and gets to work. Unlike typical students, his work doesn’t involve pencils or books. Instead, it involves subwoofers, speakers, flashing lights, audio controllers, turntables and launchpads. It involves hosting huge parties and performing in front of thousands of people. Matsuki is a professional DJ.

Matsuki’s endeavors signal a growing trend in the field of independent musicians. According to a 2004 survey conducted by the Pew Research Internet Project, there are about 32 million people in America who consider themselves artists. An estimated 10 million of them get some sort of compensation for their creations and performances. According to Pew, the number continues to grow steadily through media such as the internet, a field that continues to be more and more accessible.

Matsuki, who started DJing in 2009, says DJing to him has cultivated from a hobby to a passion.

“Back when I was in seventh grade, I went to a summer camp at Northwestern University and my residential advisor was a DJ. I saw him DJing so I downloaded some cheap crappy software on my MacBook and I started to play around with different songs,” Matsuki said. “After that I started to getting a little more serious, I bought a $300 controller which cost me all my savings. I started playing at different house parties here in Carmel, played a little bit in Chicago at my friend’s house parties and that kind of stuff.”

Currently Matsuki works part time as a DJ at a company called Studio 77 LLC, a production company as well as a team of Indianapolis-based DJs, that provides entertainment with mainly a focus on electronic dance music. According to Matsuki, despite the rigors of his junior year course load, he still managed to find time to DJ at various Studio 77 LLC events.

“The first event I did with the company I signed with right now, Studio 77, was called the Color Run here in Indy,” Matsuki said. “About 25,000 people doing this 5K and there was a giant rave afterwards. I was placed at the starting line to DJ and, at the time, it was one of the biggest accomplishments for me.” the past year, Matsuki was able to open for Afroman, a rapper who was nominated for a Grammy award in 2002 for best solo rap performance, at the Purdue campus as well as place third in the Euphoria Fest DJ contest, a national competition for aspiring DJs. Yet, despite his successes, Matsuki still feels torn between choosing a career focused solely on music versus a more traditional career option.

“That’s actually a large point of conflict for me. Yes, I went from my basement to opening for national acts in just a few years. Granted, I didn’t do it on my own, but I did it with a lot faster than I ever could have imagined,” Matsuki said. “At the same time, I’m passionate about business and really want to go into marketing and/or entrepreneurship. I want to maintain my engagement in music, so there might be a way for me cross those two paths together.”

On the other end of the music spectrum, the band James Winston, featuring Wesley Corey and Jacob Fields, both seniors from Hamilton Southeastern High School, and Matthew McDonald, a senior from our school, is a group of independent student musicians that specializes in loosely based improvisation music that draws from the influence of rock, psychedelia, folk, jazz and “practically everything else” according to Fields.

James Winston, which, according to Corey, has its origins from the depths of Field’s mother’s basement after Corey and Fields came up with the idea of starting a band after watching a sequence of funny YouTube videos, also plays in gigs around Central Indiana.

Like Matsuki, James Winston started as a hobby that later grew into a passion.

“We used to not play a lot of improvisation, but we wanted to. (Corey and I) were into Phish. Matt likes the Dave Matthews band. So the improvisation ‘sea’ was always there,” Fields said. “But it didn’t really sprout until we started playing at Matt’s house. There was a sort of big freedom from playing at Matt’s house.”

According to Corey, the band has improved greatly from its initial stages.

“Like before, our songs would kind of just sound like crap, it would be really, really bad,” Corey said. “Then we started doing listening exercises and really started looking inwards to make everything sound a lot more tight and rehearsed.”

“Practices became more than playing our repertoire, it became ‘that didn’t sound good and here’s why,’” Corey added.

Senior Mark Matsuki plays his guitar to take a break from DJing. “Sometimes I feel like doing one or the other. Sometimes you feel like singing and other times like dancing. It’s just a different feel and expression,” he said.
Senior Mark Matsuki plays his guitar to take a break from DJing. “Sometimes I feel like doing one or the other. Sometimes you feel like singing and other times like dancing. It’s just a different feel and expression,” he said.

James Winston, similar to Matsuki, has also achieved success in their field. They’ve played gigs at numerous restaurants regularly, ranging from Mo’s Irish Pub to Teddy’s Burger Joint. They’ve even played at a wedding. In regards to going pursuing a future as musicians, unlike Matsuki, who was conflicted between different careers, members of the James Winston band seem to have adopted a “take it as it comes” kind of attitude.

“We kind of never really said it out loud. It’s kind of like an unspoken thing. We’re just going to practice and hone our skills. Next year in college, we’re going to try to play in bars and trying to get a college crowd in places like Bloomington, Indiana,” Fields said. “If we tell kids who are 16 or 17 to go somewhere, they aren’t going to go. They have no incentive, unless there are girls there. But if you tell a student in college, ‘Hey, let’s go to this party, listen to this band,’ they’ll definitely come.”

According to Joseph Franklin, the co-founder and owner of Studio 77 LLC, growing into the professional music industry involves many small steps.

“I started off as a true free-stylist spoken word poet. In that business/world, you step up and have no clue what song instrumental that the DJ will give you, you just go with the flow,” Franklin said. “I started very small and humble, throwing small international parties in the Latin, Russian, and Indian communities, just a mix bag of parties that were full of students who were in my computer science classes in college. We spent a lot of long hours up at night listening to international music while we programmed, and we would trade songs.”

While Franklin is the owner and a professional DJ of Studio 77 LLC, he also is a computer programmer and graphic designer. Due to his busy schedule he admits that DJing, although a strong passion of his, isn’t the focus of his life.

“It’s rewarding to have weeks when I can make seven to eight times per hour what I make at my day job,” Franklin said. “However, I don’t think being a full-time DJ is a viable option for me because I need to do more than that with my life personally; things such as programming websites and doing graphic art on Photoshop.”

However, according to Franklin, his decisions shouldn’t deter any musicians from vying to accomplish their own dreams. Instead, he encourages them to go forth and accomplish as much as they can.

“Even if you are a two on a scale from one to 10, if I see that you have a hunger to become better, I am out there rooting for you,” Franklin said. “To all of you guys out there working hard, I wish you all luck.”