SRJC launches student-run record label – Petaluma Argus Courier

In a computer lab at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus, nearly two dozen students are doing something that has never been done at the 104-year-old institution: They’re running a record label.
Founded in the fall of 2021, Don’t Flunk Me Records gives students a real-world experience of the ins and outs of running a professional record label, from signing contracts with bands to recording and releasing music to growing the label’s social media presence.
As part of a two-semester class in the music department’s digital media curriculum, the record label was conceived of by music recording instructor Jake Stillman as a way to combine the technical aspects of recording music with the business side of releasing and monetizing music.
Stillman, an adjunct faculty member at SRJC who also runs his own studio and label, Wilson Street Records, said there’s a growing need among independent artists for a better understanding of how to launch their music careers.
“There’s a lot of people out there who don’t have much of an understanding of the business side of the industry,” Stillman said. “They work really hard on an album for months or years, spend all this time and energy trying to craft this masterpiece and then they just upload it to Spotify a week later. That’s the common story.”
Audio programs like the one at the junior college are excellent at teaching the technical aspects of recording music, Stillman said. “But employers want to see good communication skills and an understanding of the entrepreneurial side of things,” he said.
“My focus was, how do we build a program that teaches the tech skills and the soft skills like communication and teamwork?” he said.
Don’t Flunk Me Records aims to do just that, with students working in groups to develop the label’s catalog of artists and releases.
Students do it all. They pitch artists to sign to the label, work with one artist or band each year to produce a single, record that single in the new recording studio on SRJC’s Petaluma campus, produce album art, make a music video and run an online social media campaign to promote the music.
Last spring, the label debuted its first single, “As We Go,” by Bay Area alternative rock band Columba Livia. The deal the label signs with artists is very favorable to the bands, giving them ownership of the master recordings and allowing the bands to reclaim distribution rights after two years.
“The label is not a money-making venture,” Stillman said. “It’s all about learning.”
Last spring’s single release was a learning experience for Stillman as well, and the label faced challenges both in building itself from the ground up and dealing with COVID-19 setbacks that affected students’ ability to work together in-person. Yet, the label persevered, and “As We Go” is now available to stream online. A music video for the single is still in development.
Last year, 15 students participated in the record label. This fall, Stillman had more than 20 students enroll in the class.
“Clearly, people are interested. My music recording class never does that good,” he said. “It’s a five-hour class, and it’s a regular occurrence (that) I have to kick students out of the class after five and a half hours. They’re excited to be there, and when you give students the ability to make their own program, do the things they want to do, they thrive.”
Many of the students running the record label this fall are aspiring or actively working artists or producers looking to gain insight into the industry they want to enter.
Louis Davis Jr., 32, last month released an album under the name Unconventional Loui. He said he joined the label to learn how to go about marketing and promoting his music the right way.
“This is pretty much everything I could ask for in obtaining that knowledge,” Davis said.
Alex Schieberl, 22, found the label while looking for classes to earn his associate in arts degree in digital media. “I’d like to be an artist, and as an artist I’d like to know how the industry works,” Schieberl said.
Jessica Cooper, 19, wants to be a producer. She said the junior college is an affordable and easily accessible way to work toward that goal.
“Stillman’s a great teacher, and he works with some pretty big artists,” Cooper said.
Davis echoed that sentiment, saying, “to get this type of information, you literally have to be on the inside of these record companies, whereas we can come to a campus in Petaluma and be graded on it.”
Currently, the record label is still scouting local bands to work with for its 2022-2023 single. Bands or artists who would like to work with Don’t Flunk Me Records can fill out an artist submission form, and the public can hear last year’s single and learn more about the label, at
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