Despite the increasing success of student-produced independent music with support from production groups like Niteskool and student-run shows like the U Nu Arts Night, the consistent refrain of many artistically-inclined students at Northwestern has been one of dissatisfaction. Most of us can agree that the music scene at Northwestern, while vibrant, is concentrated largely in classical music and musical theatre rather than experimental or alternative fare. However, this lacking scene has done nothing to dampen Communication freshman DS Shin’s experience here. It kicked him into action instead.
“There are so many types of bands here with so many different colors of music,” Shin says. “I wanted to [showcase] that as a web series… as something that a lot of students could interact with.” Shin spread his idea to some friends. Subsequently, Jam Sesh, Northwestern’s first music reality TV show, was born. The new program will air for the next five Wednesdays on NUCH1.
The competition will feature four 'Cat-exclusive musical acts, chosen by the heads of the committees through research and connections in the arts scene (Ramirez is a member of Niteskool, for example). The acts featured are "robot-rock quartet" Jet Jaguar, rap artist Lenny Kim, pop singer Jacqueline Citrin (Jackie Pober) and a fourth, TBA act. That the fourth band remains anonymous is a deliberate marketing move. According to Communication freshman Emily Ryles, “most people know who [the members in the fourth act] are. We’re going for the surprise factor because they’re a big deal on campus.”
The series starts out with each artist receiving the challenge to remix an original song (“Living in the Now” by USC student Jordan Kelley) and uses a documentary format to follow the bands' progress leading up to the live performances of their carefully crafted covers.
In a stroke of inspiration that eclipses his freshman status, Shin and his co-creators decided to incorporate professors from the Bienen School of Music into the show. During the third episode, “[the bands will perform for and] critique each other Real World-style and we’ll show the performance footage to the professors, who will then critique each act,” Ryles explains. Much like American Idol, the judges are meant to be a guiding force instead of a deciding one.
At the end of the fourth episode, students will vote for their favorite artist online. The winner will be announced on the fifth episode and will receive glory, fame and a Jam Sesh-produced music video, along with the coveted title of Jam Sesh champion. “The fate of the show is entirely in the hands of the students,” Ryles says.
Voting is only the tip of Jam Sesh’s student-collaborative iceberg. “It’s the most interactive TV show you will ever experience,” Ryles says. “We’re gonna do interviews under the arch…lots of interactive publicity… and social networking sites like Tumblr and Facebook.” The show’s fourth episode will be a live performance at JJ Java, open to all, and there’s even talks of a YouTube challenge in which students could directly contribute their own talents.
The co-creators may be freshmen, but they’re well aware of Northwestern’s oversaturated extracurricular scene. “We know students get solicited every day to watch stuff, go to stuff,” Ryles admits. So what other reasons do students have to tune in?
“You come into college and you expect a really sick [independent] music scene…I don’t really think we have one right now,” Communication freshman Bobby Ramirez says. Ryles and Ramirez believe that this show could bolster that scene by raising awareness of the artists themselves. “It’s really apparent how talented these kids are,” Ramirez says. With most of the musicians studying outside of the music and theater majors, such incredible talent was unexpected – even for the producers. “I was floored by the talent we came across,” Ryles adds. “[But] that’s kind of what this show embodies…talent out of left field.”
The embodiment Ryles spoke about is a fitting one for the brainchild of a ragtag bunch of artsy freshmen. They are indeed taking a big risk. Not only are most of the creators freshmen (save for Communication junior Maxwell Kelley), but Jam Sesh is also the first show of its kind here. The project is both visionary and time-consuming — each producer spends at least 20 hours a week on the show.
As Ryles points out with a smile, Jam Sesh is a fantastic way to procrastinate, “It’s a nice change of pace from stalking people on Facebook."