The Garden Statement

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Madison Ouellette is a senior at The College of New Jersey, working part-time at the WTSR 93.1 radio station. Her show, The Garden Statement, plays an eclectic mix of post-hardcore, indie, and emo bands. I talked to Madison about her life working with bands and breaking through the scene with up-and-coming new acts.

How does it feel to meet different bands every day? What’s it like having them over your studio to interview them, hear them play, and add to your growing musical list over at WTSR?

Well, it’s really cool, which I guess is an understatement, but it keeps what we do at WTSR fresh. We do want to highlight bands from all across the spectrum, so while we want to focus on indie-rock, in general, it’s such a broad context. So to be able to get indie-pop bands, punk bands, and then those doing things that are a little more jazzy is really cool. On my own show, The Garden Statement, post-hardcore and emo are the norm, but to be able to get a nice range of music to show our listeners and introduce them to so many different great acts in New Jersey is really awesome for us, and I feel like the staff as a whole gets a lot out of it. We hope that our listeners and those who check us out online get a lot out of it, too.

That being said, who are some of your favorite new bands that have come into the studio to work with you?

Over the spring, we’ve been releasing WTSR underground sessions, so we had ten bands come in one weekend back in February. It was really long. Ten bands in 29 hours or something ridiculous like that. I got to meet a lot of great people and musicians from all over the state. The Gray Company came in, and they were awesome. They did a stripped-down session for us, and it was completely different from anything else we did all day. They really stood out to us. Now they play in the lobby all the time at the studio. Cold Weather Company came in as well. They are more alt-folk, a genre I’m not familiar with whatsoever. I heard them play, and they immediately became my favorite of the genre.

Your sessions that you do at your studio must be tough. What would you say the biggest challenge is when you’re working?

With the way that we did it this semester, all of these New Jersey bands came in one weekend, because we actually have a lot of touring bands come in most of the time. Our studio is smack-dab in the middle of New York City and Philadelphia, so as far as tour packages and tour routing go, we end up being the place to stop. Because of that, we decided to put all of these sessions in one weekend to make sure we could get the most content from these local bands, and still get our tour packages as well. I’m used to it now, but it’s a lot of work, especially since the program is still relatively new. We only started doing sessions about a year ago. My first session was last July, and I knew nothing about studio work.

Do you love working in that studio?

Basically, we have this awesome studio at TCNJ that we’re allowed to use whenever. All of the equipment, the programs, everything is ours to use. When I was a freshman, we did one semester of putting together sessions every single week. There were one or two bands that came every weekend, but after a while, it became a lot of work to book the bands, sit in the studio for hours to record them, then mix them and come out with a web post about it all. It’s very time-consuming, so there were a few bands who wanted to come in before their tour in Philadelphia and I didn’t want to tell them, “No, you can’t come in because nobody knows how to do it.” So I went to the director of the program, told them to teach me everything they knew, and in two days I was ready to start recording and mixing studio sessions. Now we’ve rolled out about 30 sessions.

Between being a student and running this radio program, what have you done to balance everything in your life?

I haven’t really figured out the whole work and personal life balance. I’ve been working in the music industry for about eighteen months. It doesn’t sound as long when I say it out loud, but it definitely feels like a long time. There are days when I wake up at 7:30am, finish at 11pm, and do the same thing the next day. The balance I find is not ideal, but it gets the job done for me.

You’re also working within the local music scene as a manager. What bands are you working with at the moment?

Currently, I work with The Blithedale Romance. They’re a post-punk band out of New Brunswick, and they’re fantastic. I started off in August doing their PR. They released an EP called Wanderer back in October, and we worked at gaining more buzz around that. Since then, I’ve taken more of a role in the business side of the band. Working with them is very cool and worthwhile. They’re very creative guys and they’re extremely motivated. So the dynamic between us is good, and we’re able to get a lot done in a short amount of time.

Where do you see yourself as a role within the band?

As far as the PR aspect goes, that’s where I have the best experience and can help them the most. I think we all have a very clear idea of the brand they represent, so I make sure that in a PR sense, they’re in the media and getting attention. Luckily, I don’t deal with their booking, because they’re always on top of that and it takes a lot of the weight off of me. They’re more than capable of doing this themselves, but working together to find the most efficient way to do things is why we collaborate so much, like the extra voices in the mix bring their own ideas to the table to make sure that what they do is done in the best way possible.

So what are some of your short- and long-term goals for working within the music industry?

I definitely like the management aspect, and I definitely want to stay with Blithedale until they take over the world and don’t need me anymore. That’s my short-term for the next few years, to do something cool with this band. I believe so much in them, and I really feel like they’re a band who’re going to do so much. I start at the Agency Group in two weeks for the whole summer, so that’s another short-term thing. But long-term, what I want to do with my career overall is possibly continue managing and do that on the side; I’m really into artist development and branding. Whether it’s for a label or an agency, I think that it’s definitely something I want to focus on. I could see myself going back to school to get an MBA or come back part-time, to continue bringing together the experience you get in the music industry as well as the education.

After working with all of these different programs to discover new music, and all the knowledge you’ve gained from working within the industry, what do you think about the scene in New Jersey, and would you argue that it has something special about it?

I wholeheartedly think that I never would have been able to get into the music industry, or work nearly as hard as I do now, if I didn’t live in New Jersey. The music scene here is extremely special, and a lot of us take it for granted because of how many people get involved. It’s special to have so many opportunities and be surrounded by so many motivated people, who want it to be a profession and who do it on the side for fun. It’s just full of extremely motivated, talented, and creative people. Just from the sheer number of bands who are here, and those who are gaining notoriety in their areas, there’s bound to be another NJ band to blow up soon. Just from a numbers game, it’s bound to happen. At the same time, it makes it highly, highly competitive. We’re in a good spot geographically, since we’re between New York and Philadelphia. Having access to both is really good for the bands, and me as well.

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Feature Photo by Jordan Weinrich

This article first appeared in Issue 05