A New Student Record Label is Amplifying Longhorn Music

The light turned red at the Guadalupe Street crosswalk and Maria Tangarova strolled alongside dozens of other students toward campus. She heard Julian Max before she saw him. The budding singer-songwriter was sitting on a ledge playing guitar. Tangarova, a gregarious sophomore who had just founded UTalent Records, went into recruiting mode.

Many talented musicians honed their craft while at UT, like opera singer Mary Dunleavy and Janis Joplin, but the university has never had an official publishing platform for young artists. That led 20-year-old Tangarova to start a record label showcasing musicians whose songs might otherwise never be heard outside of their dorm rooms.

The daughter of two fourth-generation classical musicians, Tangarova started singing and playing piano at age 7 and enjoys jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald as much as contemporary bands like Maroon 5. Managing label operations is her main responsibility, but her musical background is also an asset—she recently provided backing vocals for one of UTalent’s artists.

It might seem unusual that Tangarova would end up at McCombs School of Business, but she saw a finance degree as a practical way to get her foot in the door of a notoriously difficult industry.

“I wanted to figure out the smartest way to get into the music industry, so I’m studying the business side: finance, branding, and management,” Tangarova says.

After founding the club with the help of vice president Young Joo, marketing director Madison Mohns, and finance director Sarah Teng, she quickly recruited more than 40 members who attend weekly meetings featuring guest speakers like the owner of local label Nine Mile Records and the VP of Townsquare Media, an entertainment marketing company that services more than 200 radio stations. These music industry professionals serve as examples of career paths beyond just the stage or recording studio and give insight into how to build a practical skill set before entering the job market.

“With this background McCombs is giving me, I feel like I can totally do this,” Tangarova says.

UTalent’s members’ burgeoning skills are put to the test by managing a roster of artists. Thirty musicians auditioned for the label, from which they selected a diverse group of performers that span genres from soul to modern pop. Julian Max was one of the organization’s first signees. He is one of the more established artists, with a pair of singles on Spotify in the vein of Ed Sheeran, and a catalog of 18 songs he plans to polish into an album for a February release.

“My team [at UTalent] is awesome and has helped me with things from social media promotion to photography to recording in the studio,” Max says.

The artists signed to UTalent are all serious about their craft, but a full repertoire of music isn’t a requisite. UTalent guides those with less experience by crafting a unique, non-binding contract for each performer to establish a tangible roadmap toward achieving goals, which range from simply recording a demo to marketing a full-length album. One of the organization’s missions is to introduce students to existing university resources like The Foundry, a makerspace in the Fine Arts Library that features a full professional recording studio. Music is often such an individualistic pursuit, many artists don’t realize that the tools they need are available right on campus.

“I have been doing music for almost my whole life, but as someone who has primarily operated solo, it has been incredibly satisfying to be part of such an engaging organization,” Max says.

As the organization continues to grow, Tangarova believes the music industry outside Austin will take notice. The endgame is to build UTalent into a nationally recognized incubator that helps musicians achieve that elusive “big break.”

“I want recruiters from New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta to ask themselves where they can find the best talent and think that UT has one of the best record labels,” Tangarova says. “I hope one of our artists gets signed before I graduate. To be able to say they started out with UTalent would be awesome.”

Photograph by Madison Mohns


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