For students seeking experience in multiple aspects of the music industry and for local artists hoping to further their musical career, Split Rail Records exists to meet those needs.
Split Rail Records is Appalachian State University’s on-campus, student-run record label that focuses on signing and recording local musicians. The label was founded in 2005 as a required class in the music industry studies program and is now in the process of becoming an official club on campus.
The label’s executive board is usually chosen in the class, but involvement with Split Rail is also open to any other students who want to join. Students are split up into teams and learn skills such as marketing, recording and the legal aspects of running a record label.
Kim Wangler, director of the Music Industry Studies Management and Promotion program, teaches the Split Rail class and advises the students involved with the label.
“Kim will obviously oversee the label, and she provides us with a lot of guidance,” Chris McGurrin, a senior music industry studies major and Split Rail’s vice president of marketing, said. “Which is nice, especially with all of her experience in the music industry.”
Split Rail accepts demo submissions from local artists each fall and then chooses one to sign. After negotiating a contract with the artist, the label will record an album in the spring semester. This year’s demo submissions were due Oct. 17.
“Once we have the demos in, we’ll listen to the music and try to assess the drive of the artist, if they’re serious about trying to take this further,” McGurrin said.
The musicians signed to the label don’t necessarily have to be Appalachian State students, said Split Rail president Casey Wilcox, but the label likes them to have some sort of affiliation with the university. There also isn’t a specific genre that the label focuses on.
“We’ve had country, we’ve had rock, but it’s really just whatever we think will be the most prosperous,” Wilcox, a sophomore music industry studies major, said. “We’ll listen to all of them and whoever happens to be the best, that’s just what it is.”
When the artist is signed to Split Rail, the label will sit down with them and make a business plan, Wilcox said. Details involving studio time as well as legal and financial details are put into the contract with the artist. Come spring semester, the artist and recording team are usually ready to create a full-length album.
The album is recorded in the Robert F. Gilley studio on the fourth floor of Broyhill Music Center. Split Rail has a vice president of recording and its own recording team, and often pulls in other recording majors who are not involved with the label to give them experience as well.
“It’s a very nice studio and they definitely work with professional equipment and people who know what they’re doing,” McGurrin said.
Last year, the label was put in the tough position of losing the band they were in the process of signing. Split Rail had to pick up another artist quickly, McGurrin said, so local band Arson Daily was chosen as the alternative.
Because Arson Daily didn’t sign with Split Rail until spring semester, they had to record their album in a much shorter amount of time than usual.
“We were down to the wire with that one,” Wilcox said. “I think there was one weekend where they were in the studio for around 24 hours. We got it done and had a really successful release show, but that’s why we try to start in the fall to avoid all that.”
Zach Dunham, senior music industry studies major and member of Arson Daily, said that the rushed recording process was stressful, but that the engineers on the album worked extremely hard to make ends meet and finish the album. Split Rail is also still working with Arson Daily in some areas, including getting them a gig at the Appalachian State vs. Miami pep rally.
“I definitely think that being signed to Split Rail has gotten us some more campus-wide recognition,” Dunham said. “They’ve definitely gotten our name out.”
In addition to signing and recording artists, Split Rail also features local artists on Thursday nights at Lost Province Brewing Company. In the past, the label has also done singer-songwriter nights at Chick-fil-A, which they are working on starting up again this year.
“I would say the main short-term goal right now is just looking for bands to sign for the year,” McGurrin said. “We’re also in the process of thinking up some ideas to help promote Split Rail, because we really want more students to be aware of us and what we do.”
Dunham, a former president of Split Rail, said the main thing he got out of his work with the label was better connections with his peers in the music industry program.
“The music industry is 99 percent about networking,” Dunham said. “After being with Split Rail, it opened up my ability to talk more with my peers, and it made me more goal and results oriented. We were very good about setting a goal, channeling our resources and creating a plan to reach that goal.”
Other than providing music industry experience to the students who work at the label, Split Rail’s overall goal is to promote and support Boone’s local music scene.
“Split Rail is here to help people who have any interest in progressing their musical career,” Dunham said. “The skills I’ve learned with them I’ll carry throughout my life.”
Story by: Adrienne Fouts, A&E Senior Reporter