Orange Crush, Occidental’s student-run record label, wants to put ‘students on the map’

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Orange Crush Records President Cleo McKenzie (junior) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 14, 2022. Alexia Lara/The Occidental

Orange Crush Records is Occidental’s own student-run record label. The label’s director, Cleo McKenzie (senior), said the name drew inspiration from Occidental’s school colors, and that the name would allow creative freedom needed to work with different genres of music. So in the Spring 2022 semester, armed with a name and a vision, McKenzie and her friend Jaishri Vidyarthi (sophomore) founded the label.

According to McKenzie, Orange Crush currently has three signed artists. The label works with these student artists and sends out press releases, promoting their music on social media through its Instagram page.

“The main thing we wanted to do is to uplift the voices of Oxy musicians who don’t necessarily get to share their creative vision,” McKenzie said. “We wanted to connect all of the talented people here on the campus that were interested in the music industry.”

According to Vidyarthi, the business director of the label, there is a lot of work that goes into the business side of releasing music. Vidyarthi said the majority of her work for the label involves answering emails and contacting musicians.

“It’s just really hard to release music by yourself,” Vidyarthi said. “There’s so much that goes into it, so we’re just trying to help them with that. So that way, [the artists] can focus on the music part and not worry about all the other stuff that comes with it.”

McKenzie and Vidyarthi said they established the label with the goal of promoting artists who might struggle to find support from more traditional promoters or labels. Singer-songwriter Juno Raphael (senior), who specializes in punk and hyper-pop genres, is one of those artists.

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Juno Raphael (senior) shares a sneak peak of her new song at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 14, 2022. Alexia Lara/The Occidental

“I think [McKenzie] had an idea of making it more of a space for experimental music,” Raphael said. “Or to give people access to the tools to create their own music that they don’t always have the means to otherwise, rather than just a megaphone for the loudest voices already to speak through.”

Raphael has made music for the past 11 years and released a single under the artist name “messyroom*” through Orange Crush Sept. 16. Raphael said her single, “h8me2!!,” is based on her experience visiting old friends from high school, and she hopes to convey bitterness and malaise through specific chord progressions and crunching guitar sounds.

Raphael said Orange Crush was particularly helpful in promoting her new music through social media and press releases written by McKenzie. The label also helped connect her to the artist who created the cover art for the single, Jules Quimson (senior).

“It also is amazing to work with a label because it’s an amazing group of people who, especially on the social media marketing side of things, know way more than I could ever know about that sort of thing,” Raphael said. “It’s just so special to work with them because it’s a label that can lean on different parts of itself for these different roles.”

According to Vidyarthi, the students meet occasionally with their unofficial advisor Ramona Gonzalez ’10. Gonzalez teaches songwriting, audio production and music business at Occidental. Gonzalez has her own indie music career, under the name Nite Jewel, and said she uses her experience in the music industry to give the students advice on how to promote their own music.

“The most important aspect, above all, is vision,” Gonzalez said. “And I would describe [McKenzie and Raphael] as visionary producers and artists. They’re very much online and involved in the community and Oxy, so I think they’re the perfect people to be heading a label because they are hardworking and they are also very creative and artistic.”

Vidyarthi and McKenzie said at times, managing all of the work that goes into running a record label can be extremely challenging. At the moment, none of the singer-songwriters, business employees, visual artists or anyone else working for the label are actually paid. McKenzie said Orange Crush currently does not take a cut from the artists releasing music, so the label currently generates no revenue.

“I would try not to see the challenges — I would just try to see the opportunities,” Gonzalez said. “I think we should look at it as just an amazing opportunity to put these students on the map.”

McKenzie and Vidyarthi said they are both grateful for the work that all of those affiliated with the label have done for Orange Crush this past semester.

“I love all the people involved — it’s just amazing that people are excited enough to just do this because they want to,” McKenzie said.

The members of Orange Crush said they are looking forward to expanding their label and making it a part of Occidental for many years to come. They are currently focused on signing more singer-songwriters and bringing on new visual artists.

“There just wasn’t anything like this, we want to make this a permanent thing here for students who are passionate about the music business, to give them a chance to take [Orange Crush] over once for them,” Vidyarthi said. “It feels like we are really making a difference in the Occidental community.”