Fredonia To Los Angeles: Hallie Christopher On The Music Industry And Adjusting To Life After College

2018 Fredonia graduate, Hallie Christopher

I last interviewed Hallie Christopher in 2017 when she was a senior on Fredonia’s women’s volleyball team.

Now, she’s a 22-year-old navigating the music industry as an intern at Create Music Group in Los Angeles, a startup that helps artists collect royalties from their digital content. The company boasts clients like Marshmello, Post Malone, and Wiz Khalifa.

We met at Taste, a coffee shop in East Aurora, N.Y. to talk about her journey:

Ryan Maloney: On my way up here I was thinking about the show “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Have you seen it?

Hallie Christopher: No.

Maloney: It’s a show on Amazon Prime about a woman living in 1950’s New York City. Her husband leaves her, and she goes to this comedy club and accidentally starts performing. It turns out she’s really good at comedy and so she pursues a career in it. She wants to be huge, nationwide. The end of Season Two ends with her realization that if she wants to be huge it’s going to be a lonely journey.

Christopher: Interesting!

Maloney: It makes me think of you. Can you relate to that?

Christopher: Totally. If you really focus on what you want to do in life you’re going to have to leave some people behind.

Maloney: Like, literal people?

Christopher: Yes. Obviously I’m not spending as much time with my family and friends. Sure, I’m out there making friends, but my family is so important. I won’t be coming home again until May–that’s five months not seeing my family. I’m chasing my dreams and it kind of sucks that you might be lonely while you’re doing it.

Maloney: What are your dreams, as best as you can describe them right now?

Christopher: It’s hard to say, because there are a lot of paths I could go in music industry, but right now my dream would be to own a record label. Most of them are very corporate, and I wish I could make something not as corporate, so maybe something smaller and having my own artists. That’s the dream, I think.

Maloney: Tell me more about what a record label is. You own artists?

Christopher: If I own a record label I would have managers underneath me that have their own artists; I would have A&R’s that have their own artists; I would have a whole distribution department, a whole publishing department, marketing, social media, everything.

Maloney: How big is your record label, in comparison to other record labels?

Christopher: I would love for it to be as well-known as Warner Brothers, Sony, and Universal, but there are smaller record labels inside each of those. It would be cool to be the CEO of one of those, of say, Astralwerks.

Maloney: What’s Astralwerks?

Christopher: It’s a record label owned by Universal. Halsey is signed to it. They give a lot of freedom to their artists, which I think is pretty cool. So, something like that, just working my way up.

Maloney: How do you start to think about doing that?

Christopher: Honestly, it’s who you know, so meeting people and just figuring out how to get into that department. So it’s like, “Oh, you intern here, and then you can probably intern here because you have all that experience, then get a part-time job, or a full-time job, actually working there.” Slowly trying to get to the top.

Maloney: But you want to have your own company though.

Christopher: It depends, I think. I could start from scratch and make my own, but right now I’m still trying to learn everything. I wouldn’t want to do that because I don’t think it would work out. I’m trying to keep my ears and eyes open.

Maloney: So you kind of want to be a talent scout? Seeking out new artists?

Christopher: Yes. A & R is probably another. . .

Maloney: What’s A & R?

Christopher: Artists and repertoire. It’s finding new talent: “Oh, this is going to be good in two years. He’s going to blow up.” You see that and it’s, “Oh, I want him. Do you need a manager?”

Maloney: Are you doing any of that right now?

Christopher: I feel like I always do that. I hear a song and think, “Who is this?” Then I will go and look them up, maybe see if they need help. There are a couple partists I know of.

Maloney: Do you just approach them and say, “Hey, do you want to come to my company?”

Christopher: If I were to manage them it would probably be on my own. And I tried to do that with these two guys. They were good, really good musicians, but once I got into this internship I realized I had to focus on myself before I try to put my energy into someone else.

Maloney: So what are you focusing on right now?

Christopher: The A-&-R process, music discovery, knowing what’s going to be popular. A lot of distribution and content claiming in my internship, and honestly, how the whole music industry works in general. I feel like I’m behind.

Maloney: Yes, so talk more about that. We talked about this the other day. I’m thinking about Fredonia, and I’m thinking about how regional colleges are struggling because they’re not embedded in a particular culture. If you want to go into politics, Fredonia isn’t the center of that universe, or if you want to work in finance you’re not exactly in New York City. Can you talk about how that hindered you?

Christopher: I feel like being in Fredonia–and I love the school, I love everything about it, and I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything–but if i was in L.A. I would definitely be further along than I am right now. If you go to U.S.C. it’s easier to get internships at Atlantic, Sony, Universal– it’s very easy because you’re there. You meet people. You know this person who knows this person who knows this person that works for Atlantic. But when I’m in Fredonia I can’t take a semester off and go to L.A. to study under someone. That hindered me a little bit, but I’m okay with starting where I am now. I’ll have to work a little bit harder.

Maloney: You don’t really have a choice.

Christopher: Yes, exactly.

Maloney: Say you had a sibling who was going to college for the first time, and she wanted to go into music industry, and they could either go to Fredonia or Los Angeles . . .

Christopher: I would definitely tell them to go to L.A.. I don’t regret it though (going to Fredonia).

Maloney: Right, but what I’m thinking about is, “How do we prepare students who come to Fredonia, who might want to do that, to be successful in that field? Are there opportunities online? Are there opportunities somewhere else?”

Christopher: Over summers. Over summer going into my senior year I interned at Warner Music in New York City. One hundred percent you should take summers, or even breaks, and go out to a city and try to get an internship there. I think that helped so much.

Maloney: Can you talk more about how that helped you?

Christopher: Just meeting people. You meet a lot of people inside Warner Music Group, and they know people who work at Warner Music Group in L.A. That’s how I got a lot of connections, and got my name out there. I’d e-mail my supervisor and say, “Hey, do you know of any opportunities?” That’s how I got to meet with a recruiter in L.A.

Maloney: Was it scary to do that, to reach out to people?

Christopher: You just don’t know what’s going to happen. Do you know how many e-mails I’ve sent and not gotten a reply? Over a hundred. It’s scary because it’s really easy to fail, and I’ve failed a lot. You’ve got to keep trying. If I really want this I’m not just going to move back to Buffalo: “Oh, I didn’t get a job right away, I’m moving back.” You’ve got to stay out there. You’ve got to stay out there and stay focused.

Maloney: Has there ever been a part of you that wants to come back?

Christopher: No. My mom sometimes wants me to move home but I’m like, “Mom, you don’t understand. I’m out there. I’m not coming back.” As bad as that might sound, I didn’t go out there to come back. I went out there to work myself up in the music industry and figure out my path.

Maloney: Tell me what’s been hard about this past year.

Christopher: I was ready to be done with college–and I always loved the school part of it–but I was excited to be able to what I wanted afterwards. I don’t think I realized after graduating that you can literally do whatever you want. That’s pretty scary, to have that much choice. So I chilled in Buffalo over the summer, worked a little bit, got ready for the move, found an apartment, because I wasn’t ready to go right out there. Moving out there it was like, “It will be fine. I’ll do it.” I don’t think I thought a lot about it, but it was, “This has been my goal for over a year now. I’m just going to do it.” So I did it, and as I was out there I was sending e-mails and not getting replies. I was going for interviews. . .

Maloney: You mean looking for jobs?

Christopher: Literally, random companies, and even big companies: Warner, Sony, Universal, applying for these jobs, talking to people. I don’t hear anything back, but then a month later I got an e-mail back from Create Music Group. That’s how this whole thing started, which has been awesome, but I waited for a month without a reply.

Maloney: What did the e-mail back say?

Christopher: I had a video chat interview, and I got the internship, but it was unpaid, so again it was like, “Well, starting again back with no money.”

Maloney: What did you do at your first internship?

Christopher: I was only there two days a week–I had to work at Chipotle to make some money–honestly just talking to people and meeting people. My ears were always open because I just want to know a lot. I’ve always wanted to learn–I love learning and I love school. So that was a big thing, just listening and learning.

Maloney: Tell me about making friends after college.

Christopher: It’s so hard.

Maloney: Because I feel like if there was one thing I was completely unprepared for after graduating was that I didn’t have friends anymore.

Christopher: It’s weird. You make work friends but they’re not like your college friends. It’s a very different type of friendship, because you have to be professional when you’re in the workplace. College, you’re in a house together so you can say whatever you want. You still make friends, like through work or through things like joining a gym, but you have to approach it differently.

Maloney: It’s almost a skill set that you need to develop.

Christopher: Yes, you have to reach out to people. That’s a big thing, because you’re not forced to do anything, so if you want to actually get to know a person you have to ask, “Hey, do you want to do this?”

Maloney: When someone comes up to you and says, “How’s Los Angeles?”, what’s your elevator speech?

Christopher: The first word I say is “Insane,” because I moved across the country by myself. Honestly, it’s a vulnerable stage in my life because I could do anything, and what direction am I going to go? There’s a lot of distractions in Hollywood and L.A.–there are a lot of things you can do and a lot of ways to spend money, so that’s pretty hard. But usually I’ll use the word “Insane,” or “Crazy.”

Maloney: You used those words all the time before L.A. (laughs).

Christopher: And it still is. Nothing’s changed. I’m not going to lie to someone though, “Yeah, it’s been really hard.” I’ve cried more this year than I have in my whole life. You’re alone, coming home to an empty apartment. So that was the hardest part, being alone. I like talking to people, being around people. People hate when the gym’s crowded and I’m like, “I love when the gym’s crowded!” When there’s a lot of people there’s energy, I love vibing with people, talking.

Maloney: What are steps that you take to help that?

Christopher: For me, it’s reaching out. You have to take the initiative: “Hey, do you want to hang out? Do you want to get dinner?” You have to go up to people and say, “Hi, I’m Hallie.” Especially at work, people are at their computers with their headphones on. We have this message system at work called Slack, and we send DM’s on there. I reach out to random A-&-R people and say, “Hey, if you ever need some help. . .”, I’ve gotten more tasks and more opportunities to learn because I’ve done that.

Maloney: Talk about what advice you’d give to someone coming out of college.

Christopher: I wish I would have cherished my time more. My last semester of college I might have skipped class once a week. Before that I never skipped class. I loved class. Now I would kill to sit in a room and take notes and learn.

Maloney: Is part of that the structure of college?

Christopher: One hundred percent. That’s the thing: You have no structure when you graduate. So knowing that you’re not going to have this structure, you’re going to be alone more than you are in college. It’s going to be hard, but you’ve got to figure it out. You put it on yourself, at least I do: “It’s going to be okay. I can figure it out.” I tell myself that all the time.

Maloney: From my vantage point I think, “Okay, here’s Hallie. Super hard worker. Super passionate. . .”

Christopher: You say that right now, but it’s weird because out there I don’t feel like I’m working that hard. I think I’m comparing myself a lot, maybe, but I think I lost a lot of confidence being out there. That sounds bad, but out there everyone’s just grinding. It’s like, “Oh, I don’t sleep.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay, well I do.”

Maloney: Like your co-workers?

Christopher: Some of them, yeah: “Oh, we’re making music.” That’s not their primary job, but it’s that grind mentality. Yes, working hard is important, but working smart is something I also take into consideration. Like with volleyball, you can go run ten miles and that’s working hard, but if you’re a volleyball player that’s not working smart. What are you really getting? Why don’t you do sprints instead? That would be working smarter.

Maloney: I think about that in my job too: What are the most impactful things I can be doing with my time? It changes all the time. What are the things you’ve found that are smart for you?

Christopher: Honestly, I think mental health is super important. I said I’m crying a lot, so I have to take a step back, because if I’m unhappy I’m not going to do well in the workplace. Setting out time to go to the gym, have time to read a book, watch Netflix, call my mom, you know what I mean? You have to set aside time to focus on your mental health.

Maloney: As you go through this process, I think your ambitions are so high that it’s almost inevitable that you would lose friends.

Christopher: Interesting. My sister, because she’s really real with me, will say, “You’re pretty selfish.” Just in general, that’s always how I’ve been. I don’t want to call it selfish, but if you don’t put yourself first how are you going to make others better? If I’m in a bad mental place I can’t help you, so I want to take care of myself. It’s not like I leave everyone else in the dust. It’s just important to me to do what I want to do, to chase my dreams, I don’t know.

Maloney: Why can’t you do both? But I also think selfishness is something everyone struggles with.

Christopher: I saw a tweet that said, “When you put other people first you teach everyone else to put you last.” That sounds so bad, because you should be good to other people, but it kind of does teach them that. It’s a weird concept.

Maloney: It is, and I don’t think phones have made it any easier.

Christopher: Oh gosh, this world. Young people–in high school, in middle school–spend so much time on their phones. When I was in ninth grade I didn’t have an iPhone. I didn’t have social media.

Maloney: It’s interesting, because people my age say that about you, and now you’re saying it about a younger generation.

Christopher: It’s just getting worse.

Maloney: I heard about a study that found that incoming college freshmen, physically, subjectively, look younger than they used to.

Christopher: That’s weird.

Maloney: There’s not as much maturity as there used to be. I just wonder about the future. I’m an eternal optimist in the sense that phones aren’t going away, so we have no choice but to figure it out, but what does that future look like? I don’t know.

Christopher: Do you watch Black Mirror? Did you watch the new one, Bandersnatch?

Maloney: I actually watched it last night.

Christopher: Really? What’d you think?

Maloney: I thought it was an extremely interesting concept: free will. In the last twenty years science has proven that all the words coming out of my mouth right now, I’m not choosing, but you can measure in my brain that those words are being chosen before I’m consciously aware of them. It calls into question a lot of things. When I hear you talk about all the freedom and choice you feel like you have, well, in some ways neuroscience has proven that you don’t have a lot of freedom.

Christopher: It’s already set.

Maloney: But at the same time it’s hard for me to believe that your whole life is predetermined, because there’s so much randomness in the universe.

Christopher: But is it really random? (laughs).

Maloney: I don’t know, I’m not an expert, but it is pretty interesting. (In Banderdash) I thought that the idea of picking the cereal was a little silly.

Christopher: I think they’re trying to say that one little choice can change your whole day, your whole life. Think about it, “Oh, am I going to go this coffee shop or that coffee shop?” You could go to that coffee shop and meet this person and it changes your whole life.

Maloney: Is there anything else that you want to mention before we wrap up?

Christopher: I think after college you have a lot of choice in what you want to do. I could have moved to New York City or L.A., and I chose L.A. because I’ve always wanted to live there. I just had to do it. It’s more of a creative place–a lot of artists live out in L.A. It’s really the only time in your life that you have this much choice. You only live once.

After the interview Christopher showed me “Fresh Produce,” the weekly playlist she curates on Spotify and Apple Music.