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School of Rock

Making it as a rap star, by degrees



Merri Cyr

“I have seven weeks to ‘make it’ in my music career.” That was the amount of time my 22-year-old son, Collin McLoughlin, allotted himself to turn his avocation into a vocation. He had just walked off the commencement stage with a B.A. in hand and, seven weeks hence, would begin grad school at the Steinhardt School of Music Management at NYU. In the brief space of a single summer, he wanted to pursue his dream—making music. Who was I to tell him the odds of overnight fame were less than slim? All I knew was he would need that tuition check come September.

Collin’s dream started years before, in a solitary music practice room at Wooster School in Danbury. A teacher passing in the hall was drawn by Collin singing as he studied for math exams. She tried recruiting him for the school’s musical—a no-go—so they negotiated guitar lessons instead. By spring, Collin was performing for his peers between classes, crooning and playing his own tunes on the campus lawn.

Eight years later, Collin’s music style has evolved into an electronic blend of self-harmonizing vocals. It is a unique sound, honed during stints with his college rap group, Nautical Young. He has performed opening slots for popular recording artists Wale, Fabolous, K’nnan, and Lupe Fiasco; and booked paying gigs as lead artist at campuses like Penn State, Cornell, Bucknell, and Duke.

Fans have found Collin’s music website—via word of mouth, email, twitter, blogs, and YouTube—where they can get free downloads of new tracks; and his Facebook page lets fans interact with him directly through live chats. This past summer, popular music blogs, like freshnewtracks.com and goodmusicallday.com, added one of Collin’s remixes and were soon buzzing with positive reviews after it was downloaded several thousand times. Collin quickly realized that tracking fans and webpage hits have proven to be important marketing tools. The Internet is the new frontier for aspiring music-makers like my son, a blank slate that offers the possibility of a lucrative upside for an unsigned artist. This is a different path than the fame attained by winners on popular TV shows like “American Idol,” who must agree to sign away significant control of their careers in return for stardom. In contrast, Collin has been learning, onstage and in the studio, how to manage his career and keep the rights—and revenues—to his own songs.

Collin’s success this summer started with the chance to open for 23-year-old rap sensation Sam Adams, whose “I Hate College” video reached over a million views on YouTube in less than a year. Well before Adams shot to fame, Collin met him online by asking him to collaborate on a track. The payback? Adams invited Collin to open for five sold-out shows.

During one of those concerts, at the House of Blues in Boston, I whipped out my video camera and was instantly warned by a towering presence: “No recording devices allowed in the theater.” When I pleaded, “See that boy down there on the stage? I am his mother. Do you understand what that means?” the hulk smiled. “Yeah, I have a mother, too. You go ahead and film,” he said and I was proudly left to my own devices.

Collin’s growing network has led to meetings with industry personnel, a voice coach who trained Lady Gaga, and a stylist who dresses Justin Timberlake. He’s got an entertainment attorney fresh out of law school and a management advisor just out of the gate. Hopefully, Collin’s team will be the making of the next pop star—some unknown kid with an armload of books in one hand and a microphone in the other.

Web Bonus! Check out Nautical Young's video interview.

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September 2018

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