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Vampire Weekend's Chris Baio Gives Music Advice to College Students: Learn to Record

Tracy Allison
Vampire Weekend's Chris Baio visits Billboard's New York offices on July 22, 2015.

Half of Vampire Weekend -- frontman Ezra Koenig and bassist Chris Baio -- applied to Teach For America (English and math, respectively) when their time at Columbia University was drawing to a close. Then someone sprinkled some magic pixie dust on the New York quartet and their already-fine-tuned songs, XL Records came calling, and prospective indie stardom canceled those TFA plans. 

Want to do the same thing? Of course you do, or at least your 18-year-old self would. Bassist Chris Baio -- out promoting his debut solo album The Names -- stopped by Billboard's New York office and gave some sound advice (get it? get it?) for college students, which could apply to students of any kind, really. Going to an Ivy League school with a radio station that has a comprehensive music library certainly helps, but taking a summer job (he shouts out drummer Chris Tomson's gig at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor), saving up some money and buying a digital production program is a good start. It's how he made The Names (out Sept. 18 on Glassnote, jus' saying) after all.

Here's what he had to say. And for more, check out Chris Baio's 30-minute interview on our Alt In Our Stars podcast

So you did Teach For America right after college, right? 

I applied for Teach For America and accepted a job for Teach For America, but then things started working out for the band, so I had to say, "Sorry I'm going on tour, so I can't do teach for America," which I still feel bad about. But I told them really early. I think it was only two weeks after I said I'd do it. 

So what about kids with an interest in music. What advice would you give them?

I would say my biggest regret in life is never learning to record until I was into my late 20s. It's corny to say "knowledge is power," but when it comes to production and recording, being able to get a sound, being able to translate an idea, that all comes from production. For my new album, I tried recording vocals, which is something I'd never done before. Really being able to do it from a producer standpoint is what made it possible to make a record. Something like Logic now costs about $200. I would say to someone who wants to get into the recording side, or even the performance side, get your summer job at Hurricane Harbor or whatever, save up your summer job money, and get Logic or something. That's the program I made my whole album in. 

Also try and listen to as much music as possible. Try to listen to music you don't like, but be able to isolate something you do like about that recording. 

And you did college radio, too. Did that help? 

I loved doing college radio. I would spend all week getting ready to do a show on the internet from 2 to 4 a.m. for zero to three listeners. But during my two hours there, I'd get to go through this incredible, well-curated library and just listen to stuff. That's where I think I was able to form a lot of my tastes. I sort of stopped making music from the time I was 18 to the time I was 21, and I think that was very important for me, now when I think about what I like and what I listen to.

Watch Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig and Do Surprise Chromeo Collab at Governors Ball 

I bet there was a lot of competition for those time slots. 

I got rejected the first time. I got turned down. Another piece of advice would be to not worry about rejection. The second time I dusted myself off, got that 2 to 4 a.m. slot, and by senior year I was music director. So that's a real success story. 

Did college radio help you meet the rest of Vampire Weekend? 

Not really. We met in different ways. It was more of a friend-of-a-friend thing. I think Ezra did a year at WBAR but we never overlapped there.