Side Gig or Make it Big? Music at Chapman Campus

Will Tulp performing at the Collective Flower Moon Music Festival. Photo by Dunn.

It might seem a bit odd to join a club that doesn’t even have a name yet. 

So imagine dance major Lexi Zdanov’s surprise when, on the walk home from a dance competition in 2019, her friend asked her to join a mysterious new student organization. It might not have had a name, but it did have a clear goal: to provide an outlet for Chapman student musicians to perform and share their work.

She joined on a whim. 

Flash forward to the summer of 2021, and suddenly Zdanov is president of The Collective – one of the biggest student groups for promoting artists at Chapman, putting on dozens of shows this year alone.

Lexi Zdanov, senior and president of The Collective. Photo courtesy of Zdanov.

“When the music community gets together and does what they are really passionate about, it’s just such a good time,” Zdanov said. 

Existing between the lines of off-campus warehouses, small clubs or simply their own dorm rooms, Chapman’s music scene is a diverse and talented group composed of individuals from all grades and majors. Some are in it simply for their love of performing – but others have leveraged their time at the university into hopes of making it big. 

Albert Alva, who has been a band director at Chapman for 15 years, has seen students’ dreams blossom into becoming professional musicians. And although he thinks it has only become more difficult through the years, he understands their drive, being a working musician himself. 

“When you get touched by music, many of us have no other choice – even though it is a choice – to do anything else,” he said. 

Alva says there are many ways to work in the music industry, but he knows that making a living performing original music is the ultimate goal for many. 

“You got to take the chance in life and in music to go for your own thing, or you may regret it later,” Alva said.  

The Collective has been elevating Chapman musicians since its creation and supporting the dreams of so many artists. They not only organize concerts but also provide funding for artists from Chapman to help them bring their passions to life. 

Zdanov has gained invaluable experience as president, she said, booking gigs for bands, writing up contracts, and putting on concerts. She’s loved every moment, and hopes to be working in the music business one day.  

“Especially in this last year I’ve learned so much, and I feel like life is pulling me into the music industry,” Zdanov said. 

Junior film production major Jack Hisatomi’s  2020 single, “Slowly Dying,” hit 1 million plays on Spotify this year. He’s just as surprised as he is excited about his success.

Jack Hisatomi performing at a gig. Picture courtesy of Hisatomi.

“I can’t believe it – a random first song made by some random kid on Garage Band,” Hisatomi said. “It’s just crazy to me.”

After college, Hisatomi plans to pursue a career in music. While he would love to make a living as a recording artist, he can also see himself working behind the scenes as an audio engineer. 

“Where it goes, I don’t really care,” Hisatomi said. “Long as I’m having fun and getting paid.”

 After performing with his band at his family’s warehouse on July 20th, 2021 for his birthday, senior Steve Wehner has begun hosting small concerts there, featuring numerous Chapman artists.

“People loved it so much they were like, ‘you gotta keep doing this’,” Wehner said. “It was honestly the other bands in the scene pushing me, saying, ‘this is a really good thing.’”

Steve Wehner performing with his band at the warehouse. Photo courtesy of Wehner.

Although Wehner doesn’t have any plans to pursue music as a career after graduation, he has been happy to provide a place for Chapman artists to perform. What separates his humble warehouse from other venues is the sense of community that’s fostered between the musicians who play there, he feels.

“That creates a great environment for performing, because you can really explore stuff and do things you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” he said. 

Even artists who don’t actively perform for the community, like senior DJ Gabe Ruvinsky, have felt their music improve from simply being on campus. 

Ruvinsky started DJing around 17-years-old, inspired by his father who was also a DJ in his youth. He uses it as a way to unwind and forget about the stresses of school for a few hours. 

“It’s a great way to unplug from the simulation of life,” Ruvinsky said. 

While Ruvinsky has never played for The Collective or at Wehner’s warehouse, he has performed a handful of times for his friends and at a few parties for his fraternity Beta Theta Pi, the limited experience he nonetheless feels has helped him grow as an artist.

Gabe Ruvinsky DJing. Photo by Dunn.

“Playing for people has helped make me more aware of making my music flow more smoothly and just sound better overall,” he said.

Zdanov said students work hard to bring their music to life, existing in a collective community that celebrates one another.

“It’s so fun to put all your energy into a show, finish it, and then sit on the curb and eat tacos,” she said.

Zdanov added:

“And you’re like ‘we are so tired, but that was worth it.’”


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Jack Dunn is a junior screenwriting major with a passion for photography. This is his first year writing for a Chapman University publication and he is excited to share his work with the student body.