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A professional in a music studio booth.

Making Connections in the Music Industry

As far back as she can remember, Natalie Gillespie-Gaskins ‘18 has loved music – whether it was singing with a choir starting when she was a young child or experimenting with making her own music in high school.

When it came time for college, Gillespie-Gaskins considered taking the pre-med route at a big university. However, something didn’t feel quite right. After talking with her mom, she decided to embrace her passion for music and an interest in business by becoming a music business major at St. Thomas.

“I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” Gillespie-Gaskins said. “It’s been a wild ride, and I’m so happy I did it. This industry is so invigorating and it’s constantly changing. It’s cool because it’s creative, and you get to mix business in with it.”

Like many of her music business peers, Gillespie-Gaskins had excelled at St. Thomas by taking full advantage of internship opportunities, extracurricular activities and challenging classes. She developed core business skills through courses at Opus College of Business and the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship.

Gillespie-Gaskins is now working in a full-time marketing and sales job at the New York headquarters of Warner Music Group, a major music company connected with hundreds of notable artists including Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa and Charlie Puth.

Along with rigorous coursework, Gillespie-Gaskins also credits the strong St. Thomas alumni network, her fellow music business majors and faculty, including Steve Cole, head of the music business program, for her success.

A successful jazz artist (he plays saxophone) with multiple albums under his belt, Cole is well-versed in many aspects of the music business. He realizes that, like himself, his students have various interests when it comes to the highly disrupted music industry.

“[Cole’s] been completely supportive and never doubted me in what I wanted to do,” she said. “Having him behind me has propelled me forward and made it possible for me to make big leaps.”

Making Connections

Since he took over the music business program five years ago, Cole has listened and shaped the program to students’ ideas. Their interests run a wide gamut: sales and marketing for a major record label; managing artists; music publishing; running a record label; and booking shows.

Cole has made huge strides in supporting those interests by facilitating strong connections for students with members of the Twin Cities music community and beyond. He’s created opportunities for students to work with a variety of music-centric entities, including Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current, the hip-hop collective Doomtree and global brands, including PledgeMusic (a crowdfunding platform for musicians) and NoiseTrade (an outlet that helps musicians get their music discovered).

“My focus has always been to have the St. Thomas music business program be seen as a collaborative partner with our local music industry, and also regional and national, as well,” Cole said. “We want to be seen as an industry partner and support structure to them and also as a place where they can mentor the next generation of leaders in their industry.

“Where we’ve made great progress is in outcomes – internships, opportunities for students to present their work and build strong bonds with the industry,” he continued. “We have been able to engage the most forward-thinking and legitimate thought leaders in the Twin Cities music scene.”

Entrepreneurship Similarities

“In terms of philosophy – we share a lot with entrepreneurship,” Cole said. “We share a philosophy of the importance of design thinking and human-centered design where we primarily hope to build empathy and a true understanding of the audience, the fans and what they want, what motivates them, what constitutes meaning for them.”