As she pulls the microphone close and hits record, Tatiana Merced ’24 captures audio for her “Musically Driven” podcast series—part of a multi-year presidential scholars project to examine how people of color have shaped the fabric of music history.
“Every semester has been focused on a different culture of music. This semester I’m really focused on Black music, this summer it’s going to be Hispanic heritage music, and then I want to get into Asian music the following semester,” Merced explained.
Her ongoing research is examining on how Black, Hispanic and Asian musicians have made an impact on modern-day music, and features interviews with prominent musicians, conductors and composers from diverse backgrounds, before being aired on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Youtube.
She recently explored the roots of rock 'n roll, Chuck Berry’s status as the father of rock, and the undeniable influences of Jimi Hendrix. Merced has been looking at the arc of Black music throughout the years from ragtime and jazz to the more recent sounds of funk and hip hop. “I’m really into the hip hop era of music because I’m from the Bronx. My parents grew up in the Bronx too, and they knew some of the early hip hop artists,” she said. “I talk to my dad about the project a lot. He’s a huge history buff. He loves all this stuff.”
Merced’s podcast series also features interviews with experts in the field of music. Recent guests include Dr. Raymond Wise, an internationally renowned gospel conductor and composer who visited SUNY Potsdam in the Fall of 2022 to lead the Crane Chorus on stage at Hosmer Hall and an interview with Dr. Michael Dudley Jr., a visiting assistant professor of jazz studies at Crane.
The Presidential Scholars program, which provides funding for exceptional students to conduct research on topics of their choosing, has already allowed Merced to visit the International Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx and attend the MetaMoon Music Festival at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn—experiences that have helped her expand her understanding of diverse musical genres and generate content for her podcast series. After receiving $1,800 in grant money through the Lougheed Center for Applied Learning, she is considering other experiential education opportunities, like a trip to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., for an exhibit on Hispanic music.
“Being at Crane is a big reason why I will be successful.”Music Business Major
Merced has been getting assistance for the project from Dr. Douglas McKinnie, the audio and video streaming engineer at Crane and a faculty member in the music business program. “He’s fantastic. He’s been a big help with the project. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Dr. McKinnie, I need to record this tonight, can I borrow an interface?’ He lets me borrow stuff for the project all the time,” she said.
As a junior in the music business major at Crane, the podcast has been the perfect extension of her work in the classroom as she prepares for a career in the music industry. “I love the music business program. There’s a lot of independent work and I think I work better that way. I like Dr. Drew Coles and I think it’s cool that the professors in the music business program help you get a lot of the opportunities, and they have a lot of connections,” she said.
With an emphasis on hands-on learning, students in the program complete practicums and internships that align with the academic trajectory. This semester Merced is working on the artist relations team with Toorly, a fan-driven global touring platform that connects fans and bands from around the world. “I’m the artist relations intern and I’m finding new artists to put on the platform. Right now, I’m making lists of new artists and we’re doing research so they can reach out to them for demos and things like that. If Toorly likes the artist, they put them on the platform, and help to promote the tour. It’s a lot of independent work, it’s virtual, but I’m learning so much,” Merced said.
With aspirations to become an A&R (Artists and Repertoire) representative after completing her degree, the practicum has been a great stepping-stone for her career. “This is what I want to do. I want to be an A & R, which is someone who signs people to labels, they’re basically talent scouts,” she said.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of different people, and see a lot of different points of view at SUNY Potsdam, and I've always thought that was cool."
Her passion for music and the arts started years earlier. In middle school, she enrolled in the Count Me In program at Carnegie Hall, where she attended a four-week series of workshops to refine her vocal performance skills. She also attended the Middle School Arts Audition Boot Camp and the Summer Arts Institute, free arts programs offered through the New York City Department of Education. Those experiences paved the way for her acceptance into the Repertory Company Theatre for the Arts in Manhattan.
When she started applying to colleges, she discovered Crane. “I knew I wanted to stay on the east coast because I love my family. My parents are a big part of the reason that I do the things that I do. When I got to Crane, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this building is huge.’ I thought that was really cool. You go to other schools, and it’s one building, or they have a floor in their arts building, but we have four buildings,” she said.
First a music education major, she soon discovered the music business program, which has proved to be a great melting pot for her interests. She was able to combine core music business classes and internships with marketing, macroeconomics, management, and accounting classes from the Department of Business Administration. The program has also encouraged her to continue honing her own skills as a musician, and over the past three years, she has performed with several groups on campus including the Crane Chorus, Crane Eclectic Ensemble, and the Crane Opera Ensemble.
Next year she will present her Presidential Scholar’s research to faculty on campus, and complete an internship through the Music Business program as prepares for a career as an A&R representative. “I know good technique, and what a good vocalist sounds like. When you’re a performer and artist, and you’re also finding other artists, you know what you’re listening for. There are so many different sounds and different voices that we should be exposed to, and what intrigues me about being an A&R is that I can pick that,” she said. “Being at Crane is a big reason why I will be successful.”
Article by Jason Hunter, Photos by Ayisha Khalid '23