Pepperdine Creates Community for Aspiring Musicians

First-year economics major Jacob Eminger sings an original song for a crowd at Rad Beer and Kitchen in Dana Point (Photo courtesy of Jacob Eminger).

When sophomore Courtney Hancock was considering where to go to college, she strongly considered attending New York University to study music business. 

The aspiring singer/songwriter from Denver, Colorado, knew she wanted to work in the industry, and Pepperdine did not have a specific major for commercial music.

Her Christian faith led her to choose Pepperdine anyway, where she discovered a new musical direction as she became involved in Word Up, a worship team on campus.

“There is something about worship music that just brings out a different type of passion,” Hancock said.

Hancock is one of several current students and recent graduates who have been able to work with other creators on campus to pursue their passion of entering the music industry. 

Pepperdine attracts creative students due to its Los Angeles location, faith-based environment and collaborative community. Pepperdine offers different performance outlets, such as leading worship or singing original songs at Coffeehouses. 

Pepperdine 2021 alumna Callie Mechelke poses as she records a song with one of her friends, another Pepperdine student, in the studio (Photo courtesy of Hope Dease). 

Meet the musicians 

Some students came to Pepperdine knowing they wanted to work in the music industry, others have pursued it as a side passion. 

Hancock is interested in worship music and continuing to produce indie music on the side while pursuing a degree. She said she hopes to grow in her love for worship while at Pepperdine, and then continue on with graduate school for a music business degree.

Callie Mechelke, a singer/songwriter from St. Louis, Missouri, graduated from Pepperdine with a degree in intercultural communication this past December.

 “Pepperdine definitely attracts a musical community,” Mechelke said. 

In her free time, she records and writes her own alternative/indie music, which is something she said she intends to pursue in the future. 

First-year economics major Jacob Eminger said he has wanted to create “punk rock” music since before he could walk. He hopes to work toward a career in the LA music industry as a performer while attending Pepperdine.

He did not originally want to attend college, but he promised his parents to attend if he could be in the location of the industry. 

“If I didn’t do this, I would be so bored,” Eminger said. “It gives me purpose.”

Alexa Borstad is a senior political science major who has been writing alternative/indie music since high school and recently released a new single. 

“I am super passionate about anything music related,” Borstad said. “I love jamming with friends and writing songs.”

Borstad wanted to keep music as her passion, versus entering a program where music would no longer be a source of creative freedom and expression. She said Pepperdine gives her a nice balance to focus on school, but also pursue her dreams of creating music on the side.

2021 graduate Lindsey Sullivan studied journalism and also worked with other musicians on campus to record alternative/indie music. Sullivan is now working toward releasing her first single within the next month. She is also writing worship music as a career for a children’s ministry program in Florida. 

All have worked hard to better themselves as musicians. Eminger performs at restaurants in LA. Borstad worked as an intern for music studios. Mechelke, Hancock and Sullivan all joined worship teams on campus. 

They said the Pepperdine community has helped them stay motivated and gain encouragement to pursue their passion.

Pepperdine’s overall support for musicians 

Choral Activities Director Ryan Board said that if students are creative, like to network and have the initiative, then Pepperdine is the perfect place for them to succeed. 

While Pepperdine’s music program focuses on classical and operatic music, students from majors across the university seek out opportunities to work in the commercial music industry.

The Career Center on campus works to support students in discovering their uniqueness and passions, Career Opportunities Director Maile Hetherington said. 

Hetherington said Pepperdine is a place of discovery and gives access to a well-rounded approach to education. 

“You could go to Berkeley or somewhere competitive and try and get signed, but at Pepperdine it’s unique because you are in a supportive environment and given the space to thrive and discover your gifts and talents,” Hetherington said. 

Overall, all of these students and graduates said they felt the Pepperdine community motivated and supported them to continue pursuing their dreams. 

Courtney Hancock, first-year integrated marketing communication major, second from left,  leads worship with others for the ‘Word Up” team (Photo courtesy of Courtney Hancock).

The Career Center helps students learn to network and find opportunities where they can gain experience in their desired fields.

Eminger said he knows not everyone makes it in the industry or gets their name out there. Sometimes the only way into the industry is through networking. In today’s day and age, it’s all about who one knows. 

Angelique Nairn wrote in a 2020 M/C Journal article that working in the music industry can seem like a dream come true, but working conditions can be a “nightmare.” The Pepperdine community, however, allows students to have a safe place in which they can learn more about themselves with the guidance of professionals, Hetherington and Board both said. 

“LA is scary and cutthroat but having the Pepperdine community is uplifting and allows you to pursue these passions,” Mechelke said. 

Several students appreciated that Pepperdine helped ground them in their faith, as their experiences with mentors and staff members were encouraging and faith-based. 

“The music industry is a tricky place to be a genuine person,” Borstad said. “But being at Pepperdine has helped me to stay true to my morals, and allowed me to be rooted in something other than music — the Lord.”

Location turns into motivation

Being in Los Angeles, the hotspot for entertainment and the music industry, allows students to interact with professionals and grow as a musician. 

“When I went down to my kids baseball games in Malibu, we sat and had dinner next to Lady Gaga about three weeks ago,” Board said. “The people you have the chance to rub shoulders with are pretty interesting.”

Many students cited Pepperdine’s location for why they chose to attend.

Eminger performs his most recent original songs for a restaurant in Los Angeles as a way to start getting his name out there (Photo courtesy of Jacob Eminger).

After interning at a music studio and working toward entering the LA music industry, Borstad said being at Pepperdine’s location has benefitted her more than anywhere else. 

“A lot of companies desire Pepperdine people because we are a smaller school and not a lot of people are interested in the music industry,” Borstad said. “And, typically, they hire from schools of music in LA.”

Pepperdine’s performance outlets 

Pepperdine offers many performance outlets on campus. Many are religious in nature, such as the Word Up worship team Hancock joined, as well as The Well, Celebration Chapel and the Table. Pepperdine hosts Coffeehouses twice a semester that give students the opportunity to showcase their talents and original music.

For Hancock, Word Up has been a place in which she can grow as a musician, but with a faith-based approach. 

Borstad, Sullivan and Mechelke all have sung in worship teams on campus, which they said helped them improve as vocalists. 

“Pepperdine gave me the opportunity to become more comfortable singing in front of others,” Mechelke said. 

Mechelke joined the worship team at Vintage Church in Malibu. She also leads worship at a house church on campus every week.

Eminger said he participates in anything he can to practice performing his originals in front of others. This included “Kappa King,” an on-campus philanthropy event for the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, where he performed his single, “Leave Behind.”

Creative community and collaborations

Mechelke and Borstad became best friends their first year and always dreamed of releasing music together. After returning to school from the pandemic, the two sat down and wrote a song in less than 10 minutes. 

Pepperdine 2021 alumna Callie Mechelke and senior political science major Alexa Borstad’s cover for their song, ‘Rearview’ (Photo courtesy of Callie Mechelke).

Mechelke and Borstad said being at Pepperdine helped them to collaborate with other creative individuals, as well as grow as musicians. Other students agreed, noting they’ve also collaborated with students for photography or art on an album cover, or for help with producing. Pepperdine students have found ways to come together and fuel one another’s passions for the entertainment industry. 

Sullivan is now working toward releasing her first single within the next month. Sullivan said nothing will ever amount to her experience and the amount she learned about herself as a musician at Pepperdine. 

Hancock is collaborating with anyone she can on campus, whether friends or strangers, in order to gain more experience in creating her own music. She is also pursuing worship in any outlet she can on campus. 

Eminger is collaborating with other musicians, both on campus and in the LA community. Eminger said he has found a supportive environment at Pepperdine with his fraternity and campus friends. He is also learning how to produce music as another skill to get himself into the industry.

“By the time I am done at Pepperdine, I want people to know who I am,” Eminger said. 

Rianna Smith completed the reporting for this story in Jour 241 under the supervision of Dr. Christina Littlefield and Dr. Theresa de los Santos. Dr. Littlefield supervised the web version of the story.