Her DIY Semester: English Major Laura Ragsdale Uses Independent Study to Build Cred for Career in Music Industry

Posted on 10/13/2014 2:12:49 PM

English major Laura Ragsdale on the air at WIUP FM

At the start of spring semester 2014, senior Laura Ragsdale found she had to complete a few extra credits to graduate. Picking up a random class wasn't for her. Instead, she thought big—and the outcome attracted national attention in the industry she aspires to work in.

An English major in the writing studies track and a DJ and music director at WIUP FM, Laura designed two independent studies that enabled her to work expressly toward her goal of becoming a music promoter. 

In one, Laura created the blog Unclaimed Baggage Music, where she posts album reviews, streamable playlists, and other content. 

Laura's advisor on the project was English professor Chauna Craig, who said her role was to help Laura think about establishing a consistent voice and generating ideas for content that would give her blog its own distinct identity.

"Professor Chauna Craig helped me grow as a writer immensely. She was also always there for me for questions about English major requirements or about life," says Laura.

In the second independent study, advised by communications media professor and former WIUP FM director Zachary Stiegler, Laura wrote a zine-format College Radio Music Director Manual. 

“The job of music director entails a lot—reporting top 30 charting each week, informing DJs what they’re putting on rotation, pitching bands,” says Laura. “I wanted something out there that would be helpful for people in the job.” She posted the manual on her blog as a free pdf download.

The editor of CMJ, the national college music magazine, was impressed.

Laura had met the editor in 2013, at the annual CMJ Music Marathon, and she emailed her now to ask "if she knew of any blogs or social media sites music directors often surf, because I wanted to spread the word."

The editor asked Laura if she’d be interested in being interviewed for CMJ.

The interview was published in August, just as college radio stations were gearing up for a new academic year.

"These projects made a great addition to my portfolio of music-centric writing," says Laura. "They prove my dedication to music, my ability to take on a hefty workload, and my self-motivation."

Laura works at Siren Records, in Doylestown, PA, as cashier, vinyl spinstress, and social media coordinator while maintaining her blog, which now has 230 followers. She is continuing to make a name for herself in the music industry.

Does the DIYer have any advice for students?

"Play hard and work hard. Have a blast, but don’t lose sight of why you’re here. Create opportunities, make goals, and find people to support you."

Caitlin Birch, intern, and Deborah Klenotic, IUP Communications and Marketing; photo courtesy of Laura Ragsdale