On February 12, musician Rence performed virtually and offered industry insight to Portland State students. The show and Q&A were hosted by KPSU, PSU’s free-form radio station, in conjunction with Sony Music U, Sony’s college representative team.
Hailing from Los Angeles, Rence played two songs for attendees, “Baby Blue” and “Endless.” He later explained that these two tracks demonstrated his progression as a musician. “Baby Blue”—a dreamy, synth-heavy pop song—placed Rence in the national spotlight, eventually garnering over 10 million streams. It was also written in his college dorm room. Originally from Seattle, Rence attended New York University, where he studied music business and graduated in 2019.
“Endless,” his newest release, carries many of the same sonic elements as “Baby Blue,” but is ultimately more mature and lyrically inquisitive: “Do you ever wonder about / How come, how come you can’t figure it out? / Every day, every day like we endless,” he sings.
While it never actually answers these questions it poses, the song leans toward hope, implied in its major chords and consistent beat. It feels comforting as we come upon the first anniversary of the pandemic, a time in which hope remains hard to find.
During the Q&A session, Rence explained he started producing the song two years ago in New York. At the time, he and his friends were trying to answer large, existential questions about their place in the world, unaware that he would eventually release the song when they were quite literally “living the same day over and over again.”
When asked about the meaning of the song, he said it has “turned into an anthem for my life in this house,” referring to the house in Los Angeles where he’s been living and working since last March.
Ari Elkins, a music journalist and playlist curator who has amassed over 600,000 followers on TikTok, moderated the event. Elkins met Rence at an event similar to this at the University of Michigan, and the two have since become close friends.
Rence also used the opportunity to answer questions about his journey in music and offer advice to students looking to pursue careers in the industry.
Rence explained how not getting into a music production program when applying to college was a “blessing in disguise.” After the rejection, he thought making music might not be for him. But after figuring out audio production on his own, he took classes in music business. In these classes, he learned about all of the things he now comes into contact with every day as an artist. In fact, Rence explained that when he wakes up every morning he tackles the business aspects of his career before he even works on any music. This includes fielding emails and “staying informed” by speaking regularly to managers.
Elkins encouraged Rence to share his marketing strategy for “Endless.” The musician made over 48 TikToks about the song before one finally took off and went viral. This led to people pre-saving “Endless,” which is an integral part of achieving Spotify playlist placement, a highly significant aspect of an artist’s marketing strategy. “TikTok is the vessel artists have right now to build a fanbase, especially without touring,” Rence explained.
For aspiring music industry professionals, this Q&A wasn’t just interesting—it was necessary. PSU only offers one class in music business—MUS 445—and it requires students to have upper-class standing. Events such as these allow students to gain a window into the industry outside of Portland. Having the opportunity to talk with Rence—a major label artist signed to Epic Records—allowed students to explore what options may lie ahead of them.
Rence’s one piece of advice for students looking to enter the industry was to always collect content of yourself or the artists you’re working with because of how central social media has become. “I’m constantly wishing I have more content than I do,” he said. “I hate being in a content deficit. Don’t be afraid to capture the moments [even if they aren’t] the most special moments in the world, because someday you might look back and realize that they were.”
Rence provided an invaluable opportunity for students with music industry aspirations, offering them insight into the business that they may not be able to study formally while at PSU. Insider information on marketing, industry contacts and personal workflow was freely and openly purveyed. And as students remarked at the end of the Zoom call, it was a nice break from the chaos and hardships everyone continues to experience during the ongoing pandemic.