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Inside Hoot/Wisdom Recordings: Where student passion meets professional experience

Hoot/Wisdom Recordings, Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) official student-run record label – currently representing seven artists – offers a dive into the multifaceted world of music. Hoot/Wisdom is located on FAU’s Boca Raton Campus and serves as a platform for students seeking immersive involvement in various facets of the music industry, including music production, record promotion,...

Hoot/Wisdom Recordings, Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) official student-run record label – currently representing seven artists – offers a dive into the multifaceted world of music.

Hoot/Wisdom is located on FAU’s Boca Raton Campus and serves as a platform for students seeking immersive involvement in various facets of the music industry, including music production, record promotion, marketing and event planning.

“What we’re interested in is giving our students ample experience in the art of making records,” said Alejandro Sánchez-Samper, Hoot/Wisdom’s faculty advisor and FAU professor for 18 years. “Students get the experience of what it means to sign an artist, produce a track, release and market.”

Michael Zager, industry veteran and Daytime Emmy award winner, founded Hoot/Wisdom in 2004. Zager holds a portfolio encompassing over 400 commercial compositions along with over 40 records and singles to his credit and has been directing Hoot/Wisdom since its birth. Zager also spearheaded the development of the commercial music major at FAU.  

“When I came [to FAU], I thought there was a lack of training for the commercial music business,” Zager said. “So I presented my vision to the university after they asked me to apply, and they offered me a position as a full-tenured professor to start the program.” 

The artists’ contracts with Hoot/Wisdom have a duration of one semester, equivalent to three and a half months, with the flexibility of renewal throughout their college tenure and even after graduation. Beyond individual artists, Hoot/Wisdom also extends contracts to bands to join the experience.

Hoot/Wisdom typically opens applications for FAU students, alumni and staff toward the middle of each semester. Those interested can access the application portal via the Hoot/Wisdom website, with submissions accepted for a two-week period. Artists are not able to apply for the summer. 

Prospective artists are required to provide three audio files or public links showcasing their work to the Hoot/Wisdom executive team. The sole condition for signing with Hoot/Wisdom is the release of at least one song before the end of the semester. Artists do not have to be commercial music majors to apply. 

Applications for the upcoming fall semester are closed, but Sianna Ryan, Hoot/Wisdom’s president since fall 2023, anticipates reopening the application window sometime in October or November for the spring. 

Hoot/Wisdom currently has seven signed artists, most of whom are not music majors, according to Ryan, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in commercial music with a concentration in music technology. 

“We’re really good at diversifying our student body,” Ryan said.

Daniela Prieto, an FAU nursing junior, signed with Hoot/Wisdom in spring 2023. She currently serves as Hoot/Wisdom’s director of events and will extend her tenure into the fall semester as a signed artist while also taking on the role of director of artist recruitment.

Dani Prieto (left) and Aidan Vela (right) get the audience into their feels when they played “If The World Was Ending” by JP Saxe and Julia Michaels on April 6.
(FloridaAtlanticUniversity 2)

Alongside her dedication to the medical field, Prieto has nurtured a passion for songwriting since the age of ten and is proficient in piano and guitar.

“I relate more with music, and I feel like it’s something that’s relieving my stress. Something that’s always been there for me when some people haven’t,” said Prieto.

Ryan also found solace and expression through songwriting at a young age. Joining Hoot/Wisdom in spring 2023, she is now responsible for creating purchase requests for equipment, reviewing artist applications and matching the newly signed artists with commercial music major students.

Ryan assigns Hoot/Wisdom artists to students enrolled in the commercial music forum class– a required course for commercial music majors spanning three semesters. 

A typical group consists of the artist, one guitarist, one pianist, a percussionist, an engineer or music technology major and the occasional additional vocalist. However, Ryan says the composition of the groups vary each semester based on the class size and the different skill sets of participating students. 

“The first class of the semester, I have everyone fill out a form with their instrument, their major, and their favorite genres, and from there we sort each of our accepted clients into different groups,” Ryan said. “So we try to match the musicians to what best describes the client.” 

While artists signed with Hoot/Wisdom are not obligated to participate in the forum class, they have the option to join the sessions, even if they are not formally enrolled. The forum convenes every Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

“That Friday class is where we reconvene and check on the progress,” Ryan said. “And [students] are able to use that time to do whatever they need to do whether it’s recording, songwriting…”

Hoot/Wisdom provides artists with access to a fully-equipped 24-hour studio where they can hone their craft. According to Ryan, students must reserve their time slots on the website and ensure the presence of an engineer from their designated group, as technology students are liable for all of the equipment in the recording studio. 

“There’s a lot of red tape, and for good reason,” said Ryan. “There’s a lot of really expensive equipment there. Unfortunately, we just cannot give access to people who don’t know how to use the equipment. Which is why we specifically put engineers in their group, so that whenever they’re ready to record, or they’re ready to do a recording session, they’re able to talk directly with someone who has access to it to set up a recording session.”

The university retains full copyright ownership of the recordings, and it strictly prohibits the use of profanity or vulgar language in songs. However, artists are granted some flexibility during live performances, provided the content remains within reasonable bounds. But while the recording itself is subject to university copyright, the composition – including the song, lyrics and melody – is entirely the artist’s. 

“We try to make sure that the artists have a lot of autonomy with their music,” Ryan said.

The frequency of song and album releases depends on how many artists are signed with Hoot/Wisdom. On March 26, Hoot/Wisdom released their eighth compilation album with songs from the seven signed artists, available on Spotify, Apple Music and their website.

“In my opinion, I think it was probably our best album to date because the genres were just so diverse,” said Ryan. “Every song is really different from each other…We have a jazz, rock fusion song. We’ve got Christian gospel on there. There’s also a slow rock ballad on there…”

Daniel Arteaga, an FAU junior majoring in commercial music with a focus on composition, has been a signed artist with Hoot/Wisdom for two consecutive semesters. He contributed a jazz-pop mix song to the eighth compilation album and performed at Hoot/Wisdom’s 20th anniversary concert on April 6. 

Arteaga anticipates the release of another track, this time leaning towards a more jazz-oriented style, scheduled for the fall 2024 semester.  

“I think [Hoot/Wisdom] teaches you a lot about hands-on experience,” Arteaga said. “It’s more of a practical application instead of theoretical, which is good because most of our classes are theoretical.”

Hoot/Wisdom strives to organize at least two concerts per semester, giving artists enough time to develop a setlist and routine for their performances.

“Another one of the reasons why I think the record label is so valuable is because not only do we do the records, but the students are out there trying to promote the artists themselves. One way to do it is through social media, but a better way to do it is through live performances,” Sánchez-Samper said. 

This semester, Hoot/Wisdom staged three performances: one artist showcase in late February, another in late March and their 20th anniversary concert, which drew in about 300 attendees, according to Sánchez-Samper.

“We had a really good time,” Prieto said. “It was great to see the other performances as well as to be a part of something so big.”

As director of events, not only did Prieto help coordinate the anniversary concert, but she also performed a duet during the event. Her track, “Freefall,” is also featured on the eighth compilation album. 

“We’re very unique in the sense that I think we are the most productive [record label] by far… We do everything in-house,” Sánchez-Samper said. 

Similarly, Ryan emphasized Hoot/Wisdom’s unique student-centric model.

“I really think we have the best student record label in the country, and I say that because a lot of recordings or a lot of engineering happens with the faculty in other universities,” said Ryan. At FAU, the students have a lot of power in how they want their songs to sound. “The faculty members are really just facilitators, while the students run everything.”


Laurie Mermet is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email or DM laurie.mmt on Instagram.


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