Student musicians juggle assignments and aspirations

Despite the huge price tag associated with higher education, college isn't every student's top priority. In fact, some students at colleges across the state attend school reluctantly for the stability promised with a degree but chase their dreams on the side, hoping to make their big break in an area they're passionate about. 

Matt Zotti, a junior communication major at the University of Utah, spends his time in college managing the pressure to get a professional degree while also finding time to chase his dream of making electronic dance music. 

“I would say I’m more of an artist in terms of what I am personally passionate about and even just time consumption,” Zotti said. 

Using his last name as his stage persona, Zotti has been producing music for two years and has attracted attention on the digital audio-production community of SoundCloud. Zotti's SoundCloud account has over 700,000 total plays on his songs, averages about 10,000 plays per week and has 7,734 followers.  

“It’s not a one song kind of deal," Zotti said. "It’s like the audience is carrying over to my other tracks, which is, you know…really comforting." 

Matt Zotti, a junior communication major at the University of Utah, makes electronic dance music when he isn’t completing school assignments. "While I can, while I'm young, I might as well just try to juggle both," Zotti said. Photo by Jacob Smith.

Matt Zotti, a junior communication major at the University of Utah, makes electronic dance music when he isn’t completing school assignments. "While I can, while I'm young, I might as well just try to juggle both," Zotti said. Photo by Jacob Smith.

Zotti goes to school full time but said he spends the majority of his time working on his music.  

“Basically, I’m in school for stability,” Zotti said. “While I can, while I’m young, I might as well try to juggle both.” 

Zotti said he thinks it’s important to get a degree but music remains his primary focus.  

“Where I spend my time and what I’m most focused on…it’s really with art,” Zotti said. “It’s totally subjective. It’s beautiful. It’s ugly. It’s pretty much everything.”   

Students at Westminster College are having similar battles, grappling with the pressure to get a degree while trying to follow their aspirations.   

Sam Johnson, a Westminster junior studying psychology and sociology, plays the drums in a punk-rock band called Static Nostalgia. 

Sam Johnson, a junior studying psychology and sociology, is the drummer in punk-rock band called Static Nostalgia. Johnson said he would leave school if he ever got invited to go on tour. Photo courtesy of Sam Johnson.

Sam Johnson, a junior studying psychology and sociology, is the drummer in punk-rock band called Static Nostalgia. Johnson said he would leave school if he ever got invited to go on tour. Photo courtesy of Sam Johnson.

“I’ve got kind of two life trajectories in front of me,” Johnson said. “I can either do music, and do that professionally, or I can become a counselor and pursue that as well. So it’s really just kind of whatever takes off first.” 

Johnson said that though he thinks about becoming a counselor, he also considers what he would do if he and his band were invited to go on tour.  

“If there’s an opportunity where we can go play Warped Tour, or we get picked up for a tour, like opening for somebody then, you know…" Johnson said. "I would quit school for that opportunity.” 

Money is a key motivator for people like Johnson to attend college and get a degree.  

“It is a money thing, too, because it’s just like whatever is more financially secure at the time I feel like I’ll go with,” Johnson said.  

Matt Zotti, a junior communication major and electronic-dance-music producer, makes music in his bedroom. Zotti said he juggles finishing school assignments with pursuing his dream of becoming a professional musician. Photo by Jacob Smith.

Matt Zotti, a junior communication major and electronic-dance-music producer, makes music in his bedroom. Zotti said he juggles finishing school assignments with pursuing his dream of becoming a professional musician. Photo by Jacob Smith.

Though Johnson and Zotti said they feel like they have to choose one or the other, some Westminster faculty members have managed to take care of school and live their dreams simultaneously.  

David Baddley, Westminster's art department chair and a photography professor, has been teaching photo classes since he graduated college. 

 “I don’t think there’s like this defining moment when you say, ‘I want to be an artist’ any more than there’s like this defining moment when a person decides, ‘I want to grow hair on my head’ or something like that,” Baddley said. “I think it’s something you kind of do. It’s someone who you kind of are.” 

David began teaching photo classes while finishing graduate school in exchange for tuition waivers, but he said he never associated his love for art with the need to make money. 

“I never really linked art making and money making,” Baddley said. “For me, making art was simply a component of who I was, and whether or not I was making money or starving almost didn’t really matter.” 

Baddley said he thinks school makes it easier to pursue passion for creating art. 

“I think skiing is a good analogy,” he said. “It’s like the more time you spend doing it, the easier it is.” 

Baddley said he doesn't believe school and dreams have to stand in the way of each other and urges students to do what feels right for them.  

“Do the things that you want to because you genuinely believe that’s what you want to do rather than you feel like that’s what you should do,” he said.