Artists, music and UCLA: A spotlight on Bruin musicians and a guide to making music on campus

by Dylan Mahoney

Throughout my two years at UCLA, I’ve encountered countless people who have an immense talent for music. I myself have tried to delve into the realm of music production and often find myself in awe at the number of skilled musicians that surround me here. They seem to be everywhere and are often underappreciated. In order to gain an insight into what life is like for musicians at UCLA, I decided to interview three Bruin artists.

Tommy de Bourbon

Music history and industry major Tommy de Bourbon is a sophomore and the former bassist for Small Crush, an indie band hailing from the Bay Area with over 42,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Now a solo artist, de Bourbon lives on campus where he makes music.

Mahoney: What was touring like this past fall?

De Bourbon: Touring was the best month of my life. It’s all I’ve really ever wanted to do since I started playing music. I mean, traveling, and getting to play music with my best friends, is an opportunity that I couldn’t have been happier with. When the opportunity came up, I was like, “Okay, do I do it? I have to take the quarter off of school if I want to do it.” But it was kind of a no-brainer — it just took convincing my parents. It made me realize how much I loved music. That just kind of set in stone, like, alright, if it wasn’t clear before, this is what I want to do, 100 percent.

Who are your biggest inspirations?

Oh man. I’ve been playing a lot of old country slide guitar. It’s called pedal steel and there are some pedal steel players – Buddy Emmons, Lloyd Green and Ralph Mooney. But I’m inspired by all kinds of music. I try to take away something from every genre.

Have you ever worked with another UCLA student on something? What was that experience like?

The music scene here is very, very fruitful. I try to work with and meet as many people as possible. I think collaborating on music is oftentimes much better because everyone brings something to the table – whether it’s making a beat with someone in a dorm room or practicing in the music building. I try to do as much with as many people as I can here at UCLA.

What would be your biggest piece of advice for fellow students who might be interested in joining a band or making music but don’t know where to start?

Just go and get inspired by something. There’s usually a house show every week in Westwood, and a bunch of bands and musicians always go. Anyone who’s going to a show like that is looking to meet new musicians and work with new people. There’s a great scene down here and there’s always an opportunity to meet people and make music. So, if you’re hungry enough, do it – you’ll be able to.

You can find de Bourbon on Instagram @debourbon, Tiktok @tdebourbon and Youtube.

Griffon Shen

Griffon Shen, a sophomore physiological sciences major, is a singer-songwriter and producer. His eleventh and latest single “GOODBYES” dropped in February and is streaming on all platforms.

Mahoney: What kind of music do you make?

Shen: I would say it’s some form of alternative pop. Currently, I’m on a pretty big 80s kick, so the past couple of songs that I’ve released have been very 80s-influenced. I play guitar and sing, and I’m currently working on improving my producing and mixing skills.

When did you start making music/playing instruments?

I think sometime around sixth or seventh grade, I started playing guitar. But I was more of a campfire guitarist, and that was it. Then, sophomore year in high school, I got into John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix – the usuals. I fell in love with it. And I started writing my own music sometime around junior year of high school after I got my heart broken.

When you go to make something new, whether it be a song or just something fun, what does your process look like? How do you go about creating?

Well, “it depends” is such a bad answer, but it depends – on who I’m with, the people in the room, the vibe of the room. Usually, I start with an idea; I’ll want a song that reminds you of walking on the beach, or driving on the 280 at night when you’re going through it. It’ll start with picking a BPM, and some drums; then we’ll lay some chords down. But I think it’s always changing based on what the driving factor is.

Have you created or produced any songs while being here at UCLA? If so, what was that experience like?

I have. I think I’ve made four complete songs while being here. Most of which have been done in my room. And then I’ve made, probably, three or four other projects that are unfinished. Nonetheless, they are extremely fun to make. Just being in my own space here and being surrounded by a bunch of like-minded individuals is incredible.

What would be your biggest piece of advice for fellow students who might be interested in joining a band or making music but don’t know where to start?

It’s going to be very rare to find someone who doesn’t listen to music. I think everyone listens to some form of music. It makes you feel something that nothing else will. With that being said, you know, just take a step back. Find a song that you’re really liking at the moment and listen to it; figure out what’s going on. Listen to the little details – this is what the drums are doing, this is where the bass is going, this is what the lyrics mean. Take in music from that perspective, and that’ll give you an idea of what to do. Once you realize that all the songs you’re listening to are probably not as complex and difficult as you once believed, the whole process becomes a lot less daunting and a lot more approachable.

You can follow Shen by visiting his Spotify and Linktree.


Fourth-year transfer and French major Erica is a trilingual singer-songwriter. She currently covers songs on her YouTube channel. She is the vice president of The DAW, a music technology club at UCLA, and is working on releasing singles in the near future.

Mahoney: Have you ever used any of the studios (like De Neve Learning Center) on campus? If so, what was your experience with them?

Erica: Yes, I have. I’ve been to the De Neve studio a few times. I thought it was really cool that it had a board for collaborating with other artists – it was how I was able to start finding people to work with. Now, I’m working with a few UCLA students; one of them is the president of the DAW.

What is the DAW Club?

So, I am vice president of the club, and it’s really cool. I love it because it’s the first club that I’ve been a part of that doesn’t require a specific skillset. You can be a beginner or you can be advanced. You don’t have to know about production; the whole goal of the club is just to take each person’s skills. Somebody plays the guitar, somebody writes, somebody makes the beat and the club brings all of that together to make a song. So I just really love that.

How did you find others who make music?

So first was going to the De Neve Studio. The second was following them on Instagram because they posted a lot of updates last quarter. They had this one jam where I met a few people. And then I also looked up UCLA clubs. I went on the club website and looked in the music category and I started emailing the presidents; I’d get added to the GroupMe or the Discord and then, you know, be able to meet other musicians.

What would be your biggest piece of advice for fellow students who might be interested in joining a band or making music but don’t know where to start?

I would go to the student organizations website. I had no idea how to meet anybody here because I was a transfer student and my first year was online. So, I looked up UCLA music clubs and that’s how I got started. Also, I would recommend joining a music class, cause I am going to be doing that in the spring, which is really cool – you’ll definitely be able to meet a ton of people that are interested in making music.

You can follow Erica on Instagram @ericajaderose and YouTube.

A Guide to Making Music at UCLA

In addition to these interviews, I’ve compiled information on resources Bruins can utilize right here at UCLA to get more involved in the music scene.

De Neve Learning Center

Located in the heart of De Neve, this residential learning center is home to UCLA’s most accessible studio for students. The Music Production Studio offers an array of desktop computers with music production software (digital audio workstations like Abelton and FL Studio), a main station that includes both speakers and a recording booth, and instruments like guitars and keyboards.

The studio also hosts workshops, club meetings and other musical events. The workspace is public, so many Bruin musicians gather here to collaborate on an array of differing projects. For anyone who might prefer a more privatized experience, the studio offers private reservations for two hours at a time, and anyone is welcome to rent out the studio for their own use.

The DAW Club

The DAW at UCLA is a music technology club that meets at De Neve Studio in an effort to cultivate a community of musicians, producers and singer-songwriters. The organization can be found hosting music masterclasses and helping members to collaborate on projects of their own. This is a great space for anyone looking to find other artists, learn musical tips and tricks, or make new friends.

For anyone interested in learning more about The DAW at UCLA, follow their Instagram page @thedawatucla.

Intro to Recording Engineering/Pro Tools Certification

For musicians interested in the producing and audio engineering side of music, the Intro to Recording Engineering and Pro Tools Certification classes are two comprehensive courses offered in the fall and spring quarters. Taught by Beth Sweeney and David McKenna, these courses are voluntary — meaning that students cannot enroll in them for any academic credit. However, the Intro to Recording Engineering class is free, and the Pro Tools course is $150 (to compare, it normally costs $1750 to receive Pro Tools certification outside of UCLA). Students who pass the Recording Engineering course are granted private access to the Melnitz recording studio, which houses well over $50,000 worth of equipment. These courses are a must for any student looking to garner integral insight into the audio-engineering world and hands-on industry experience.

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