American Studies
American Studies

Art Levy- Radio Host

Fri, June 1, 2018
Art Levy- Radio Host

Throughout the 2019-2020 school year, we've been conducting interviews with UT AMS grads who utilize their American Studies degrees in different ways in the world outside the 40 Acres. Next up in our series is Art Levy, a radio host for KUTX based in Austin, Texas.

Gaila Sims: When did you graduate from American Studies at UT, and with what degree?

Art Levy: I graduated in 2009 with a B.A in History and a minor in American Studies.

GS: As a host and staff member at KUTX, what does your day-to-day work look like?

AL: We're a small staff at KUTX, so we all wear a lot of different hats. For example, I'm an on-air host and a senior producer. Most NPR stations would split these duties, but I've always loved both sides of the glass, so to speak. I host a four-hour music shift on Sundays, but the bulk of my week is spent exercising my producer duties. This includes editing interviews and mixing audio for our podcast 'This Song'; organizing, recording, editing, and mixing our weekly guest DJ show 'My KUTX' (the guest DJs are musicians, ranging from national touring acts to local artists); producing promos for station events; producing "imaging" sweepers--station identifiers that you'll hear played between songs; and soliciting and listening to new music. Truthfully, though, the bulk of my days is spent in front of a computer answering emails or obsessively trying to edit a cough out of an interview. Surprisingly unglamorous, I know.

GS: How did you become interested in working in radio?

AL: Honestly, I stumbled into radio. In college, a friend of mine casually mentioned she was interested in joining KVRX 91.7 FM, the student-run station at UT. I tagged along to a meeting and instantly loved it. I grew up in Dallas listening to Texas Rangers baseball game broadcasts and our local alternative rock station, but I never realized I could do that, and I certainly didn't think I could do it for a career. When I graduated in 2009 (at the height of the Great Recession), KVRX's faculty advisor mentioned that KUT had a music program looking for interns. I figured it would be a nice creative diversion, strung together alongside my part-time jobs...and here I am almost ten years later writing an alumnus questionnaire about it. Weird.

GS: Do you have any advice for students in our department who are interested in pursuing work in the music industry?

AL: As you can see from my answer above, I had no expectations heading into the industry, which was maybe beneficial in hindsight. This is because this can be a cruel business--if you go into it thinking you can make a million dollars or be immediately famous, you are sorely mistaken. You have to go into it because you love music. It sounds simple, but it's not: that passion for music has to be your north star as you weather rejection, criticism, bad pay, long hours, etc. But I would also encourage you to not suffer for the sake of suffering. In our society, creative labor is not traditionally seen as labor, meaning you can get taken advantage of really quickly (and you will be expected to be "thankful for the opportunity"). Advocate for yourself and your fellow music industry professionals. It is not a zero-sum game. 

GS: How does American Studies inform your work? How does your background in American Studies help you in your work at KUTX?

AL: American Studies helped hone my writing and critical thinking skills, which are both incredibly important when editing interviews or creatively problem-solving. But I also think there is value in pursuing American Studies because you enjoy the subject matter. That level of engagement helped me to become, quite frankly, a more interesting and curious person than if I had solely studied radio.

GS: What projects or people have inspired your work?

AL: An old cliche, but punk rock changed my life. As a teenager (and increasingly as an adult), I found punk's do-it-yourself ethos to be incredibly freeing. I taught myself audio production with this attitude (alongside lots and lots of trial-and-error), and it gave me the confidence to speak on a mic for strangers every week. Also, American Studies showed me there is value in thinking/reading/writing about popular music, as an art form and a culture. 

People who have inspired my work: 

*Brian Eno: producer/musician/artist, who coined the phrase "honor thy error as a hidden intention," which is a profoundly good bit of advice. 

*Austin Kleon: an Austin-based writer who has written several books on creativity as a daily pursuit, not just a means to an end.

*Anni Albers: an abstract artist who reminds me to come down from the clouds and get my hands dirty.

*Emily Wiegand: my wife, who's the first to tell me her honest opinion.

*Max Levy: my dad, an architect who's stayed true to his artistic vision for 50+ years.

GS: Do you have any advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their experience at UT?

AL: I think hyperspecialization in a particular field can be detrimental. At KUTX, there are people with degrees in social work, creative writing, business, photojournalism, and more, which means we can draw on so many disciplines in our work instead of just communications or radio. So I would advise students to notice the subjects that give them a twang of happiness and learn everything they can about those subjects. It doesn't matter if it doesn't relate to your major or minor--I took a bunch of Geology courses at UT and I still know the difference between igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. Have I ever used this knowledge? Maybe not consciously, but the trick is to build weird connections between different parts of your brain, parts that don't normally talk to each other. That's where new ideas come from.

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