Though “records” is in the name, Isaac Oh, co-founder of Golden Records, or GR, and a senior at UC Berkeley, recognizes GR as a company, professional organization, community and even a family, but rarely as a mere record label — and for a specific reason.
“It’s about creating value,” he repeatedly says, using this broad term to emphasize that GR’s mission is not limited to the music industry.
“These (students) have various goals in the music industry, and I want to help them reach their goals,” he said.
On the surface, GR exists to provide aspiring student-artists with the necessary resources and connections to develop their talent and image as DJs and music producers.
Additionally, GR’s services include one-on-one consultation services that prescribe next steps for up-and-coming artists. The organization also provides exposure by booking student-artists into venues small and large, from fraternity houses to high-end nightclubs.
One of the most prominent artists the company works with is BEAUZ, a DJ duo consisting of Bernie Yang and Johan Yang, who is a UC Berkeley alumnus and a GR co-founder. Though Oh emphasizes how BEAUZ’s success was largely independent of Golden Records, one cannot downplay the fact that GR played an important role in generating exposure by hosting shows such as VOLTA, which BEAUZ headlined in 2016 at San Francisco nightclub The Grand.
Currently, the duo sits on Spotify with 587,986 monthly listeners.
But Oh emphasizes that Golden Records does not only function to foster artists.
Standing in the middle of what would quickly become a crowded dance floor at Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity, Oh didn’t merely see an opportunity for alcohol-induced liberation — but rather, to repeat the general term he uses, “value.”
On that Friday night, Golden Records hosted a show that would not only introduce students to the Korean American Student Association, but also provide an opportunity for each of Golden Records’ members — from artists to social media managers — to develop in their respective fields, whether in live performance or in the event’s marketing.
One of the most obvious signifiers of GR’s handiwork could be seen at the front of the dance floor, where varied DJ equipment rested on an impromptu stage — one table for the equipment on top of two tables put together. There, Edgar Jiang, who performs under the name “3DGVR” and is aided by Golden Records’ guidance and resources, stood tall upon the stage, warming up to the equipment and scratching the turntables.
More importantly though, Oh has essentially turned GR into a network of support for students with interests beyond producing music.
On Super Bowl Sunday, an hour before the game began, Oh and Martin Harasimowicz, a DJ for GR and a friend, hosted a two-hour seminar in Barrows 151, open to members and students. Its topic?
For two hours, Oh led a room of about eight students through several painstaking exercises to evaluate their “strengths” and rank their “values.” He would approach topics such as “higher consciousness values,” making the lecture curiously spiritual and existential in nature. “We’re all going to die one day,” Oh bluntly stated, “You guys don’t want to die having done nothing, regretting your life. It’s just a sad existence.”
At no point did the lecture specifically tackle the workings of the music industry.
“I like being more comprehensive,” Oh explains. “Now they see the bigger picture as to why they’re doing anything, and that’s a lot more fulfilling; it gives them more motivation if they realize what they want to do. … This is just priming them to be better musicians, better talents, better whatever.”
Presenting the seminars under the moniker Golden Records University, Oh has set his sights on nine more lectures for the rest of the spring semester, all of which are ultimately aimed to empower GR members to pursue their passions, no matter what those may be.
“At the end of the day, we’re all in here because we like music and we build a community around that and bring that energy up among everyone,” Harasimowicz said. “(As a result) you’re going to get some people to do some pretty cool things.”
Still, GR’s work does not end there.
On a Tuesday night, members of Golden Records and some curious students were huddled by a fire in the back of a quaint little house on Carleton Street. There were s’mores, hot dogs, buns and Blue Moon. It quickly became evident that this was not a meeting, but rather, as Harasimowicz might frame it, a sort of antidote to the obsessively practical mindset he thinks Berkeley overemphasizes.
“We’re teaching people that there is a balance that can be achieved in your practical and creative side,” Martin says. The reason he gave for these intimate social events is simple, but necessary. “It’s fun. It’s like family.”
Oh recognizes that Golden Records is in the midst of its developmental phase, still depending on word-of-mouth for the organization’s growth. On its website, GR boasts a roster of 10 artists, small and large, from the better-known BEAUZ to more nascent Bay Area DJs such as Takemoto. Still, there are empty pages and links on the site that reveal Oh’s work has only just begun. But Oh wouldn’t consider organizational growth his sole standard for success.
“Everyone has a different idea of success, everyone has a different definition. … My ultimate goal is to teach people, and that’s where my success is.”