Kent State students moonlight as EDM DJs

Crankdat Live Performance

William Kovach

Many know Kent for its excessive black squirrel population, but not its music scene. Fortunately, Kent has some local Electronic Dance Music (EDM) musicians and entrepreneurs that are making waves in Cleveland and beyond. When they are not performing or creating music, these musicians also happen to be Kent State students.

Christian Smith, a sophomore exploratory major, has been producing EDM music under the name “Crankdat” since high school

“I started producing music when I was a sophomore in high school … Within the first week, I realized I was really into it and just went from there,” Smith said. “I’m very busy … I really have to micro-manage my time.”

Extracurricular activities Smith participates in that take up time also include track and field for Kent State. Smith holds the record for discus in Ohio.

“It all happened 100 percent organically,” he said, when asked about his rise to stardom.

Smith’s first performance was a cancer benefit for one of his local high school peers.

“Two summers ago, a bunch of my friends and I put on an event … to help raise some funds for him,” Smith said. “We managed to pull 400 or 500 people … at that time; Crankdat did not exist.”

His first hit track is a remix to Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” and went viral on SoundCloud, which has now amassed over 40 million streams. The remix currently has more than 64 million views on YouTube. Smith now produces music on a regular basis.

His first professional performance as Crankdat was opening up for hip-hop artist Waka Flocka Flame in Houston, Texas, with the anniversary, ironically, being the same date as the interview.

“That was my only show for all of 2015,” Smith said. “Then 2016 started pretty slowly … since June, I’ve been on a full-fledged tour. Every other weekend I’m flying out somewhere.”

“Kent State has taught me extremely valuable lifetime management skills, and I wouldn’t have built this had I not come here,” he said, when asked about what the university has to offer.

Prior to becoming a music producer, Smith was a “hip-hop head.”

Hearing dubstep for the first time was like a “culture shock” to him. Smith attributes his love for the EDM industry to Skrillex, another EDM artist and producer.

“In about six months, things are going to change drastically,” Smith said. “I’m in the position to take a step to the next level.”

Smith refers to his stage name “Crankdat” as a project, and not himself.

Another DJ and producer in Kent is Jason Tepes, or “DJason,” a freshman biology major at Kent State.

“Music has always been my thing. It started off with really small house parties, and over time I bought more equipment, started getting more gigs … just by trial and error, I got to where I am today,” Tepes said. “I still have a lot more to work toward, but I’ve come a long way from DJ-ing little things.”

Tepes’s first gig was at Cleveland’s Liquid nightclub on West 6th Street at Liquid Nightclub, opening up for another EDM DJ duo, “Adventure Club.”

Kent State has created a “networking and a good customer base,” for Tepes since his enrollment.

“A lot of old-school Deadmau5 (is what inspired me to enter the music industry) … because of the vibe,” Tepes said. “It’s so simple, and he just went out there and did it.”

Smith works alongside Kent State sophomore entrepreneurship major Zachary Melchiorre, president and owner of Ignition Promotions. Melchiorre runs a music promoting industry that promotes local artists and events in the Cleveland area.

Melchiorre started Ignition Promotions in his own home.

“It started off in a basement,” Melchiorre said. “We started promoting house parties, brainstormed a little bit and came up with the name ‘Ignition.'”

The promotion process is lengthy; one has to invest in tickets, promotion and artists.

“You can’t just throw an event,” Melchiorre said. “We just released a fall lineup with (Cleveland’s electronic music producer) Tru Events that they had been talking about for the past three months. It’s a long-term process.”

“Cleveland is a pretty tough market when it comes to dance music,” he said. “it’s usually just rap. You really have to find the right consumer base and artists.”

In the past, Melchiorre said he has worked with Jawz, Seven Lions, The Chainsmokers, Getter, Crankdat and Adventure Club.

All of those DJs are major label recording artists and are aligned with local business here in Kent. When The Chainsmokers performed in Kent last year, Melchiorre regaled about how he was able to spend some personal time with them at 157 Lounge in downtown Kent.

“I still have contact with them,” Melchiorre said. “I hit them up from time-to-time. They have four double-platinum records, and … they’re down to earth people.”

Ultimately, his experiences at Kent State have taught him techniques he can utilize in the music business.

“I apply what I’ve learned as an entrepreneurship major to my business because I’m always watching ticket sales, money and profit,” Melchiorre said.

William Kovach is a general assignment reporter, contact him at [email protected].