April 20, 2021
Alumni Spotlight: Simran Jagtiani
By Bill Brink
The good thing about Carnegie Mellon University’s Activities Board, Simran Jagtiani said, is that you don’t have to know anything to join. You just have to enjoy music, planning, and organization, and work well under pressure. The advisors teach you everything else.
In Jagtiani’s case, her advisors, Elizabeth Koch and Meredith Hassenrik, nurtured her passion for music. They walked her through the process of negotiating and marking up contracts with bands and performers the AB had invited to campus.
“Things like that, the faculty don’t have to go the extra mile but they do,” Jagtiani said. “Those were the moments that led to where I am.”
Jagtiani entered Carnegie Mellon intent on working in government and politics, and she graduated in 2018 with a degree in International Relations and Politics along with minors in Hispanic Studies and Gender Studies. During college, her desire for a career in the music industry turned from long shot to reality, and she is now a Distribution Operations Specialist for UnitedMasters, a record label and distribution company in New York City.
“It’s honestly perfect,” Jagtiani said. “I could not be happier. UnitedMasters has a very large focus on hip hop and has an extremely diverse workforce. I feel very at ease speaking my mind and knowing that people are going to listen when I have ideas for a project.”
During the college application process, Jagtiani’s conversations with IPS Deputy Director Emily Half convinced her that the IPS faculty were invested in creating great opportunities for their students. She also loved the idea of the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program.
“Stay open-minded,” she said by way of advice to prospective students, “because the four years of your college experience will change you as a person. That doesn’t mean that your goals have to change, but they might. It’s not the end of the world if they do. You still have faculty around you that will help guide you, and you still have all the skills that you gained in all of your classes that are transferrable.”
Jagtiani knows of what she speaks. She loved her time in Washington in the fall of 2016, when she interned at the Center for American Progress and worked on the issues of gun violence, student debt, and education – issues that impacted her generation. But she was already considering turning her love of music into a career.
“I had been booking concerts through the Activities Board at school since freshman year,” she said. “I enjoyed that so much, but I never really considered it an actual career path. Sophomore year, I had spoken to one of the booking agents that we worked with and he exposed me to the idea that it could be a viable career option.”
Her first foray into the industry outside of CMU was a summer internship with Dubset Media Holdings, a startup in New York City. Her lack of experience and the startup nature meant that the internship did not offer much substance, but her next one did: at Mr. Smalls, a music venue in an old church up the road from CMU in Millvale.
“It was absolutely incredible, and it was what solidified my decision to work in the music industry, because it was in the area of the industry that I was really interested in, which is live music,” Jagtiani said. “My boss, Josh Bakaitus, he treated interns like they were partners, so he gave me substantive work, he appreciated my opinion, he appreciated when I had something to add to the conversation. I felt like part of the team.”
Jagtiani spent six months job-searching after graduation while working two part-time jobs and interning at Headcount, a non-profit that partners with recording artists to register voters. She used this experience to land her dream job. Growing up in New Jersey, she attended shows at Terminal 5 and Webster Hall, venues owned by The Bowery Presents, a company that owns multiple live music venues up and down the east coast. She got a job there in January 2019.
“Those were very formative experiences in my childhood because it was the first time we had the independence to go to a show, and that’s how I even figured out my passion lies in music,” she said. “Working there was a very big deal for me.”
Live shows came to a halt during the pandemic and The Bowery Presents furlowed Jagtiani last July. A day later, she found her current job, which allows her to make an impact on a subset of the industry she is passionate about: the intersection between hip hop and social justice.
“It makes absolute sense because you can’t profit off of and enjoy the culture without supporting people who make that possible,” she said. “Hip hop is at the root of Black culture, so it doesn’t make sense to be able to take in all this music and to be able to work in the industry and not support the social justice movements that are coming up now.”
Before the pandemic, Jagtiani was organizing a live show based around criminal justice reform, with local nonprofits dedicated to community organizing and gun violence prevention and tables at the venue allowing guests to volunteer or donate. She has seen the impact those non-profits have in New York City, and she hasn’t let her live music roots go.
“As I got more involved in hip hop, I saw all of the intersections with social justice, because of the topics that they were talking about, because of the campaigns they were running,” she said. “These artists, they’ve had social justice be a part of their platform forever. Because I love the music so much and I could see that already happening, I realized that that’s where I wanted my focus to be in my career.”