Newhouse alumnus gives students a leg up on the music business

By Melissa Rule

January 25, 2017
Photo of Ulf Oesterle

Ulf Oesterle G’01, G’07 sits at his desk surrounded by stacks of CDs from the bands he manages, concert posters, photos of family and friends and race bibs from triathlons.

Student after student enters his office. A few pop in just to say hi. One brags about a song he produced hitting the Billboard 100. Others seek his advice on class, jobs and all things music.

He listens intently to each, then dispenses wisdom.

As interim director of Syracuse University’s Bandier Program, Oesterle says he makes it his personal mission to help each student succeed. He teaches four classes, advises 20 Watts magazine, works with honors students, helps run the Bandier speaker series and is a father of two.

“Ulf is crazy involved and I don’t see him slowing down or slacking off,” says friend and colleague Dennis Kinsey, professor and director of the public diplomacy program at the Newhouse School, who is also a musician.

The Bandier Program includes 100 students, who Oesterle says are like an extension of his own family. Oesterle uses his personal experience in the music industry to teach classes and make sure the program offers opportunities for students to connect with the “real world.”

Oesterle, an alumnus of SUNY Cortland and Syracuse University, where he earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the Newhouse School, practically grew up on campus while his parents attended graduate classes. He lived in an area near South Campus, which was then a very diverse community of families who attended or worked at Syracuse.

One of the first things people notice about Oesterle is that he has no left hand. He was born that way.

“It is all I have ever known, and doesn’t affect me much,” Oesterle says. He was active in his youth, playing soccer, basketball and baseball, and now competes nationally in triathlons.

In college, he believed he would work in health sciences as an athletic trainer. That changed when he visited the campus radio station as a freshman with Dave Grammerstorf, his friend from the dorm. Oesterle had no background in music except for listening to it.

“Being a musician was never part of my life,” Oesterle says. Even now, he admits that he has tried to play guitar, but it wasn’t for him. He believes he has a “good ear for what is going to work in music,” and enjoys keeping the spotlight on his students and other emerging artists.

At the college station, Oesterle and Grammerstorf started with the 1 a.m. deejay shift on Sundays. Oesterle stuck with it, took on some administrative responsibility at the station and during his sophomore year realized he could make a career out of music. He continued to work at the station and was in charge by his senior year.

After graduation, Oesterle worked on an MTV-like show and managed a local punk band. He then worked at a radio station, and held almost every job, from reporting to producing a morning show to running operations for a sports show.

After living with terrible pay (he once received a sandwich voucher instead of a paycheck), Oesterle decided it was time for a change. He went back to school to earn a master’s in media management from Newhouse, and later a Ph.D.

While in graduate school, Oesterle taught several courses at Newhouse and also took out a $6,000 student loan and started his own record label.

His label, Aux Records, manages and records several local bands and solo artists. Oesterle says the music he helps create needs to be something he would listen to. His artists play all different types of music and he has produced almost every genre, except for rap.

Today, he uses his work in the industry to teach and advise students through the Bandier Program. Student Katie Canete, a junior in the program, said she loves to have him as a teacher.

“He is a great teacher that is younger and doesn’t lecture,” Canete says.

She and sophomore Bandier student P.J. Walshe agree that Oesterle never talks down to his students and works with them like they are already in the business. Both students have a plethora of examples of Oesterle bringing his experience into the classroom, from hanging out with celebrities to getting a Taylor Swift inspired tattoo after she sold over a million albums in a day.

Kinsey describes him as being a “facilitator of education.”

Oesterle—everyone seems to agree—has a hard time saying no.

“I stretch myself way thinner than I should,” he says.

Oesterle is driven, and says he is unlikely to change. He says he wants to be a good father, provide a good experience for his students and pursue his passion for music and triathlons.

Kinsey, who worked with Oesterle when he was a student, says his friend can pull it off.

Oesterle, Kinsey says, is at the “top of his game.”

Melissa Rule is a sophomore newspaper and online journalism major at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.