At the start of the Fall 2022 semester, Anjali Engstrom performed on “Loud and Clear,” an acoustic music show on Syracuse University’s Orange Television Network. Wearing a gray tank top and blue jeans, the musician confidently introduced herself before launching into her original songs “Wooden Boots,” “Stay Away From Me” and “You.”
“That was my first time playing music for people and having [my music] put out there in the way that it was,” Engstrom says. “It was really cool.”
Engstrom is a first-year student in the Newhouse School’s Bandier program for recording and entertainment industries. Originally from Philadelphia, she began songwriting at age 13. Voice lessons followed soon after. Her favorite genre is “dad rock,” as well as indie rock, folk and country music—in the vein of Dolly Parton.
“My dad had a really strict rule in my house that we weren’t allowed to listen to kid music, so instead he played all of his favorite songs,” Engstrom says. “I’ve totally adopted his taste.”
Her dad not only imparted his musical tastes on Engstrom, but also his musical talent.
“He got me this Yamaha guitar and taught me four chords,” she says. “I spent so much time practicing and everything else I taught myself from YouTube and Guitar Tabs. I figured things out by ear. I practiced for two hours every day at the beginning. I’ve been playing ever since.”
In Engstrom’s songwriting, she draws inspiration from Phoebe Bridgers and Loretta Lynn.
“It’s focused on more narrative songwriting and discussing really specific experiences,” she says. “I use a lot of those influences in my writing.”
The Bandier program—named a top music business program by Billboard magazine in 2022—brought Engstrom to the chilly streets of Syracuse. It was her top choice out of all the options in the music industry.
“[Bandier] is what drew me to the school,” she says. “I like the closeness of the program. It’s really small and everyone is really into it.”
Newhouse’s prestigious program mixes the business of music, media, marketing and entrepreneurship with hands-on experiences that prepare students for a successful career in the music industry.
Engstrom, like many first-year Bandier students, is figuring out how to best position herself in the program and in the student music scene.
“Since coming to Syracuse, I’ve adopted much more of an instrumentalist role,” she says. “I’ve been doing lead guitar roles for student bands and it’s been fulfilling to be an instrumentalist as much as I’ve been a vocalist.”
Director of the Bandier program Bill Werde makes sure all his students feel supported as they discover their goals.
“As a program, we do a lot to ensure that Bandier students feel like they are joining a community from day one,” he says. “We care a lot about soft skills like resilience, resourcefulness and integrity. [Managing director] Lisa Steele and I—and our other faculty—are always checking in with students in a number of ways in and out of class to ensure everyone benefits from a strong culture.”
Engstrom is grateful to Werde because “he encourages the freshman to make specific and achievable goals for their freshman year and figure out the best way to adapt,” she says. “It’s nice knowing that Bill and Lisa are always there to help out.”
Both in and out of the classroom, Engstrom finds support at the Newhouse School. Rob Child, an audio arts graduate student, produces her music and lets her experience the production process as well.
“She’s a pleasure to work with,” Child says. “I’m really excited for what she’s been able to do so far and what she’s going to do in her next three years here.”
Engstrom’s career ambitions reside in the creative side of the music business as an artists and repertoire manager, a role that discovers new talent and helps sign those artists to labels.
While at Newhouse, Engstrom wants to release more music and build her creative network.
“There’s a huge student artist scene here and I want to be a part of that and do as much as I can creatively while I have the opportunity.”
Nico Horning is a first-year student in the broadcast and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.