Hitting the Right Notes: Nate Chung '18 Segues from the U.S. Senate to Pop Musician to Consultant

Graduating senior works with Toby Mountain to produce EP

A typical resume from a soon-to-graduate political science major might include a well-connected internship or two. And indeed Nate Chung's resume starts with an impressive stint in Senator Jeanne Shaheen's office (D-NH), but then it veers, rollercoaster style, from busking on the streets of Boston to recording his own album this spring.

Recruited to the College of the Holy Cross to play lacrosse, Chung '18 took full advantage of the liberal arts curriculum, embracing the idea that he could dabble and dive deep in things that interested him. Along the way, he leveraged mentorships on campus and funding opportunities that made his dreams tangible.

"I have friends at Holy Cross who hear what I'm up to and the response is a genuine, jaw-dropping 'You can do that?'"

Chung is proof positive you can combine business and the arts, pragmatism and passion to create the college experience that really sings — even if it has nothing to do with music.

Music in a Minor Key

Chung's first gig on campus came just a few weeks into his first year. During a 10-Spot — a series of weekly performances in the Hogan Campus Center on Tuesday nights — Chung played a set of his acoustic pop music.

And he had a crowd. "At the end of lacrosse practice, one of the captains told everyone to come to my show.' So that very first time, it was just me and my guitar, and literally the entire lacrosse team showed up. The fact that I had 46 guys on my Division I lacrosse team be so supportive — it definitely gave me a boost of confidence."

Music was on Chung's radar before he even stepped foot on campus. While being recruited, he was introduced to Toby Mountain, a lecturer in the music department who has mastered albums for artists such as David Bowie and Frank Zappa. Little did they both know that the introduction would continue to become a relationship of mutual admiration.

It was a stroke of seeming bad luck, however, that led Chung to discover a class that would perfectly cap his time at the College — and Mountain would play a critical role.

"I didn't get into all the classes I wanted for the fall semester of my senior year, and I stumbled on the interdisciplinary class, Special Project." The course allows third- and fourth-year students to craft an independent study with a professor of their choice on an academic project or topic they are passionate about.

Chung had already taken three classes with Mountain and recorded an eight-track album on his own — "Dreaming" — his sophomore year. "I did that in between the nooks and crannies of taking a regular four-class schedule. Professor Mountain mastered that, which was terrific."

So when Chung, who is also minoring in Asian studies, had his schedule snafu, Mountain helped him draft a proposal for a class built around recording, performing, marketing, and social media, which was then approved by the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.

While figuring out logistics for the independent study, Chung was pointed in the direction of Daniel Klinghard, director of the J.D. Power Center for Liberal Arts in the World about the Ignite Fund, which supports students' initiatives to — in the words of St. Ignatius — set the world on fire.

"I'd heard of the Ignite Fund before, but I had never thought that my musical project fit under the umbrella. In the fall of my senior year, they granted me $1,444 to support my musical endeavors at Holy Cross."

Chung's independent study started off with the basics.

"Nate would read a few chapters in a music business book and talk about how he's applying what he's learned to what he's doing in the real world," says Mountain.

The course turned more creative in the spring semester. "Now the objective is to create more songs, continue his live performances in the area, and do social media," Mountain says. "But, we're trying to step back and look at things at more of the origin — what kind of music do you want to write? What text or lyrics do you want to write? We want to peel back the layers a bit."

The result so far is "Lovelust," a four-song EP streaming on iTunes and Spotify. Mountain is helping guide Chung through four additional songs, while Chung continues to play gigs in Worcester and Boston — something that Mountain also did in his college days.

"Through this independent study and with the Ignite Fund, I've learned that if you enjoy doing something, then regardless of the other circumstances in your life, you should do that thing. Even if I were guaranteed no big reward with this musical experience — whether it's in a year or two years or five years — there's no doubt I'd still be doing it."

Nate Chung and Toby Mountain talk in the Brooks Digital Media Studio. Photo by Tom Rettig

Working the Network

Through self-producing two albums, Chung has learned to appreciate the art of working the network — and going against the grain. His first internship with Senator Shaheen came from a connection made through the lacrosse team mentoring program. Although Chung no longer plays on the team, the mentorship set a course for a string of success.

When it came time to start thinking about a second internship, Chung thought outside the political box and followed his long-simmering musical interest instead.

"I thought, 'I'm going to do something crazy.' I told my parents I was going to live in Boston and busk all summer. So, that's what I did.'" Chung got the permits he needed to perform in Faneuil Hall and in T stations, playing self-written songs throughout the day. He rode his bike as a delivery boy to supplement his earnings.

"I sometimes questioned so hard what I was doing with my life and with my time. It was tough to see my friends going down the traditional internship track while I was carrying around my guitar in the blistering heat."

As it turned out, the long hours and strong work ethic played in Chung's favor when he took another zigzag and decided to look for a more traditional internship his junior year. After an arduous interview process at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Chung traveled to New York City for a final round of in-person interviews.

"The first interview didn't go so well. In the second one, I somehow began to talk about music and specifically balancing busking and being a bike delivery guy. For 26 out of 30 minutes, we talked about nothing else."

Chung got the internship — and after the internship, he got an offer for full-time work in Boston following graduation, which he accepted.

"I think what the recruiter saw in me as a candidate who doesn't have an economic or finance background was that I was well-rounded, driven, and could elevate something to an impressive level if I put my mind to it."

A little failure on the way to success hasn't hurt either. "I've learned that consistent work, even in small increments, does pay off. There were times I'd have a total miss show — my band would play to six people, two of whom we knew. It's all part of the process because great, verifying things happen, too — like the opportunity for the independent study with Professor Mountain and the Ignite Fund."

Even with a full-time job, Chung is planning to continue playing gigs with his band in the Boston area. Mountain hopes they can continue to meet and work together.

"He's going to grow on his own — I certainly don't want to be hovering over him," Mountain says. "The last thing he needs is me showing up to a gig and having to say, 'Oh hey guys, this is my professor!'"

Chung would likely welcome him — especially on those (now rare) nights when he's one of only six in the audience.