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Winning a Guitar at Six Flags Leads to a Music Career for Jose Israel


Columbia College Chicago Audio Arts major Jose Israel Ceniceros, known in music circles as Jose Israel, is the ultimate example of the phrase, you never know (what you can do) till you try. This Chicago native who graduated from Lake View High School, is a self-taught musician and cites a trip to a local amusement park as an impetus to start playing. “On my 15th birthday at Six Flags, I won my first guitar at a carnival stand. I then began teaching myself guitar through online guitar tutorials. The first guitar tutorial I remember is Matty Schwartz (Youtuber) playing Johnny B. Goode. Once I figured out how to read tabs I found on the internet, I stopped using tutorials and instead searched for ‘guitar covers’ on YouTube. I could just watch and copy what the performer was doing. I still do that till this day when I want to learn a song. Learning songs was the best way for me to get more comfortable with my instrument.”


With music and audio as a clear path to his dreams in the industry, Jose found that Columbia was the perfect choice. “I’ve always wanted to do music, but when it would come up in conversation the older people around me would discourage it and say stuff like: ‘you need a plan B.’ So, I decided studying sound at Columbia was the best way to meet myself in the middle, so to speak. Honestly, I’m glad I went to Columbia because now I know how to use a compressor. It is also through Columbia's annual Biggest Mouth competition that I was given the opportunity to play drums at the Metro (a Chicago music venue) last year. Coolest experience I’ve ever had, hands down.”


Jose’s audio courses have not only shown him different ways to record his musical output, but they have served him to not hold back from trying new techniques with his own technology. “The latest single I released is called ‘Arms,’ and I recorded it using my iPhone. I just set the iPhone in front of a drum kit and recorded it using the voice memo app. The iPhone has a compressor mic, so I was able to mix it in with the other instruments in post-production. 'Arms' is all me.”


Jose has also found time to witness firsthand audio professionals recording his material. “I try to record my songs as quickly & thoroughly as possible to really captivate the idea of a ‘performance’ (and studio time is expensive). Gravity Studios is my favorite local recording spot right now. I’ve tracked about 5 songs there in the last year. I chose the studio because it’s close to my house. Plus, after my first session with the in-house producer David Lopez (Columbia alum), it just felt right. It was like ok, I can just come here and be creative.”


Jose recently performed a 4-song set for Sessions @33. The series has gained popularity with student performers, as well as volunteers who work behind the scenes to schedule and record artists. According to Jose, “Sessions @ 33 is awesome. Tiny Desk Concerts are so good. AudioTree Live is my personal favorite to watch on YouTube. Sessions @33 is similar to all of these virtual live music platforms. I like that the series can bring attention to young artists who would have otherwise not had an opportunity at exposure. AudioTree and Tiny Desk sessions have put me on to music I would’ve never heard if not for their videos. I really enjoyed how easy the session was for Sessions @33. I just showed up ready to go and everything else was handled for me. Sessions @33 are really nice people to work with.”


With 2022 almost over, Jose shared his plans for 2023 and beyond. “I want to play more shows with my post-punk group 'Rotundos.' I want to play a Columbia College show if possible. I want to go on tour at least once in my life. I've wanted that since I was into music. During the pandemic I taught online guitar lessons on Fivver and was really good at it. If I could teach music again in some form, that would be fun. Ultimately, I want to be fully dedicated to my craft.”


Sessions @33 is a series featuring Columbia College Chicago music artists performing a 4-song set in an intimate performance space at WCRXFM, Columbia’s very own radio station. In addition to the artists getting exposure, students from various departments. Please support these fantastic up-n-coming artists, as well as the collaborative efforts of the students involved behind the scenes, by watching sessions on YouTube, as well as listening to the podcast version on either Apple or Stitcher.

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