ASU popular music graduate’s passion leads to studio engineer, producer career
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.
John Paul “JP” Rabusa is a Filipino-American singer-songwriter, producer and engineer. He will graduate this May with a Bachelor of Arts in music (popular music) from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University.
With only his voice and a guitar, Rabusa has taken his talents to some of the most renowned venues in the Valley, performing music spanning from pop and R&B to musical theatre and jazz. Over the past several years, Rabusa has honed his audio production skills and is now producing for up-and-coming artists and engineering at studios across the Phoenix area.
“JP is one of the most engaged students in our program and is representative of so many attributes we want our students to model: leadership, community building, collaboration, inclusion, artistic expression and academic excellence,” said Erin Barra-Jean, director of the Popular Music program and assistant professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “JP is a phenomenal leader and has the creative capacity to advance culture and build community in everything he does.”
Rabusa said one of his favorite moments at ASU was in December 2022, when he had the opportunity to record his original music with some of his favorite musicians and people in the recording studios at Fusion on First for his capstone project.
“I had 13 musicians, four videographers, three engineers and several mentors to help record a live, in-studio performance of some cover arrangements and one of my original songs,” Rabusa said. “I had the best time with all my friends making great music. I can’t wait to release this project by the end of this semester.”
Samuel Peña, assistant director of the Popular Music program and clinical assistant professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, said, “JP has a passion for uplifting artists’ voices and bringing ideas to life through music. He is a visionary who knows how to bring the best out of those around him. He creates opportunities for his community to be visible and celebrated through execution of large-scale projects, which involve many of his peers.”
Rabusa is the founder and leader of the program’s Student Leadership Council, a catalyst in Fusion on First, a recording studio intern and a student worker. He also helped launch the end-of-the-year Showcase celebrations that are a staple event for the Popular Music program.
While at ASU, Rabusa received the New American University–President’s Award and the Presser Scholar Award.
“These awards granted me the flexibility to pursue my passion for music for the full four years, and I am extremely grateful to all of those who supported me in this venture,” Rabusa said. “I would also like to thank my family — especially my parents — for believing in me and encouraging me to follow my passion.”
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: At the end of high school, I knew I wanted to pursue music as a serious career path. My favorite memories are rehearsing with friends, gigging in the Valley and working my creativity to its limits. After my first year of college, I discovered I needed something different than the vocal performance track I was pursuing. While my time studying arias and practicing diction was a welcomed challenge, my passion was to find a career in the modern music industry. My “aha” moment was freshman year in one of my vocal lessons when Professor Nathan Myers challenged me to sing “Ordinary People” by John Legend to practice ascending into my higher chest register without tension. He taught me how it is not only valuable to be an overall well-rounded musician, but that there is so much value in studying contemporary music. That particular lesson pushed me to realize that I can pursue a major in popular music and still learn what I need to learn. I was able to do that in a community of like-minded individuals in the program.
Q: What is something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: My whole perspective on music changed when I first witnessed the recording studio in downtown Phoenix. There is something so magical and raw about being in a space where the main goal is to capture “lightning in a bottle” and come out of the room with a full-fledged song. I had always viewed songs from the bookends of their existence: the songwriting and the release on Spotify. Being in the studio with my fellow musicians and mentors —Jorge Costa, Erin Barra-Jean and many others — made me realize that there is so much that goes on behind the scenes to produce the three-minute-and-30-second song I hear on 101.5 in the morning. This perspective grew a new passion in me to become an engineer and producer. Since those first moments in the studio, I have focused my time honing my engineering and production skills to best serve my fellow artists’ music and my own.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: The practical reasons are that it’s in my hometown, I would be very close to home, some of my family are alumni, and I already had a sense of familiarity with the area. Aside from that, one of the main reasons I chose ASU as opposed to other universities was the plethora of majors, minors and certificates the school offers. I figured if I ever had a change of heart, passion or career choice, ASU would yield the most diversity in options without sacrificing the quality of education. Little did I know that ASU’s “No. 1 in Innovation” tagline would actually be the reason why I enjoyed my time here the most. ASU’s goal to strive for inclusivity paired perfectly with my desire to study popular music, as it was the innovation of the faculty and staff at ASU that yielded the formation of the popular music major. The investment that ASU put into the facility and world-class faculty who run the program have made time here at ASU more than worthwhile.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: I have had the privilege of learning from some of the greatest mentors here at ASU. I would like to specifically shout out Jorge Costa, Samuel Peña, Nathan Myers, Kristina Knowles, Bill Clay, Patrick Driscoll, Tony Obr, Dan Perelstein and so many others. All of my mentors at ASU have shaped me for the better, and I have so much gratitude for them all. That being said, Erin Barra-Jean has been the most influential figure in my growth over the past few years. She taught me the most important lesson, whether through her words or her actions, that life is too short to not follow your dreams. As long as you stay true to your authentic self, everything will be OK. In a music industry that is riddled with competition, pressure and adversity, Erin taught me that I do not need to bend to others’ expectations — being who I am is enough.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?
A: Take the time to learn who you are. There have been numerous times when I have run into emotionally draining crossroads or (less than ideal) situations that could have been solved if I had just learned who I was – what my values are and what I prioritize in life. Do not be afraid to try new things and take wild opportunities. If it doesn’t work out, at least you will learn a lot about yourself in the process. And if it does work out, then that may be the best decision you will ever make. Study your habits and tendencies, and listen to your gut. You don’t need to seek validation from others. Taking time to learn who I am is the most fruitful thing I was able to do in college.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: Fusion on First is my favorite spot on campus. In the most literal sense, it has everything I need. I live in the building with an awesome roommate and a full kitchen. Every single class I have had over the past year has been on the first three floors of this building. I take the elevator down in the morning, and there’s a recording studio, a practice room, a study space, a cafe and some much-needed sunlight at my disposal. I could not have asked for a better facility than Fusion on First.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I plan on staying in Phoenix for a couple of years, engineering at studios around town, teaching at a local conservatory, producing music for local artists and gigging at venues around town. In the long term, I plan to develop my network and build a foundation with musicians on a local and global scale with the ultimate goal of producing music for a living.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: Our world needs a lot of work. There are so many problems to tackle that I would rather take an approach to address as many issues as possible with $40 million. I am a fan of the Sustainable Development Goals that were developed by the United Nations, and I think that would be a great way to utilize the money. If I had to choose one problem, I would probably tackle our growing need for sustainable energy and its potential for reducing waste on a local and global level.