Singer-Songwriter Jake Thistle Balances Career With His Rutgers Course Load

 Jake Thistle holding his guitar standing at the Yard on College Ave
Jake Thistle (SC&I ’26) will enjoy a rare opportunity to play for his peers at the third annual COMMchella Music Festival at The Yard on College Avenue at Rutgers University-New Brunswick from noon to 4 p.m. April 9.
Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

The sophomore from Paramus will perform at The Yard on College Avenue during the April 9 COMMchella Music Festival

Rutgers sophomore Jake Thistle is two years away from earning his dual degree in communication and journalism and media studies. But the 19-year-old is already a decade into his career as a professional singer-songwriter.

Thistle was 9 when he landed his first paying gig: serenading customers with classic rock covers at an ice cream shop in his Paramus hometown.

“I almost called it a residency,” he said with a laugh. “But it really did help me grow as a writer.”

By 16 he’d recorded his first album, signed a contract with Montclair-based Gold’n Retriever Records and was heralded by American Songwriter magazine as “poised to lead the much-needed revival of classic ’70s singer-songwriters.”

When classes wrap each week, Thistle travels around the country with his Fender guitar (and often a backing band) making a living performing his original music in theaters and clubs, including The Winery in New York City and The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. 

“As long as I can support myself playing music, the goal is to do it as long as I can,” he said.

After being gifted a cherry red Epiphone SG in elementary school by a family friend, Thistle taught himself to play guitar by watching YouTube videos of his idol – Tom Petty – strumming his six-string. The platform’s algorithm kept feeding him singer-songwriters from the same canon: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne, John Hiatt. He moved from playing covers at the ice cream shop to restaurants and bars and posting his own videos to YouTube. And by the time he was a teenager, some of his idols were taking note of him.

“Tom (Petty) had heard of me through his management. For Christmas 2016, I got a letter from his manager addressed ‘To Jake from Santa.’ It was two front-row tickets to his show,” said Thistle. “I never got to meet Tom, but I met all the Heartbreakers backstage on that last tour they did at the Prudential Center.”

Rutgers sophomore singer songwriter Jake Thistle during a performance.
Jake Thistle attends classes at Rutgers-New Brunswick during the week and spends his weekends playing paying gigs. 
Courtesy of Jake Thistle

When COVID hit during his sophomore year of high school, and he was flush with spare time, Thistle threw himself into recording his first album Down the Line.

“I played all the instruments in my room,” he said. “I put it out and put it up on my social pages as a series of demos. It was something during the pandemic to do so I wouldn’t go insane.”

His first single, Ghosted Road, took the Best Americana Song of 2022 Award from Indie Boulevard Magazine. He released his second album, an EP The Half Left Out, last year, and recorded a live album March 24 at Transparent Clinch Gallery, an immersive Asbury Park art gallery owned by rock photographer Danny Clinch.

On April 9, Thistle will enjoy a rare opportunity to play for his peers at the third annual COMMchella Music Festival at The Yard on College Avenue at Rutgers University-New Brunswick from noon to 4 p.m.

“I live on Busch campus at Rutgers, but I’ve only been here four or five Saturdays since starting because I’m always out on the road playing,” he said. “I’d love to break into the scene here.”

Members of the Marching Scarlet Knights will kick off the festivities, followed by Rutgers premier co-ed a cappella group, Deep Treble, which recently finished second place in the 2024 ICCA Mid-Atlantic quarterfinals. The bands Ophiocoma and Kyphosis, which both include Rutgers students, and Thistle will perform ahead of Philadelphia-based headliner Snacktime.

The free music festival is the centerpiece of the third annual #BeCOMM public relations and social media campaign designed to showcase the communication major at Rutgers-New Brunswick. During the event, the School of Communication and Information's office of career services SC&I’s office of career services will host free activities geared toward students studying communication, including interactive career conversations with recent SC&I graduates, resume writing clinics and professional headshots from a LinkedIn photographer.

Each spring the #BeCOMM campaign and musical festival are planned, marketed and executed by 20 communication majors in the 400-level Strategic Public Relations Event Planning class taught by Mark Beal, assistant professor of professional practice, communication with the SC&I.

“As a double major including communication, Jake represents one of the primary reasons we launched our #BeCOMM campaign to celebrate the innovative and inspiring communication majors studying at Rutgers as well as graduates who have transitioned to successful careers across the communication industry,” said Beal.

Thistle looks forward to taking the course and planning a future COMMchella, but for now he is immersing himself in his majors, which he said align well with his profession.

“I tried to strategically pick my majors. I always like writing, and I’ve always been interested in politics, which is why the journalism aspect came in,” he said. “I’m trying to learn everything I can about communication because I’m still doing a lot to promote myself as an artist. It’s made it a lot easier to work with my publicist. I enjoy knowing why they are doing something a certain way or asking me these questions.”

While some students would struggle with the dual responsibilities of being a full-time student Mondays through Thursdays and professional musician Fridays through Sundays, Thistle seems to take it in stride.

“I really like being in school and studying. I also really like writing songs and playing shows,” he said of his schedule. “It helps balance me. I don’t mind jumping from one to the other.”

Journalism professor Steven Miller calls Thistle’s simultaneous achievements as a student and musician “amazing,” noting he is at the top of his class in both journalism and communication.

“He weaves his two lives together in an almost symbiotic manner which enables one to play off the other,” said Miller. “A listener can hear the same intelligence, creativity, and ingenuity in his music that his teachers and peers hear in the classroom.”