Most college students go to college so they can get degrees that open up their career possibilities. Then students go to their backup plans if they can’t get jobs in the same fields as their majors. But for integrated marketing communications major Hunter Westling, college itself was the backup plan. His “Plan A” is to be successful in the music industry.
“I’m going to school right now, so if that doesn’t fully work out, I have a backup plan,” he said.
Westling released his first single, “Stayin’,” on all platforms from Spotify to Apple Music on Jan. 31. Listeners can find this album under his stage name of Hunter Ross.
The 21-year-old from Madison was introduced to the world of music as a child by his mother and grandmother. They enrolled him in music lessons where he learned how to play the keyboard to singing and reading notes. In middle school, he started playing guitar.
He finally shifted his focus to rapping and hip-hop while at Germantown High School with his friends.
“When I got into high school, I got into my hip-hop phase … my rapping phase,” he said.
It wasn’t until his freshman year of college that he started making music. He began producing unofficial rap and hip-hop songs while he studied marketing at Holmes Community College in Ridgeland.
“I promise I really wasn’t serious in music, and I was like, ‘Man, I really do like music. I really do like making songs,’” Westling said.
He had a revelation entering his junior year this summer that rapping and hip-hop weren’t his style. He found his style in R&B and pop music, and now he chases after being like his idol, Justin Timberlake.
“Whenever I sing R&B and pop music, it just brings more out of who I am, my character, and the lyrics I write are so much deeper and I just put a lot more passion in my voice, and every studio session, I’m singing from the heart instead of rapping a bunch of jibberish,” he said. “I figured out that wasn’t my style. This isn’t what I want to be when I grow up.”
The lyrics and background of his single “Stayin’” are as deep as the soul. It’s Westling’s performance of this song that draws out people’s emotions.
He said the song is based on him seeing a gorgeous girl with her friends on either a Friday or Saturday night walking into the same club as he and his friends are.
“From that moment on, I hope I catch her again because I really want to make contact with her and get to know her,” he said.
Continuing to put himself in the club within his mind, Westling described a scene of him making eye contact with her while he and his friends bought drinks and this girl and her friends danced.
“They’re doing their thing, just dancing and stuff, and then I’m sitting across the room and that girl was staring me down,” he said. “Our eyes just meet, and it’s just this attraction that brings us together.”
The focus of the song is the fact that this girl has been mistreated and deserted by so many guys and that Westling will stay with her “no matter how hard things get – through it thick and thin.”
Westling explained how the song came from his imagination and wasn’t inspired by any specific girl he met.
“I don’t have a girl right now, so this song, it wasn’t inspired by a certain girl,” Westling said. “It’s more of my imagination because I’ve been in those moments … and I wanted to put it into a song.”
On Saturday, March 3, this scene will be brought to life as he, along with featured artist and friend Shane Thompson from Brandon, will be shooting a music video for the single in Memphis at the Peabody.
The two of them enjoyed making the music and look forward to shooting the music video.
“We got together, worked on the song and recorded it, and it turns out everybody likes it,” Thompson said. “You can say it was just a vibe. … It was really fun.”
Currently, Westling is working on several more singles and an EP that he hopes will get released over the summer. Additionally, he said he hopes his music helps people just like different music has helped him.
“When things don’t go your way, whether at school, at work or with a boyfriend or girlfriend or a family member that upsets you, you can always have music to turn to because there’s going to be a song out there you can turn on and it’s going to change your way of thinking,” he said. “That’s what music does to me. That’s what I try to make my music do to other people.”