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Q&A with Cory Rayborn ’98, Founder & Manager, Three Lobed Recordings

Published By Duke Arts / published on: March 13, 2022

In this interview with the Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network (DEMAN), Cory Rayborn '98, corporate attorney by day and founder/manager of Three Lobed Recordings by night, shares how he balances his law career with his creative pursuits. “The label offers me an outlet that I simply cannot get out of my ‘day’ job,” he says.

Majors: Biology (BS); History

What are 2-3 ways your Duke experience helped prepare you for your current career role and/or previous roles?

Duke gave me the chance to learn independently about how to operate within DIY culture while providing me with a safety net. Want to book an underground concert while also being able to provide a guaranteed fee to the artist? Done! That backup allowed me to craft some live events that had pressure to succeed but also a bit of a backstop. Operating in that sort of environment allowed for learning on the fly and risk-taking, both qualities that translated in time from live event programming eventually over to the concept and formation of the record label.

Additionally, Duke’s endless possibilities and opportunities lead to situations where you simply just think, “What if?” The more you ask those open-ended questions, the more real they become, and the more you simply have no choice but to explore and find out what exactly the answers are.

How did you make the transition from Duke to your career? What are a few helpful takeaways from your first years out of Duke?

My move into post-Duke life was deliberate (see, in part, my answer to the next question) and featured two years between undergrad and law school. I wholeheartedly feel that at least a year between undergrad and any sort of graduate/professional school is infinitely valuable. You get to settle what you think you want and what you think you need to do, and decompress a little bit. Further, any sort of gap period where you have a job of any kind makes graduate/professional school take on a different tack, one where you can treat that next level of school as a sort of a job and get a bit more out of it. Or at least so goes my two cents, maybe something I’ve convinced myself since that is how my life played out.

How did you decide what you wanted to do after Duke? And how did you make transition(s) to different fields?

Three Lobed isn’t my career, per se, but what I sometimes call my poorly paying second job. I’m a corporate attorney by day. My first two and a half years at Duke (and for many years before that), I was confident that I was on a PhD track in the sciences with a career of research ahead of me. That started changing midway through my junior year and I started to pivot toward the law, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t abandoning something that had felt like what I needed to do for so long. I felt I needed to spend at least at year in a lab prior to going to applying to law school to make sure I was making the right choice.

During that year of work—I’m writing this to you close to twenty years into a career in the law, that’s clearly where I ended up, ha—and application preparation, music was my constant companion. It was during that period of time, the first two years out of Duke, when I felt possessed to start releasing records. The first Three Lobed title was assembled in my apartment and shipped in a rush during the week immediately prior to my law school orientation. Much like how I felt that the options open at Duke helped open me up to thoughts and experiences that eventually led to the label, the options also helped guide me through choices and decisions on the “day job” side of my world.

What is your favorite thing about working in your profession? Most challenging?

Record label work is a bit of a dream. I constantly think about how if you were to go back and tell high school or Duke me that I would operate a record label in 2022, let alone some of the projects and artists that I would have the privilege of working with, there is no way I would believe it. That part is constantly amazing. Sure, there are parts of the label that are certainly far from glamorous (come on over and help me crunch some accountings or slog through a giant mail-order project), but the end result is fun — I get to help artists that I think very highly of bring their work to audiences. That’s exceptionally rewarding.

What are 2-3 pieces of advice you would offer to a student interested in your field(s)?

Entertainment work of any kind, especially on the DIY side, is what you make it. Don’t be afraid to ask folks to get involved, talk to folks doing things you find interesting. Sure, some out there are jerks, but most were once in your shoes and are happy to help someone else find their way in. Seriously, just ask and make friendships. Entertainment careers can also be very fulfilling ways to supplement other parts of your overall life and career. The label offers me an outlet that I simply cannot get out of my “day” job, something that provides me with a lot of internal fuel to help me get through parts of life that are less “fun.”

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