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Jr. Music Executive: Creating Soundtracks For Life.

December 8, 2014

JME06Text by Brianna Spause. Images by Jason Melcher.

The room was empty, occupied only by floating jazz melodies and setting sunlight muffled by the shades. Aisha Winfield had called a friend that morning and the front section of the restaurant was hers. The texts went out around lunch time: “Can you meet me at Relish at 6:30 p.m.?”

It was a fast plan that was executed smoothly, business as usual. Winfield is the executive director of Jr. Music Executive, the program she founded in 2004, with the mission of teaching young people how to navigate the music business. In its 10th year, the non-profit organization hosts workshops, plans concerts and has worked with hundreds of students. And they have done it all without a home base.

“We have met in some pretty interesting locations,” Winfield reflects. “Churches, office spaces, art studios. It’s about practicing flexibility. I can call and say, ‘I have 10 students and we need to be able to have a meeting or a show.’”

Jr. Music Executive began as a program to combat the startling dropout rate of high school students in Philadelphia. It was Winfield’s goal to establish a connection between school and music through a workshop series for at-risk students.
The program has drastically transformed from a one-woman workshop series to a multi-network organization. Each fall and spring, the program rotates its focus. Beginning in mid-September, J.M.E. hosted an after-school program at Dobbins Vocational High School that focuses on project-based learning. In the spring, 15 high school and college students will be accepted as interns. They will explore their area of interest in the music industry.

This fall, the Dobbins students will launch a merchandise line for Philadelphia’s 12-year-old emerging songbird, Cam Anthony. They’ll also create their own music and have an opportunity to utilize J.M.E.’s new partnership with Villa TV by creating content to be broadcast. Rather than a stale lecture series, Jr. Music Executive challenges students to become actively involved in the business end of the industry and produce real results.

J.M.E. also hosts workshops every first and third Saturday of the month at Villanova University in partnership with the YMCA Black Achievers program. Teens from YMCA branches work with J.M.E. to “Launch an Artist’s Career,” while establishing career goals and paving a smooth path to graduation.

“Our mission is to provide opportunities for young people to develop their skills in the music industry,” Winfield says. “Most of the time, those skills are transferable. It’s not necessarily that you have to stay in music or entertainment. Having really good communication skills, being able to multitask and to work well with computers and technology are things that you can use in any industry.”

Every opportunity in the music industry focuses on a different set of skills, all of which add up to one stress-inducing fact – it’s a business.

“Even as a creative person, a lot of your success lies in being able to either handle the business side on your own or knowing enough to have someone who can handle it for you,” Winfield says. “We’re helping students who have an interest in the industry to see what the reality is versus what they see on television or perceive in their minds.”

Winfield serves as a role model for the future music executives who come through the program with her high expectations and a demand for professionalism. The future execs are taught the importance of planning, keeping records, formatting invoices and drafting grammatically correct emails.

“I think that’s a lost art,” Winfield jokes.

A quickly planned meeting is something J.M.E. students are accustomed to. Assembling on the cozy veranda of a swanky restaurant didn’t even raise an eyebrow – and the cornbread was a sweet, sweet plus.

“I like the spontaneity,” states Davia Bally, Davia a product of a J.M.E. spring internship program, where she concentrated in business and communications. “Aisha will text us two days before an event, ‘Are you available?’ And you just can’t say no to her.”

You may not even know what you are getting into but you’ll do it, Bally adds.

“When you get there, you actually see what goes on behind the scenes of what you said you want to do and you’re on the spot.”

For Malika Bethea, who began as a volunteer in 2009, there wasn’t just one place to settle.

“Aisha pays very close attention to the things you say you want to do,” Bethea says. “And sometimes she will call you and say, ‘You said you like to plan events? I want to do a fundraiser, and I want to do it on Thursday.’ But it will be Tuesday.”

“Let’s get it done!” Winfield chimes in.

“Then once you’re in it, the adrenaline starts going and everything just snowballs into place,” Beathea says. “It will be a lot of work from that Tuesday to that Thursday, and it will be a success. Your idea of how things work is a lot different than the reality of it. It’s a really important program because it gives you that hands-on experience.”

Music is inescapable. It’s everywhere – in the car, on the street, in the way the rain patters softly on the windows as Winfield interacts with Bethea and Bally on an equal level. As a mentor, Winfield understands that while school isn’t for everyone, a solid platform for success is. Jr. Music Executive was created for those who see music in their future, with the realization that proper training and tangible results can turn dreams into careers and a soundtrack for life.

“It’s not just about wanting the student to do well in music,” Winfield says. “It’s really about getting to know students as individuals and helping them navigate whenever there are opportunities to grow. It is them being able to have the confidence to go in, complete a task, do something that they had talked about and then seek out other ways they can pursue their passions. It’s priceless.”

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