In Conversation with Mag Rodriguez

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Our Festival Social Media Assistant Julia Lewandowski had a chance to catch up with one of our “Advancing Your Music Career” panelists, Mag Rodriguez. 88Nine Radio Milwaukee partnered with an organization called Gener8tor to introduce a new program called Backline, a start-up accelerator approach to amplify Milwaukee’s music scene. As the Backline Program Director, Rodriguez is dedicated to providing opportunity for musicians and artists to grow, right here in Milwaukee.

Check out Julia & Mag’s conversation below, and then visit wcguitarfest.com to register for the “Advancing Your Music Career Panel Discussion” taking place at the Festival this Friday, August 16th at 12:15 pm. This event is free and open to the public; space is limited and advance registration is recommended!

Julia: Backline is about connecting artists/musicians to industry people who can educate and guide them. As 88Nine Executive Director Glenn Kleiman says, “with Backline, our goal is to help Milwaukee become known as one of the country’s most vibrant music cities.” Do you bring the industry people to Milwaukee? If the goal is to establish Milwaukee’s reputation as an emerging music city, how will the Backline program retain the talent it helps succeed? How will it help retain young employees Milwaukee needs for city growth?

Mag: Education is a big part of Backline. Not only do we bring music industry professionals to Milwaukee, we also fly the musicians to LA and NYC for a week to meet with industry professionals. It's no secret that in order to have a successful career in music you need a strong network, so during the second month of the program the main focus is to build a network for the musicians, this includes booking agents, record labels, DSPs, attorneys, managers, and many others.

Another main component we focus on is digital distribution and the power of social media. Musicians no longer need to live in major cities to be heard, they can make music in their bedroom, and with the right distribution and marketing, their music can be heard worldwide. Having strong ties in major cities is helpful when touring, but musicians no longer need to relocate permanently to be successful.

In the past decade, we have seen what a strong music community can do for a local community; look at cities like Toronto where an artist like Drake has created a cultural movement where the music scene has been connected with everything. He has created partnerships with the NBA Raptors and even hosts his annual OVO Festival that brings people from all over the world. He gave the people from Toronto pride to be from Toronto. With Milwaukee having one of the best NBA teams and a strong MLB team, all we are missing is a music community that is supported internally and by the community.

J: Both Austin and Nashville have very distinct sounds, yet they both are built on their flourishing music scenes. How do you envision Milwaukee growing? In which direction, in terms of “sound,” do you think Milwaukee leans towards? It seems like Milwaukee has multiple sounds going on - we have a hip-hop/rap, indie/folk, but also a jazz community. How do you go about supporting everything Milwaukee has to offer?

M: This question is always tricky because a city's sound and direction are very subjective on the person you ask. What I can say if that we average around 300 applications for each program cycle and 80% of our applications are Hip-Hop/Rap/R&B. Out of the seven artists that have gone through the program, four have been women, three have been men, with the average age being 26. We have had two bands, four Hip-Hop/Rap/R&B artists, and one EDM/Pop producer. So what I can say is that it's pretty obvious that Milwaukee is a hotbed of urban music, yet there hasn't been any real effort to nourish an infrastructure for that talent; that's why the talent that we do have end up leaving. I have been a part of a decent amount of conversations around this topic, and I do see a change happening within the next couple years because, at its core, this is a segregation problem. These musical communities have been siloed in areas with poverty, low funding, and very minimal resources.

J: Can you give an overview of how the 12-week Backline sessions work?

M: The 12 weeks are divided into three pieces: Create, Connect, and Plan.

Create - During create, Backline artists create music and content. The Backline team facilitates introductions to potential collaborators, studios, photographers and videographers, and other industry experts for the Backline artists to create with during this phase.

Connect - The connect phase provides introductions, resources, and mentorship for Backline artists to efficiently connect with industry leaders locally, nationally, and internationally who can help bolster their careers. Each Backline artist takes a group trip to Los Angeles and New York and will be connected to experts in the music industry.

Plan - During the plan phase, the Backline team works individually with each Backline artist to plan out the next year of their career, focused on driving sustaining revenue and heightening the profile of each Backline artist.

About the Backline Grant: Unlike other accelerator programs, Backline is completely free. Backline requires no equity, fees, revenue or residuals. The four selected Backline artists each receive a $20,000 budget grant to be spent toward their career. Participants work with the Backline team to determine how the $20,000 is spent. Learn more at backlinemke.org.

Written by: Julia Lewandowski, Guitar Festival Social Media Assistant