Navigating today’s complex and rapidly changing music industry is a daunting task. Mythologies abound on the key steps you need to launch and sustain a music career, but what does it really take to carve out a path that fulfills personal goals and makes the world a better place? Curated and hosted by Matthew Dear, in collaboration with the University of Michigan EXCEL Lab, this virtual seminar investigates those questions through the lens of five leaders who have paved unique, transformative pathways to success. They represent a diverse array of impact–from redefining the podcasting landscape (Radiolab) to breaking now-iconic artists (Run the Jewels) from their DIY roots; from launching a definitive 21st century independent label (Ghostly International) to defusing global conflict zones by investing in localized art-making (In Place of War), and even reinventing the way listeners engage with artists in a digital age (Blast Radio). (And those are just a sliver of their aggregate endeavors.)
Over the course of Fall 2021, Matthew Dear interviewed five luminaries who have carved out unique, highly-impactful, and innovative careers that intersect music, entrepreneurship, social impact, and creative storytelling. These interviews propel through the personal stories of each guest to illuminate the complexity of finding one’s path to self-actualization, while framing the circuitous paths that are central to nearly every successful professional arts journey today.
We recommend you review the recorded interviews prior to attending the sessions. We hope that, through the conversations framed by this series, participants will gain more than just insights on the real stories behind a sampling of pathways to innovation and impact today. We hope participants will also come to see how building a career in music today means becoming a pathfinder–challenging the status quo, learning to pivot, and following your curiosity to define your own metrics for career success.
Q&A 1: Entrepreneurship and the entertainment industry with Yousef Ali
Tuesday, February 22, 2022 1:00-2:00PM ET via ZOOM Register
Yousef Ali, Founder and CEO of Blast Radio, has been a serial entrepreneur at the intersection of technology and entertainment for the last 15 years- having founded a digital strategy consultancy that serviced clients including Black Entertainment Television, Viacom, F.A.M.E. among many others. His first startup, Fanclub, re-envisioned celebrity/fan interaction through data science, allowing top celebrities (including Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Jeezy, and more) to surgically identify and engage super fans. Yousef’s current venture, Blast Radio, creates an artist-fueled, ephemeral, global radio platform, powered by a constellation of proprietary Blast Box devices that condenses a radio studio into a one button, portable device.
In our first conversation, Yousef unveils his long journey from aspiring rock star to digital media disruptor, shares how working at an Apple Store unlocked a surprising entree into the entertainment industry, and how a knack for physics paid dividends on the front lines of digital content curation. Through his early adventures at B.E.T. to developing forward-thinking startups, we’ll learn how thinking like a surfer can set you up for resiliency, and how timing can make or break even the savviest entrepreneurial offering.
Yousef Ali conversation – audio only
Q&A 2: From artist to activist with Ruth Daniel
Tuesday, March 8, 2022 1:00-2:00PM ET via ZOOM Register
Ruth Daniel is a multi-award winning CEO, activist and change-maker. Inspired by the transformative use of hip-hop in the drug cartels of Medellin, Colombia, when a young MC said: ‘If it wasn’t for hip-hop, I would be dead. Hip-hop gave me another option and I’m truly thankful for that.’ Ruth believes art has a capacity to make change in the toughest of contexts. From guitarist at the age of eight to record label owner, band manager, fundraiser, international cultural activist, entrepreneur, educator, influential speaker (TEDx) to prestigious award winner within a national arena (Social Enterprise of the Year & Manchester Woman of Culture to name a couple), Ruth’s passion to empower people to build their own positive futures through creative entrepreneurial programmes, the development of cultural spaces and unique artistic collaboration projects shows no boundaries in terms of fields of work.
Ruth is the CEO and Creative Director of In Place of War, a global organization that uses creativity in places of conflict as a tool for positive change, and an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Manchester.
Ruth is a CEO, Artistic Director, activist, and change-maker. She shares the early “aha!” moment that led her down a path towards catalyzing global impact through music, the humbleness of approaching everyday work as a life-long learner, the potency of elevating local arts scenes around the world to defuse global conflicts, and how In Place of War is helping to decolonize community development by drawing on a diaspora of best practices.
Ruth Daniel conversation – audio only
Q&A 3: Going for it with Amaechi Uzoigwe
Thursday, March 17, 2022 1:00-2:00PM ET via ZOOM Register
Amaechi Uzoigwe is an NYC-based entrepreneur, executive & investor in creative arts with a history of launching successful careers & companies, while also establishing himself as a pioneer in music, a champion of artists, an award-winning marketer, content creator, thought leader & community builder. Currently, as co-manager & business partner of Grammy-nominated & gold-certified hip hop stars Run the Jewels (Killer Mike & EL-P), Amaechi oversees all aspects of the group’s multi-faceted enterprise including music, film & TV, publishing, touring, marketing, e-commerce & blockchain/Web3, plus their apparel, cannabis, and beverage businesses. In 2021, Amaechi launched Studio A, a venture focused on creators, IP & Web3 from Africa & the diaspora. Clients include the ground-breaking West African rock band Songhoy Blues plus up & coming artists DAP the Contract, Azekel Adesuyi and Kech Phrase. Additionally, Amaechi is an adjunct instructor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a partner & executive producer at GRAiNEY Pictures in LA, an award-winning documentary & branded content production company, whose latest film Unzipped tackles the dual crises of homelessness & income inequality in Venice, CA & beyond. A graduate of the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science & the Arts, Amaechi lives in Harlem, NY with his 2 daughters.
Amaechi and Matthew discuss the power (and inevitability) of the pivot, prototyping, thinking beyond a single discipline, the necessity of operating with a fearless mindset, and knowing how and when to say “no.” We’ll also hear what Amaechi has learned working with Run the Jewels, get his take on the influence of Wall Street on music industry power brokers, and see how staying true to character and community may be more important than ever in the new frontiers of NFTs, blockchain, and artificial intelligence.
Amaechi Uzoigwe conversation – audio only
Q&A 4: Design thinking, music thinking with Sam Valenti IV
Tuesday, March 29, 2022 1:00-2:00PM ET via ZOOM Register
Sam Valenti IV is the founder and leader of Ghostly International, a collective that has grown from its Ann Arbor roots as a boutique music label known for its techno acumen to an internationally recognized platform for the work of the world’s best visual artists, designers, technologists, and musicians. Ghostly functions as a cultural curator of events, art, clothing, merchandise, technology, design goods, and music.
Sam and Matthew discuss how they first met at University of Michigan, the genesis of Ghostly through friendship amidst the student music scene, and how music continues to serve as a bonding agent that drives the label’s ethos to this day. They’ll traverse the benchmark lessons Sam learned building Ghostly, including the power (and challenge) of learning to delegate, explore what “making it” implies today for aspiring artists, and frame the essential roles of the independent label in today’s music industry landscape.
Sam Valenti III conversation – audio only
Q&A 5: Moving beyond the medium with Jad Abumrad
Tuesday, April 12, 2022 1:00-2:00PM ET via ZOOM Register
Jad Abumrad is a composer, musician and the host and creator of several podcasts (Radiolab, More Perfect, Dolly Parton’s America, Unerased) that collectively are downloaded over 130 million times a year. He’s been hailed for his unique ability to combine cutting edge sound-design, cinematic storytelling and a personal approach to explaining complex topics, from the stochasticity of tumor cells to the legal foundations of the war on terror. Jad studied creative writing and music composition at Oberlin College in Ohio. He composes much of the music for Radiolab, and in the past has composed music for film, theater and dance.
Radiolab has received three Peabody Awards, the highest honor in broadcasting. And in 2011 Jad received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.
Jad shares with Matthew his journey from musician to broadcaster, the surprising influence of his musical background on the conception and construction of Radiolab’s iconic soundscapes, and the power of being a generalist in the broadcasting universe today. We’ll also hear the surprising story of how he gained unprecedented access to Dolly Parton, unlocking a compelling picture about her artistry and how it represents the complex, contradictory fabric of America.
Jad Abumrad conversation – audio only
These Q&A sessions are free and open to the University of Michigan community. Register for the Q&As via ZOOM.
This series is hosted by the EXCEL Lab at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and is funded by the Eileen Weiser EXCEL Fund.