In the wake of conversations around race and equality in the music industry, TikTok and nonprofit youth program After-School All-Stars are partnering with music publisher Sony/ATV and Syracuse University’s Bandier Program in Recording and Entertainment Industries to create a “songwriter academy” this summer for underrepresented communities.
The students selected for the Academy — 13 individuals of color from across the country ranging from seventh graders to high school seniors — will take courses remotely, focusing on creative, technical and business topics within songwriting. Some of the topics cover the anatomy of a song, copyright and music publishing, and music production and marketing plans. Students will also have various songwriting exercises. The class will conclude with students presenting their songs to a panel of music industry professionals, and students will also be paired with After-School All-Stars staff mentors to help them with coursework.
TikTok’s senior manager of music content and label partnerships Danny Gillick came up with the concept after the tech company worked with After-School All-Stars on COVID emergency food programs. Development for idea started in April, and it took on more meaning after Floyd’s death.
“We set out to build a program to give students from under-represented communities the opportunity to be heard and to connect with likeminded individuals in the creative community,” Gillick said in a statement.
The four-week course has some star power too: TikTok and Sony recruited cross-genre artists, songwriters and producers to participate in the program. Among those are four-time Grammy winner Timbaland, Jozzy (who co-write Lil Nas X’s record-breaking “Old Town Road”) and multi-platinum producer DJ Dahi, whose production credits include Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck with You” and Mac Miller’s “Self Care.” Artists include Jack Harlow, Tiagz, JetsonMade, Ilsey Juber, Tainy, Anitta, Melanie Martinez, and Mikey Keenan.
TikTok will also host livestreams each week featuring the aforementioned artists and producers, who will take viewers through the process behind making their songs. Timbaland and Jozzy will go on TikTok first in a discussion moderated by Bandier Program director Bill Werde, and those discussions will springboard the students’ classes for the week.
Syracuse’s Bandier Program, one of the most well-known college music business programs in the country, developed the curriculum for the Academy, with Sony/ATV and California music teacher Schyler O’Neil contributing to the curriculum as well. O’neil and Werde will act as faculty.
“Music has a rich history in speaking out against injustice and speaking up for the rights and freedoms of all people,” said After-School All-Stars executive vice president of programs Carlos Santini in a statement. “Our after-school programs sit in the very cities that have experienced the inequities brought by COVID-19 and the ongoing racism that has yet again been exposed through police brutality and the death of George Floyd and many others in the Black community. Our collective voice will be heard in a bigger way because of this amazing collaboration.”
Racial inequality is a long-standing problem in the music industry — and since the beginning of June, after music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang started #TheShowMustBePaused and subsequently kickstarted Blackout Tuesday, it’s been at the forefront of discussion for most of the industry’s largest and most powerful companies.
Several music and technology companies, including TikTok, have announced donations to causes focused on equality for the black community, and Republic Records was the first major label to announce it would stop using the word “urban” to refer to its music. The Recording Academy later announced it would rename the Grammy award for “best urban contemporary album” to “best progressive R&B album.” Most major music companies, however, haven’t yet announced major internal changes. Several black executives who’ve spoken out since Blackout Tuesday suggested ideas for how the industry can progress, pointing toward better mentorship and pipelines for black artists and industry workers.
“The lack of diversity at the top executive levels and board rooms is the biggest challenge,” iHeartMedia EVP of programming Thea Mitchem previously told Rolling Stone. “And it’s one that can only be solved with a robust strategic plan of action that has to start with how we train, mentor and empower young black executives. You must fill the funnel.”