Making a career from making music

Through internships, Memphis teens get their hands on music festival and event production experience. 
 Concerts and music festivals compose a large part of the American music industry. According to data from Nielsen Music, 52 percent of every consumer dollar spent on music in the United States was spent on live events in 2015.
 
And in 2014, 32 million people attended at least one music festival in the U.S.
 
In Memphis this summer, teens from all over the city spent their break from school learning about the ever-growing live music industry through work at the Memphis Slim House and the Levitt Shell.
 
On a recent Tuesday, the upstairs of the Memphis Slim House in the Soulsville neighborhood of South Memphis was filled with the ambient glow of a projector and warm, raucous chatter from a handful of students.
 
Memphis Slim House Programming and Marketing Director Tonya Dyson was leading the students in a lesson on social media promotion for the upcoming Soulsville USA Festival. Discussed was strategy depending on the social media network, live broadcasting of the event, and the all too important event hashtag.
 Tonya Dyson goes over social media strategy with high school intern at Memphis Slim House
The students, juniors and seniors at either Central or Booker T. Washington high schools, are spending Tuesday and Thursday afternoons during the summer – and Saturdays once school starts back – with Dyson to help plan the October 15 festival.
 
With 15 bands on three stages, the festival will be returning for its second year. In addition to music, the festival will include dance groups, food trucks, retail (local clothing, jewelry, visual art), live demonstrations and live painting.
 
Food trucks mean that Dyson and students took a field trip to Court Square Downtown via an Uber to look at their set up and to find trucks that could work for the Soulsville festival.
 
Other field trips included shadowing staff at the Levitt Shell concerts and learning social media tips in real time.
 
Most of the five Memphis Music Initiative interns tout strong family history in the local music industry, but had never ventured to Stax Museum of American Soul Music, located across the street from the Slim House.
 
“A lot of students live in walking distance of the museum and had never been,” Dyson said.
 
Some of the festival’s aims are to showcase unity of the neighborhood, connect people and organizations, as well as link the historic musical legacy to the music makers of today.
 
Most of the festival interns themselves have music experience, from singing or rapping to songwriting or drumming.
 
Jamasha Gilliam, a senior at Booker T. Washington, said that she has always been interested in music and learned about the program from an employee of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis.
 
“I learned about the neighborhood, all the artists surrounding Stax,” she said of her experience as an intern. “That they lived a street over from me.”
 
Other students also mentioned an added respect and reverence after learning about Memphis’ storied music history and the many people who played a part in it.
 
“It brought meaning, learning about what they accomplished,” Gilliam added. “I knew about Stax, but not what it meant.”
 
Across town in Midtown, the Levitt Shell employed high school students in its new Next Generations Apprenticeship Program for the first time this summer.
 
During the venue’s 50 Free Concerts Series students assisted six music professionals in the fields of light and sound engineering, video production, radio broadcasting and event production on site. Students were able to choose a focus. For example, students working on the video production side set up backstage and prepped for interviews of the musicians, as well as videography of the concerts.
 
According to Henry Nelson, Strategic Partnership Coordinator for the Levitt Shell, 12 apprentices were chosen from 75 students who applied.
 
Students selected for the apprenticeship had to be at least 16-years-old and entering either their junior and senior year in high school. Previous music or videography experience was not required of applicants, but prospective students did undergo an interview process.
 
Nelson said that Levitt staff looked for well-rounded students, not necessarily those with the highest grade point averages.
 
The Levitt Shell apprenticeship ended August 4, after beginning on June 2. During the 10 weeks, students spent 24 hours a week in the apprenticeship, plus 10 additional hours of training. Part of the program was spent from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays in “professional development” programming. The students were paid a stipend for apprenticeship, so professional development included many of the students opening up their first bank account. They also learned about finance and how to present themselves in professional settings, among other topics.
 
Students worked from 4pm to 10 pm. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; students also were able to receive transportation to and from the Levitt Shell.
 
One of those apprentices, Khamyl Browley, is a senior at St. Benedict at Auburndale in Cordova.
 
Browley, who heard of the program through a “friend of a friend,” applied for the program because she said she would like to major in theatre production in college.
 
Working on the audio side of things, Browley like’s tasks like helping set up band equipment and the front monitors. She also learned some things about lights and video.
 
“I got to work with a lot of amazing people,” she said of her time in the program. “I probably will have friends for a lifetime.”
 
Nelson said that the apprenticeship gave the Shell another way to fulfill its mission of “building community through music/education, and finding common ground for diverse audiences.”
 
“They’re incredibly bright young people that we’re learning a lot from ourselves,” he said.
 
After the students began working at the Shell, some of the parents and grandparents of apprentices began to volunteer at the concerts.
 
Nelson said that the goal is to follow the students into the next school year with engagement, as well as beginning recruitment for the next group of students to work in the summer beginning in February. 

Support for this story was provided in part by the Memphis Music Initiative; it is part of a series highlighting the impact and importance of music on the community in neighborhoods across Memphis.
 

Read more articles by Elle Perry.

A native of Memphis, Elle Perry serves as coordinator of the Teen Appeal, the Scripps Howard city-wide high school newspaper program. 
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