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Diversifying The Music Industry - A Local Approach

3In this op-ed, we look at the UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall, an independent venue based in the Bay Area which functions as a nonprofit giving underrepresented youth from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds opportunities for success in the music industry.

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Guest post by David M. Mayeri and Robyn Bykofsky 

The UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall is a top-tier, independent, Bay Area music venue that operates as a nonprofit and, through its flagship Concert Career Pathways education program, mentors, nurtures, and trains underserved and underrepresented young people from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds for successful careers in the music business.

Founder & CEO David M. Mayeri is a 35-year industry veteran who served previously as Chief Operating Officer at Bill Graham Presents.

Education Director Robyn Bykofsky has nearly 20 years experience engaging young people in music, theatre and media education in underrepresented and misrepresented communities throughout the Bay Area.

It’s no secret that the music industry, while relying on artists of diverse backgrounds, races, ethnicities and genders for talent, could do better in terms of diversity behind the scenes. And while many sectors in the arts world have made strides in developing pathways to more representational and multicultural leadership, the music industry has been slower to focus on the need for cultural equity and leadership opportunities for people of color and women.

As recent articles in Billboard and Forbes point out, there are many reasons for this and a wealth of various barriers to entry. These barriers can be socioeconomic, such as widespread reliance upon unpaid internships and/or low paid entry-level jobs to gain experience, which effectively rule out candidates without the means to make such choices possible; and they can be cultural/systemic, for example, in an industry where executive positions are largely obtained through networking, those networks remain homogeneous, creating a self-perpetuating feedback loop where executive norms and culture are continually reinforced.

1In this environment, it can be challenging for women and people of color to feel included, or even heard. And while there are certainly no easy solutions, at The UC Theatre we’ve been addressing some of these issues through our Concert Career Pathways education program in ways that are both transferrable and replicable. In short, we hope to share what we do and what we’ve learned, in an effort to nudge forward the evolution and diversification of the industry.

With Concert Career Pathways, we teach young people ages 17 to 25 the technical, creative, and business aspects of the industry. The nine-month, hands-on, work-based learning model is a combination of free workshops, paid internships, industry professional speaker series, and industry tours where young people learn the ins and outs and best practices of essential jobs, such as: production manager, event coordinator, stage manager, floor manager, stagehand, floor staff, sound and lighting, event budgeting, ticketing and box office operations, bar operations, marketing and promotions, social media promotions, booking, and beyond. Additionally, we offer professional development opportunities where participants develop skills in resume and cover letter writing, interview techniques and tips/tricks of the trade.

The program is offered to underserved and underrepresented youth attending local schools through partnerships with established nonprofit community organizations, as well as to the general public. Students come from diverse backgrounds, half being young women and 70% people of color. The Theatre’s education advisory committee is comprised of a number of nonprofits that work with underserved youth, including RYSE in Richmond, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, Berkeley Y Teen Center, Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, and Youth UpRising in Oakland.

In selecting the students, we intentionally pull from various ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The 2018-2019 cohort, which started in August 2018 and runs through May 2019, is 55% women, 45% men, 75% people of color, 20% LGBTQ, and a mix of income and education levels (all demographics self-reported on their applications). Once enrolled, rather than seek to apply a one-size-fits-all approach, we meet participants where they are and apply established youth development practices. This approach takes into account the specific barriers that participants face, which often differ by participant and can affect how they perform in various areas of their lives. For example: lack of transportation, limited access to healthy foods, a history of inconsistent employment within their families, systemic racism… The list goes on and on. If we are to be successful in creating a more just, diverse and ultimately more successful industry, then an understanding of such nuances surrounding multiculturalism is key.

The program is completely free to students, and our ability to do this work is due in large part to our status as a nonprofit organization and our ability to raise funding to support these efforts. At The UC Theatre, 2/3 of our operating budget comes from earned revenue (ticket sales) and 1/3 comes from from contributed revenue/donations. It’s a unique model for a top-tier concert venue, for sure, but one that is both successful and replicable. Each spring, when that year’s Concert Career Pathways cohort graduates from the program, they do so with a wealth of hands-on, on-the-job experience, and having built connections with industry professionals that lead to professional networks and even full-time industry jobs. And while we are just one venue in one market offering such a program, our hope is that the model, which now has a proven track record of viability, can proliferate at venues across the country.

David M. Mayeri

CEO & Founder

The UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall

Robyn Bykofsky

Education Director

The UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall

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