Backline music accelerator cohort nearing end of program

Early-career artists in gener8tor’s Backline music accelerator are making industry connections and building their brands as they near the end of the program.

The 12-week course provides mentorship, travel opportunities, production assistance and a $20,000 grant.

“When you’re giving artists the tools they need to actually just create… it takes away all those barriers. You can actually just be creative,” said Spencer Mutsch. He’s otherwise known as Crystal Knives, a creator of electronic dance music, or EDM.

The program has diverse artists performing and recording rap, R&B, hip-hop, alternative and more. Some of those artists recently travelled to New York and Los Angeles to build a network of valuable contacts, as part of Phase 2 of the program.

That followed Phase 1, when artists had about five weeks to create new work with studio and writing help. One of the rap artists, Zed Kenzo, spent over 200 hours in the recording studio, according to program director Enrique “Mag” Rodriguez. (pictured here) 

“I’ve actually been able to make more music,” Kenzo said. “It’s expensive to get studio time, it’s expensive to pay producers, it’s expensive to do the videos and all that. So it’s been very easy for me to create my music.”

Phase 3 of the program wraps up next week, and is focused on leveraging the new content and industry connections to boost the young artists’ careers. In that part of the program, artists learn about booking shows, publishing, distribution, legal and finances.

Aside from working on their brand, network and body of work, artists also get resources for personal development. A side program called Backline Vision connects artists to trauma therapists, personal finance advisors, fitness coaches, and more.

Therapy can be crucial, Rodriguez says, as many in the music industry struggle with mental health and substance abuse.

“Success comes with a lot of bad stuff. Your demons will come out to get you,” Kenzo added. “It’s just nice to have a professional remind you of the human aspect of who you are… It’s been really helpful.”

Rodriguez says Backline will be held twice next year, in the spring and fall. For this year’s program, he says the program received applications from every ZIP code in Milwaukee. In three weeks, over 340 applications were submitted.

“So we know that there’s a big demand,” he said. “The heart is Milwaukee, but my goal is to expand this program to all of Wisconsin.”

In the coming years, Rodriguez envisions graduates of Backline coming back to be mentors for the program.

In the same way that cities like Nashville and Atlanta have developed a culture around older, established musicians, he wants Backline to create a musical business network for the entire state. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver has already got the ball rolling in the Eau Claire region, and Rodriguez wants to build on that momentum.

“We know that there’s talent here. It’s all about creating a community,” he said.

See more on the artists in the program:

See Zed Kenzo’s Soundcloud:

See Crystal Knives’ Soundcloud:

–By Alex Moe