Backline, a grant and educational initiative designed to help Milwaukee-area musicians break out, recently announced the four musical artists it has selected for its first 12-week accelerator program, which provides intensive music-industry mentorship and $20,000 grants.

The artists were selected in late July and began working in the accelerator August 3. The Backline artists selected for 2018 are:

  • Soul/pop artist Lex Allen
    Allen is this year’s Mary Louise Mussoline Backline Artist, named in memory of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee’s late former executive director.
  • EDM producer Crystal Knives
  • Songwriter, singer and producer Abby Jeanne
  • Alternative hip-hop/rap artist Zed Kenzo

Among the many talented musicians who applied, these four stood out to the judges as being most ready to make huge leaps forward in their careers,” Backline Program Director Mag Rodriguez said. “We have already begun helping guide them and connect them to the resources they need at this stage of their careers. Those in the music industry we’ve connected them with share our vision for these artists and see the huge potential for them to make their mark in the music world.”

88Nine Radio Milwaukee and gener8tor developed Backline to help Milwaukee musicians succeed, improve Milwaukee’s recognition as one of the country’s most vibrant music cities and assist companies in attracting the young employees they need.

Backline received 340 applications from Milwaukee area musicians, bands and producers for the 2018 summer accelerator. As part of the rigorous evaluation process, 20 of the artists were brought into recording studios to produce music in small groups.

Five nationally recognized music-industry professionals from outside of Milwaukee interviewed the finalists and selected the artists invited into the accelerator. The judges were Lucas Keller, president and founder of Milk & Honey artist management agency; Jim McGuinn, program director of Minneapolis’ The Current radio station; Chad “C-Note” Roper, a Grammy-nominated vocal producer, songwriter and engineer; James Supreme, manager and A&R with Universal Music Publishing Group; and Jessica Weber, owner and founder of co-sign, an artist development agency specializing in radio promotion and licensing.

The accelerator consists of “create,” “connect” and “plan” phases. During the “create” phase now underway, musicians have been spending time in studios to create music and develop their projects. Musicians have gone to Chicago, Los Angeles and London as part of this process and have worked with studios locally. During “connect,” artists will be introduced to mentors and industry experts locally and nationally. The “plan” phase helps artists develop a 12-month plan to further their careers and equip them with tools to navigate the music industry.

Backline is providing artists with $20,000 each to boost their careers, with use of funding determined by the artists and Backline. They are also receiving services, such as financial counseling and personal training, aimed at holistically preparing the artists with life skills to succeed as musicians.

The 2018 accelerator culminates with a showcase performance by the four artists 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. November 16 at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee’s performance space. Rodriguez said the high number and quality of applications confirms that Milwaukee is home to many extremely talented musicians. He said that Backline would provide assistance to other applicants and Milwaukee musicians through its free workshops and one-on-one meetings with staff. Two additional accelerator sessions are slated for 2019.

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Lee Matz