If you’re a young artist looking to jump-start your career, where should you start? Outside of traditional music schools and private lessons, teen artists hoping to break into the music industry face a plethora of youth-specific obstacles. Venues often have age restrictions, bookers tend to not take young musicians seriously, and many teens simply lack the resources to navigate the industry on their own.
One Seattle-area program, Seattle Theatre Group’s More Music @ The Moore, is disrupting this issue by providing up-and-coming teen artists and bands with the opportunity to learn from experienced teaching artists, gain insight into the music industry, and collaborate with their peers of all different musical styles. This intensive artist development program culminates in a performance this week at The Moore Theatre. [Editor’s note: This event has been canceled due to restrictions on public gatherings in light of COVID-19. However, there will be a livestream of the event. More details are at the end of the article.]
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of More Music @ The Moore is its teaching artists. Representing an expansive range of genres, styles and backgrounds, each mentor brings a different perspective that informs their teaching style. And the participants love them for it. Ethan Bovey, 2020 participant and member of hard rock band Splitting Silence, describes his experience with the mentors as “exceptionally positive.” Bovey describes being amazed at having access to such a wide variety of talented mentors who provided impactful and practical advice on songwriting, performance, and building a successful career in the music industry.
Another aspect of More Music @ The Moore that separates it from other artistic mentorship programs is its emphasis on the technical aspects of the music industry. Building a fruitful music career can be especially difficult for young people—there are innumerable barriers exclusive to young musicians that limit the options of youth trying to break into the industry. Especially without experience in the administrative side of the music industry; things like booking shows and negotiating contracts, which are often difficult for adults, can seem impossible to teens.
This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that teen artists have to juggle their career and continuing development as an artist with school and other commitments. While it might be much easier with an agent, most up-and-coming artists, especially young ones, simply don’t have the resources to hire one. More Music @ The Moore not only recognizes this problem, but actively combats it by advising participants on how to navigate the music industry as a young person, which enables them to jump-start their professional careers.
The adults involved get a lot out of the process, too. Mentors describe the teaching process as reciprocal—while the mentees learn about technical and stylistic aspects of being in the music industry, mentors can keep up with emerging trends and stay in touch with the evolving tastes and techniques of the younger generation. Seeing so many young and talented artists working diligently at their craft invigorates the mentors as well. Being surrounded by such a great variety of “young people who are really looking to become much better at what they do” is also a source of inspiration, according to mentor and Brazilian jazz pianist Jovino Santos Neto. In addition, mentoring provides a way for teaching artists to give back to the artistic community in Seattle and pass their knowledge on to a new generation of young artists.
More Music @ The Moore is now in its 19th year, and those almost two decades of youth engagement have produced an abundance of amazing moments. One that particularly sticks out to STG’s associate director of community programming Sarah Strasbaugh, happened in 2013, when bassist and singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello was the program’s music director. One of that year’s participants, 007th, an acapella group, chose to perform a song by Ndegeocello in the finale, without mics. In order to capture the best acoustics, the performers sang from the very back of the top balcony. Strasbaugh recalled, “The audience just stopped—everyone was just taken away by how beautiful their voices were, how beautiful the sound was.”
Experiences like this, seeing such talented young artists in their prime, and “seeing young artists’ faces light up when they’re on the stage for the first time,” is why Strasbaugh enjoys her work with More Music @ The Moore so much.
More Music @ The Moore isn’t STG’s only young artist development program. Their Songwriters Lab, targeted more explicitly towards teen singer-songwriters and lyricists, truly makes STG one of the premier resources for youth musicians in that region. Also, under the guidance of an incredibly diverse and experienced mentorship team, teenage musicians of all genres and experience levels converge to learn about song composition and lyric writing. This program, like More Music @ The Moore, allows participants the ability to immerse themselves in a creative community and work with other youth artists to produce new work that’s performed at an informal show in front of family and friends. It also emphasizes practical skills for navigating the music industry, providing another exceptional opportunity for young musicians.
Another aspect of STG’s programming that makes it so unique is the tuition. Seattle Theatre Group’s programming is really rather affordable—only $375 for the week-long Songwriters Lab program, with need-based scholarships available. Starting in the music industry is already expensive for teens—instruments can cost thousands of dollars, and private music lessons can easily run more than $70 per hour, expenses that are hard to finance on a teenager’s allowance or with an after-school job. By providing such high-quality artist development programs at a price that most teens and their families can afford (and providing scholarships if they can’t), STG is taking a bold step to disrupt the economic inequities faced by so many teens.
After learning from their peers and mentors, participants finish the intensive with a performance. Sure to be far from a typical teenage talent show, this year’s nine participating groups were scheduled to perform at The Moore Theatre on March 13. However, due to Governor Jay Inslee’s issue to cancel or postpone all public gatherings through March 31, STG has canceled the performance. Instead, STG will be offering a livestream of the March 13 matinee starting at 11 a.m. for free to the public. The impressive line-up of teen artists from this unique program is sure to demonstrate not only the talent, but the hard work of these up-and-coming youth artists.
Seattle Theatre Group is offering a livestream of the March 13 11 a.m. performance for free to the public Through their partner, Melodic Caring Project, you can view the livestream starting March 13 through March 20 here.
Lily Williamson is a first-year student at the University of Washington, where she is the managing editor of the undergraduate history journal. This will be her second year as a member of the TeenTix’s Teen Editorial Staff and arts leadership board, the New Guard. Lily is passionate about arts accessibility and art that highlights intersectionality, and she hopes to use her position as a teen editor to foster greater youth involvement in the Seattle art world.
This article was written on special assignment for Encore Spotlight through the TeenTix Press Corps, a program that promotes critical thinking, communication and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. TeenTix is a youth empowerment and arts access nonprofit.