National Accelerator for Local Musicians Launches in Cleveland

click to enlarge Sean Oatz - Courtesy of Backline
Courtesy of Backline
Sean Oatz

A Cleveland native who has managed a number of talented young artists primarily in the city's rap scene, Sean Oatz, a promoter at Rumor Nightclub who’s worked with acts such as Lil Cray, DJ Ky, YFL Kelvin and Luis Armando, has recently joined the team at national accelerator gener8tor to launch Backline Cleveland, a program designed to help Cleveland artists become national acts.

Backline's 12-week grant accelerator program provides coaching, mentoring, industry networking, and grants to cohorts of three or four musicians and/or bands. Each participant of the program receives a $20,000 budget grant.

The Backline program is free to artists and, unlike many other similar programs, takes no residuals, royalties or revenue share.

Musicians and bands of any genre may apply. A panel of local and national music industry professionals will interview and select the participants.

“It’s a multi-tiered selection process,” says Brian Lynch, Backline Program Manager in a recent conference call with Oatz. The program launched in Cleveland earlier this year, and the deadline for applications is July 20. “In the first phase of application reviews, we involve some local tastemakers — it could be radio hosts, talent buyers or journalists — and send them the applicants' song submissions and have them blind-rank the artists. From there, we get a top 50 and then a top 25, where we start to bring in national judges. We’ll host some sessions with a producer and bring in someone to judge the performances. Likewise, the final interviews are with a panel of national music industry professionals."

During the “create” stage, Backline artists produce music and content. The Backline team facilitates introductions to potential collaborators, studios, photographers and videographers and other industry experts for the Backline artists during this phase.

The “connect” phase provides introductions, resources, and mentorship for Backline artists to efficiently connect with industry leaders locally, nationally, and internationally who can help bolster their careers. Each Backline artist takes a group trip to Los Angeles and New York, and will be connected to experts in the music industry. Because of COVID-19 concerns, this year's trips out of town will be virtual.

“We’re doing this right now in a couple of markets, and I think the meetings have been really effective virtually,” says Lynch. “The artists have been so much more relaxed. It’s not like you’re walking onto the Apple campus and knowing that everything is riding on the meeting you have. It’s been really great so far.”

During the "plan" phase, the Backline team works individually with each Backline artist to plan out the next year of his or her career. This stage focuses on driving sustaining revenue and heightening the profile of each Backline artist.

Oatz and Lynch say they’ve already received more than 250 applications and expect to wind up with several hundred. The two are optimistic that they can dig up some terrific local talent.

“I’ve worked and operated in places like Atlanta and Miami, and Cleveland operates a little differently,” says Oatz. “I started doing things differently here. I move myself around a little more. I’ve tried to change people’s minds. I have a track record and a resume and I need my friends in the city like KISS-FM and DJ E-V and Steph Floss to come out and talk about what’s going on here with Backline. It’s something new for the city, but it’ll give you the same results that Lil Cray had and that Cassidy King had and that Machine Gun Kelly has had and that Chip the Ripper and Ray Jr. have had. People need some money when they’re starting a new business, and $20,000 isn’t a drop in the bucket."

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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