Music industry leaders: find ways to leverage your influence to ensure more women and people of color survive and thrive in the industry. Music is a powerful force in people’s lives — a universal language that influences everyone. That’s why it’s so important to make sure all viewpoints are represented in its creation and dissemination. Everyone deserves to be heard, and to hear from the voices that speak to their own experiences. Understanding this well, Music Forward invites and empowers young people from around the country to follow their dreams into the music industry, enrich it with their diverse voices and perspectives, and ultimately change it for the better.
I had the pleasure to interview Nurit Siegel Smith. Nurit is the executive director of House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, which creates access and economic opportunity for youth — with a focus on disadvantaged youth — using the music industry as a bridge. She has been involved in the arts and entertainment social sectors as artist and executive for two decades. Smith has managed positions within varied organizations including Blue Man Group, SAG-AFTRA Foundation and Grand Performances.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career path isn’t a linear one but once I look back through my past two decades in the arts and entertainment social sectors, there is a clear, natural development to where I am today. Always pulled to organizations at the intersection of performance, education and advocacy, I find myself now at the helm of Music Forward, a marvelous amalgamation of these three passion points.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Bringing Down the House is an anchor program of the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation. A program that teaches talented young musicians (ages 14–20) about the skills, tools, and knowledge they need to pursue careers in music and related live entertainment industries. It serves as a powerful catalyst for cultivating musicianship and professionalism. Through Bringing Down the House, talented young artists are connected to one another and to music industry insiders to build self-confidence, develop skills, hone their brand, and bring enthusiastic crowds to their feet at free showcases on iconic stages around the country.
I was at an early workshop with the Class of 2018 in Los Angeles and only a few weeks in to my job as the Executive Director of Music Forward. A question was asked in the room by the facilitator and only the hands of young men went up to answer. From my vantage point I recognized the gender disparity in the room at that moment and honed in on the systemic nature of this inequality. I immediately encouraged staff to intentionally look to the young girls in the room for their opinion. Concurrently, new data was coming out from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative on the severe gender disparity in the music industry. Through a strategic process, we reset our mission to include not only those we serve, transforming young lives, but also the industry we service, championing a more inclusive one.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There is a floor that I go to regularly to meet with key executives at Live Nation Clubs and Theaters division, a critical partner to Music Forward, ensuring a majority of every dollar contributed goes directly into services. When the elevator stops on the floor you have four unique directions to head to the office you need to land in. I could never remember which way to go. When you start off at a new job, learning how to fly the plane in midair, you are inhaling information through a fire house. And the spatial cues on that floor were still blurry after a few weeks on the job. I would be drawn to a specific direction and land in front of this nice lady who I would continuously ask for directions. We started laughing after the 5th time or so. She wears a cat-ear head band sometimes. I still like asking her for directions!
Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?
MusicForward transforms young lives, inspires careers, and champions a more inclusive music industry. Through delivery of our programs, Music Forward has experienced a number of notable accomplishments, including positively impacting more than a million young lives around the country over the past 25 years. According to our recent impact and outcomes assessment, 94% of our All Access Fest attendees “feel more confident in their ability to approach professionals for networking purposes,” helping them to build the social capital necessary to access music industry opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Additionally, 86% of our All Access participants report having a better understanding of how their skills and personal characteristics can guide them to identify a future career; 96% of All Access Fest attendees report having a better understanding of how women can overcome barriers to equality in the music industry; and 100% of our Bringing Down the House alumni are currently in school or employed. Music Forward also actively engages our community of alumni long after their graduation from our programs, frequently connecting them to paid gigs and other self-actualizing opportunities that broaden their long-term horizons.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?
“I grew up in LA and come from a low-income family. It wasn’t easy; we regularly gave up luxury items to put food on the table. In elementary school, I joined orchestra and was finally able to start playing on a borrowed violin — I practiced every day! Unfortunately, I had to leave the violin behind when I moved to middle school because my parents couldn’t afford to buy me my own instrument. I knew that I still wanted to do something in music, but I was not sure what. I love the way music flows — each song contains its own universe and tells its own story. When I found out about Music Forward, I was really excited and interested in studying music technology. Music Forward solidified my dreams of going into this industry and made me more confident and determined to pursue my career.”
-Lirio Hernandez, Music Forward Alumnus
“I’ve always had one career goal in my life: Music. One way or another I’ve always associated myself to be a part of the music world, whether it be performance based or business. Music Forward opened an entire world for me as I saw that the path for positions is virtually endless.”
– Rafael Linos, Alumnus
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
1. Increased funding for a scaffolded and integrated arts program in K-12 education. Giving children access to creative arts curriculum throughout their education is key in developing inquisitive, effective, and engaged young people.
2. Sponsor creative workforce development, systemic and sustainable solutions for employment. The business community routinely ranks finding and retaining workers with the technical skills employers need as its #1 challenge. Foundations and donors are investing significantly in innovative, evidence-driven programs to train the next generation with the vocational and soft skills needed to obtain and retain jobs. Partner with Music Forward to empower the next generation and ensure a more vibrant industry.
3. Music industry leaders: find ways to leverage your influence to ensure more women and people of color survive and thrive in the industry. Music is a powerful force in people’s lives — a universal language that influences everyone. That’s why it’s so important to make sure all viewpoints are represented in its creation and dissemination. Everyone deserves to be heard, and to hear from the voices that speak to their own experiences. Understanding this well, Music Forward invites and empowers young people from around the country to follow their dreams into the music industry, enrich it with their diverse voices and perspectives, and ultimately change it for the better.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership can be defined in many varied ways. I stay flexible to the situation at hand. Sometimes it requires an authoritative or visionary tone, a pragmatic or encouraging one. As a leader you have to be resilient and prepared with multiple tools to guide these dynamic institutions.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Everyone should join the Music Forward movement 😉! Really, would love to champion and grow the South African humanistic philosophy of ubuntu. Can you imagine a world driven by a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity? Doesn’t matter what religion you practice, country you come from, gender you identify as, or any other label that defines you. All that matters is our humanity towards others. Amen.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Miles Davis said, “Don’t play what’s there. Play what not’s there.” In the quick, ever-changing world we live in, be creative, innovative and curious. Constantly curious.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Bring your whole self into the room
Self-care is critical
Communication is the most important thing in any relationship