By Cierra Johnson
This past spring break, a group of 20 students visited Atlanta, Georgia, receiving an intensive, in-depth view of the Atlanta music industry. Led by Prince Charles Alexander (Professor of Music Production and Engineering), Carl Beatty (Assistant VP of Artist and Music Industry Relations), Karen Bell (Chief Alumni Officer), and Jason Stokes (Assistant Professor of Music Production and Engineering), the journey provided invaluable insight through its direct interactions with various promoters, accomplished musical artists, songwriters, producers, engineers, alumni and other music industry professionals.
Students on past trips have visited the Atlanta chapters of BMI, SESAC, ASCAP and NARAS; the recording studios Silent Sound, Patchwerk, Doppler, DARP, ZAC and Tree Sound; the law offices of Greenberg-Traurig; as well as CNN, Tyler Perry Studios, Live Nation, the Tabernacle, V-103, Club Apache, SAE, the King Center and Max Lager’s (an establishment owned by alumnus John Roberts).
I had the privilege of attending the trip, and I’ll be sharing the experiences and highlights from the trip that really impacted my life, including meeting Grammy-nominated songwriter Makeba Riddick-Woods and other surprise music industry professionals.
Before going on the alternative spring break Atlanta trip, a friend who went last year told me it felt “magical” and life changing. This idea seemed far-fetched, so as the trip approached I expected it to feel like a place I’d been to before. As I explored the city with our group I was surprised by how at home I felt, despite never having been to Atlanta. We met with some of the biggest names in the music industry, yet everyone was open, honest, and friendly; something one may not find in other cities.
We left from Boston on Tuesday, March 15 and had a 4-hour delay at the airport. But during that time, we got to know each other. I also got my first taste of the wisdom and knowledge that professor Prince Charles Alexander imparted to us on a daily basis. When we finally landed in ATL we went to dinner at Max Lager, an upscale restaurant where one of the owner’s, John Roberts is a Berklee alumni. While there we were able to meet with Lil John Roberts, one of the most sought after Jazz and R&B drummers of his generation. One thing that really stood out to me about each person we met in Atlanta was how humble and down to earth he or she was. Lil John Roberts has performed with almost every notable Jazz and R&B musician out right now, yet he took time to speak with us and gave useful advice one musician to another.
There were several highlights of the trip, and the most extraordinary one for me was the chance to meet songwriting sensation Makeba Riddick-Woods. I have been following her career since being a fledgling musician in high school, and when I found out we were going to meet her I was ecstatic. She was a part of the Alumni panel we had on Wednesday night, and as soon as I walked in the building she was the first person I saw. I remember seeing her and whispering to a friend, “That’s Makeba!” They recommended I talk to her, so after I composed myself I walked over and introduced myself to her and her husband. We had small talk and when I told her we were both from Maryland and studied music business she was very responsive. Again, although Makeba is one of the biggest songwriters/vocal producers in the music industry she was completely down to earth and personable. When she spoke I was euphoric. One of the most striking comments she made was that the grind helped push her through her struggles. She worked HARD to get to where she is and let us know that we needed to do the same if we wanted to be successful.
Professor Prince Charles Alexander said throughout the trip, “You never know who might show up…”, and indeed there were many surprises along the way. Some of the most memorable to me were entertainment attorney Joel Katz, CEO’s Stone & Tashia Stafford, Vocal producer Kuk Harell, songwriter Sean Garrett, and singer-songwriter Avery Wilson. With the exception of Avery none of them were on our original schedule, but we were blessed to have them speak with us anyway. Just being in the presence of these great people empowered me, and when they spoke they were meticulous with every word. From what I gathered, every person we met on the trip made a few key points: 1. Work hard 2. Network 3. Have patience; everything will not come immediately 4. Be able to work for free while making your way into the industry 5. Always stay a student to your craft.
Thanks to everyone I met on the ATL 2016 trip I have become much more focused and dedicated to the rest of my time at Berklee, and my life as a whole. Before going on this trip I was working hard, but coasting along on my natural abilities and not truly pushing myself to the fullest. After seeing how hard our presenters work I now realize that being good isn’t good enough. I need to be faster, stronger, and better in every aspect. I recognized how entitled I had been and how detrimental that is to my career as a musician and in general. Also, my goals need to be refined and much more specific, something I didn’t know until an impromptu conversation with professor Jason Stokes.
I want to give a special shout out and thank you to our facilitators Prince Charles Alexander, Jason Stokes, Karen Bell, Carl Beatty, and Charles McGarvey. Without them this trip would not be possible, and I would not be who I am today. I feel like a different person because of what I experienced on this trip and I found 5 new mentors and family members in each of them. While waiting in the airport on the way back to Boston I began reminiscing, and realized that Atlanta exceeded every expectation I had. I’m sure everyone who went on the trip will agree when I say that I will never be the same after being there. We became a family during our five-day stay in ATL, and our experiences there have truly bonded us.