RALEIGH — A new generation of music agents, promoters and music industry executives could get their start in Wake County thanks to the help of recording superstar Usher.
In a partnership with Usher’s New Look Foundation, Wake County middle school and high school students will be able to take courses that will teach them about careers in the music industry. The new “Music Moguls” program will be piloted in the 2014-15 school year by 10 Wake schools before expanding in the state’s largest school system.
The excitement level was high when school administrators gave an overview of the program last week to school board members.
“The content itself is so engaging that I really do think it will help with some of our kids who wouldn’t traditionally enroll in a business and marketing class or stick with school,” said Marlo Gaddis, Wake’s director of instructional technology and media services.
The program is the latest philanthropic effort by Usher, an R&B singer who is one of the best selling artists in American music history. Usher founded New Look, a nonprofit organization based in Georgia, to provide leadership training to young people.
“We’re using the celebrity of Usher to really get the kids interested and to make the content relevant to them,” Shawn Wilson, president of New Look, said in an interview Friday.
Wake is one of six districts nationally, and the only one in North Carolina, that’s piloting the music industry leadership program. Wake school officials said the other districts are Del Mar in California, Douglas County in Colorado, Gwinnett County in Georgia and Palm Beach and Polk counties in Florida.
“They’re one of the most forward-thinking districts,” Wilson said of Wake. “You can see they’re embracing a 21st century school district mentality.”
Some classes to start in fall
Wake school officials got the chance to meet Usher last year as they cemented the deal, which will cost the district $99,000.
“It was certainly fun to meet Usher,” said Todd Wirt, Wake’s assistant superintendent for academics. “But we looked at it as an incredible opportunity to provide another alternative for students, especially in the middle and high school level.”
Initially, the program will be offered locally as part of the career and technical education programs at Holly Ridge and Wendell middle schools; Cary, Enloe, East Wake, Heritage, Millbrook and Southeast Raleigh high schools; the Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy and the Longview School.
New Look will send trainers to Wake in April to give students and teachers a look at what will come next school year.
Teachers will begin offering some of the new material in the fall semester. But Tonya Long, Wake’s senior administrator for career and technical education, said they expect to fully implement the new Music Industry Leadership 101 course in high schools in the spring 2015 semester.
Future courses will include Marketing and Branding in the Music Industry, Finance and Mathematics in the Music Industry and Talent and Career Development in the Music Industry.
“When you hear Usher, you think immediately of music,” Gaddis said. “But that’s not what this is about. It’s really about getting the marketing and business and finance behind the music industry.”
Wilson said that students will learn about 30 different music and marketing careers, such as graphic design. He said that the classes will also benefit aspiring performers because they’ll need to know about the marketing side of the business if they want to be successful.
Wilson said an exciting part of the online-based program is that students will be able to watch videos from industry leaders. For instance, he said DL Warfield, whose artistic work includes some of Usher’s album artwork, will talk about the latest trends in marketing.
Relevant to students
School leaders expect the program to easily draw student interest.
“I don’t think we’re going to have an unpopular course,” said school board member Bill Fletcher.
Students who complete the program will have access to the iLead application, a system that will allow them to keep in touch with music industry leaders. A few students could get the opportunity to attend festivals and tour with Usher.
Locally, Wake is also trying to arrange partnerships with businesses to provide internship opportunities to students.
“One of the nice pieces about it is that automatically you have the Usher name,” Gaddis said. “Every time I mention that, people are like, ‘I’d like to be part of that, please.’ ”
In the end, school officials expect the program to be a hit with this generation of students.
“I think you would agree that the average middle- and high-schooler probably has a couple of favorite songs and favorite artists, so music is definitely a hook for them,” Long said. “The content is relevant and real life.”