An inaugural class of 21 New York City high school students recently completed a new program designed and operated by Carnegie Hall, which provided them with an in-depth tour of the music industry. The B-Side – short for business side – launched in February. According to its organizers, it's been 10 years in the making.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, participating students got a chance to indulge their creative sensibilities during a visit to Pulse Music Studio. For two hours, Stanley Brown – a producer, composer and performer who’s collaborated with countless prominent artists, including Shirley Caesar, Salt-N-Pepa, Dru Hill and Michelle Williams – demonstrated the studio’s workings with house engineers. Participants picked up songwriting fundamentals and learned how to set up microphones and record. By the end of the visit, students had participated in creating two new songs from scratch.

“It's an honor to still be doing something that I love every day,” Brown told the group. “My saying has always been: You have to send the elevator back down. You have to pass it on to the next generation, who desire to be what it is you’ve become, and share the information.”

The B-Side introduced 21 New York City high school students to the inner workings of the music industry.

The studio experience was part of a deep-dive introduction into how the music business works, and was designed to help reverse a historic trend of disproportionately low representation of people of color in corporate offices. The B-Side also allowed students to visit an actual record label and attend panels with industry professionals. Each day the high schoolers learned about a different area of the business, including A&R, marketing, law and artist management. A second cohort of college-aged young adults is scheduled to follow in April.

Mary Nova-Abreu, one of the program’s student participants, says she never knew how much work went into the music she loved until she became part of the B-Side. “It was really nice taking the initiative, learning what artists and repertoire was, learning about different marketing strategies that they use to promote these artists, and how you don't really notice it in your day-to-day life,” she said.

“We really wanted to help bridge pathways for careers in the arts, particularly where there’s lack of representation in those fields, or lack of access to opportunities,” said Ayanna Cole, the director of social-impact programs at Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute.

“There's been this consistent conversation with partners, with artists, with young people in surveys, and feedback that we've gotten from young people and lessons we've learned in doing this work,” Cole said, “that it's fun engaging in creative arts activities, but young people want to know how to develop careers in these industries.” Carnegie Hall conceived and implemented its new weeklong program with public support from the speaker of the New York City Council with sponsorship by Councilmember Keith Powers, and additional support from the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.

B-Side participants absorbed advice from music-industry executives Leota Blacknor, Dr. Charlene Thomas and Katina Bynum.

Cole says the B-Side was also prompted by a 2021 report about the music industry by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. The report found that out of 4,060 executives at the vice president level and above at 119 companies, only 19.8% were from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

“What the research was telling us was that artists who were bringing in a significant amount of income into the music industry were largely of color, but that didn't necessarily reflect in the C-suite, or other leadership positions in the music industry,” Cole said. “The last three years have put a spotlight on the responsibility of those in decision-making positions to think about representing the creative power of all people, so that the C-suites don't only include white men.”

The initiative challenges assumptions about who Carnegie Hall – commonly viewed as a bastion of European classical music – is meant to serve, as well as what forms that service might take.

“I think if people met and interacted with this group of young people, they would be incredibly pleasantly surprised about each and every one of them,” Cole said. “And they are all very different than what I think people assume are the people that would be served by Carnegie Hall – and who we have been serving for more than 10 years.”

Teaching artist Alexis Atkinson joined in on the fun during the studio visit, showcasing her writing and singing skills. She also helped curate the daily lessons. Atkinson said she already had been on her own journey to learn more about the business side of the industry before joining the B-side project.

“We taught them about different kinds of marketing, whether it be radio promotion, whether it be content creation, what are the different budgets that apply to that – there’s so many facets in how you can promote a work differently,” Atkinson said.

At the end of the weeklong training, students synthesized everything they learned into mock label presentations for family and friends at a closing ceremony at Carnegie. They pitched artists, reported marketing plans for album and concert rollouts, and even went over budget considerations.

“I think that I'll be taking all the skills and things that I've learned, and pursuing musical engineering in the future," said B-Side participant Mason Bourne.

Mason Bourne, a student participant, says the program furthered their drive to enter an industry they’ve long admired.

“Being here with all of these creatives, learning about music and the music industry, I was able to tap back into something that I haven't in a really long time,” Bourne said. “I think that I'll be taking all the skills and things that I've learned, and pursuing musical engineering in the future.”

B-Side organizers say that a cohort of older students that will assemble in April will receive some of the same training, but with an extra emphasis on hands-on solutions.

“I think we're going to push the interactive and the initiative even more with the older group,” Atkinson said. “We might incorporate problems to solve, like if an artist doesn't want to promote this album, or the artist doesn't like this brand. We're going to push the actual limits of what you would experience.”