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Milwaukee, meet Backline: A start-up accelerator approach to amplify our music scene

Milwaukee musicians, businesses and residents, get familiar with Backline. We're launching this new program at 88Nine to take a start-up accelerator approach to growing Milwaukee's music scene. This has never been done before—here or anywhere else in the industry.

"With Backline, our goal is to help Milwaukee become known as one of the country’s most vibrant music cities." —Glenn Kleiman, 88Nine Executive Director

Everyone knows that Austin and Nashville are built on their flourishing music scenes. We know Milwaukee has talent, so we want to keep it here, help it grow and attract more of it.

We're not just talking about music, either. This will help Milwaukee musicians succeed and establish Milwaukee’s reputation as an emerging music city, but it will also be a catalyst for culture and business in Milwaukee. With Backline, music can help Milwaukee companies attract and retain the young employees we need for our city's growth.
We interviewed over 100 local artists and our research shows that the two biggest hurdles limiting the success of talented Milwaukee musicians are funding and knowledge of the music business. Backline will give them both of these things.

We've partnered with gener8tor to make this happen. Applying the accelerator’s success in helping launch start-up businesses, these practices will teach artists valuable entrepreneurial skills about how to navigate the industry to succeed.

"In the music world, ‘backline’ is the equipment a venue provides touring musicians – the amps, drums, maybe a bass guitar. To musicians, ‘backline’ signifies support. And support is what we're about." —Glenn Kleiman, 88Nine Executive Director

Backline will recruit four Milwaukee area musicians or bands for its first 12-week session this summer, modeled on gener8tor’s nationally-ranked business start-up accelerator.

This isn't about turning musicians into business people. It's about connecting artists to industry people who can educate and guide them. Like other business accelerators, it will provide professional advice and guidance over a short and intense period.

The musicians and groups that are chosen will also receive a grant of $20,000 for support during the program and to invest in the artists' growth initiatives (which will be identified through the accelerator process), such as recording, promotion and touring.

So, who can apply? Backline is looking for Milwaukee-area musicians of any genre looking to do music full-time. Applications will be open from June 4 to June 29. Backline will use gener8tor’s accelerator application and interview process to select recipients for the first session. gener8tor staff and a group of music industry leaders from outside of Milwaukee (and outside of 88Nine) will choose the recipients.

But, we don't want to forget about all the artists that won't be one of the four who are chosen for the intensive program. We want this to be a resource for the entire Milwaukee music community.

The Backline artist workshops will be open to any Milwaukee artists to come and learn alongside the Backline cohort. These will be free, quarterly workshops on navigating the music business, with local and national industry professionals sharing expertise. And, they'll be hosted here at 88Nine. Backline will also post workshop videos and related educational materials on its website.

gener8tor will be hiring a full-time Backline Program Director, who will bring all of this to life. They're seeking applications from experienced musicians and industry professionals through April 13.

Backline will run one 12-week accelerator session this year with our inaugural cohort. Then, we plan to offer two sessions a year starting in 2019.

This is being funded by organizations including Northwestern Mutual, NoVo FoundationSummerfest, Manpower,  Quarles and Brady, VISIT Milwaukee and individual donors. We're still seeking additional donors and corporate partners.

Sound cool? Join us at the Radio Milwaukee studio on Thursday, April 5 at 6:30 for a Backline kickoff event for interested musicians and sponsors.