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What's Stopping Charlotte From Being 'The Next Music Hub?' Jermaine Spencer Shares His Solution

Jermaine Spencer Charlotte.jpg
Photo courtesy of Jermaine Spencer.
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Jermaine Spencer is founder of The Platform Music + Culture event series, dedicated to bringing industry information and access to Charlotte artists.

As America reckons with racial injustice, the music industry has scrambled to show its support for the Black community. Recording companies took a day off work and opened up their checkbooks with #BlackoutTuesday. Major labels like Warner Music Group and Sony Music created multi-million dollar funds to combat systemic racism.

Here in Charlotte in recent weeks, there have been conversations across the arts and venues about how they can do better, be better and build a more equitable infrastructure for music together. But the question remains: How can you reform the music industry? We ask Charlotte music leader Jermaine Spencer, head of operations at BNR Records, founder of The Platform Music + Culture Series and owner of J. Spencer Agency.

"Access to information is key to success, and I was seeing that the folks that I talked to weren’t getting that communication and access. The reason I created [The Platform series] was to increase and enhance the music ecosystem of Charlotte, and how you do that is by providing information."
– Jermaine Spencer, founder of The Platform Music + Culture series

Interview Highlights:

On his start in Charlotte music:

What brought me to music [in Charlotte] was working with a bunch of college friends who also had music aspirations. They knew that I was doing a lot of nightlife stuff in terms of party promotion and knowing a bunch of people and having a great Rolodex [of contacts] while still working at Wells Fargo. Once you graduate college, most of the jobs that were open were in the banks, but on the side, I was doing what I was doing in the nightlife. And one of my buddies started a rap group called First in Flight, and the group approached me and asked if I could be their manager. I didn’t want to necessarily manage them, but rather get them shows and possible publicity opportunities. That was around 2007 and 2008.

Back then, there were some great music venues, but people of color didn’t get access to those music venues. So I said, “Let me do my own shows and put on artists that I like.” I was able to bring in a great crowd of people that wanted to watch music, listen to music and discover new music. And it would be all colors of the rainbow, all walks of life. It was inspiring to see people having a great time at a live event. And my experience has always been having a good time. That’s what I wanted to provide. And with First in Flight, we were able to do some really cool events and bring on other performers like Elevator Jay back in 2008.

On the barriers within Charlotte music:

Some of the biggest hurdles were just being able to find shows that were legitimate, that were promoted, organized and had a great crowd. Especially when it comes to hip-hop, the norm is that new acts have to “pay to play,” and I think it’s a terrible thing. And it’s a tough situation, but it’s out here. I never sought out a “pay to play” opportunity. It was either we’re not going to be paid and it’s going to be a promotional opportunity, or we’re going to be paid something.

But when you look around and you’re at the same showcase that another group or artist is at, and you’re like, “Dang, you’re telling me they paid that? And how much did they pay?” It’s a money grab for promoters because they know there’s not a lot of outlets for new artists, especially for the hip-hop and R&B side. These artists just want to be heard, they just want to be seen, and they just want to get their music out there… but they’re going to pay. Because they don’t know any other way, and they feel like they don’t have the value proposition to demand or request certain things.

On his start with BNR Records:

One of the members of First in Flight started a group called Pradigy GT. They were signed to an independent music label called BNR Records, which was originally a gospel/inspirational label with J Da Realest and Young Jules back then. But when they signed Pradigy GT, they moved into secular music and the mainstream realm. A few months into First in Flight being signed there, my friend [from First in Flight] set up a meeting with the owner of BNR and said, “I think you could help.”

On creating The Platform Music + Culture series of events:

When you look out there, access to information is key to success, and I was seeing that the folks that I talk to aren’t getting that communication and access to those things. The reason I created [the series] was to increase and enhance the music ecosystem of Charlotte and how you do that is by providing information.

I remember our first event for The Platform was about licensing and publishing. I had Cyanca on the panel and also Maronda "Lyric" T'Pring and super producer Krazy Figz. There were artists in the crowd who were taking notes and didn’t know that they needed to have this information.

MIND YOUR MEDIA | The Platform Music + Culture Series

Another highlight was that a few artists were able to be featured by Queen City Nerve as a result of our “Mind Your Media” panel. I had Emma Way, Ryan Pitkin and Jameka Whitten on the panel. Before that, there were no hits and no love. But when the artists came and were able to talk to the panel in person, they were able to get a write up just by being at the event. Those types of things are why I created The Platform. I want people to be in the same room as people they normally don’t have access to. I want to help raise the tides so that the ships can rise with it.

On the passion for promoting Charlotte music:

I moved to Charlotte from Detroit when I was young. I went to East Mecklenburg High School. I went to North Carolina A&T and came back. Charlotte is home. Although I was born in London and lived there for 10 years, Charlotte is home. I’ve seen the growth of Charlotte for the 21 (going on 22) years I’ve been here.

The economic mobility opportunities here are very low, especially for people of color and LMI communities. I want to be a conduit for information and a conduit to resources and funds to help people in the LMI communities. When it comes to music, the same things happen with economic mobility problems: that’s information, that’s access to capital and training. And the folks I talk to aren’t getting the grants, they’re not getting the information.

So there’s economic mobility issues in music here in Charlotte, and I want to help foster a new age and be a part of Charlotte becoming a music hub. Charlotte should be the new music hub of the Southeast. I want to be here when a major label or management company puts in office right here in Charlotte. I want to be here and celebrate at the ribbon cutting. The infrastructure is here. We just have to tap in.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

First in Flight - “Cam Newton & The Carolina Panthers Anthem”
Elevator Jay - “Sum’na Say”
Prodigy GT - “Refresh”
J Da Realest - “Da 3 Elements”
Brooke Hummel - “Beautiful”
Prodigy GT - “Let ‘em Know”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).