Senior Charissa Mrowka remembers the email that introduced her to the Trevecca School of Music and Worship Art’s Artist Development Incubator program. The program would take Mrowka on a journey of discovery and growth as an artist, all while learning about the music industry.
“I know what I have to do, so now it is just a matter of executing it and continuing to have a frame of mind open to learning and growing,” Mrowka said. “I can’t get comfortable with where I am and what I have done in the past.”
John Thompson, associate dean of the School of Music and Worship Arts, created the innovative program in fall 2016. The concept behind the artist development program is straightforward: to work with a young musician, shaping and honing his or her raw talent to help develop the artist’s brand. Mrowka was one of the first students to participate in the yearlong program and presented her showcase early in the Fall 2017 semester. Junior Madyson Williams is the next candidate, entering the program earlier this fall.
Thompson says he developed the idea while reflecting on his experience working in artist development at Capitol Records. He thought the idea was worth looking into, so he pitched the concept to Dr. David Diehl and a few other faculty members.
“I just had the idea and my grandpa said, ‘You run the idea up the flagpole and see who salutes,’” Thompson said. “So, I just shared the idea with Dr. Diehl, and he said, ‘Hey, let’s have a conversation with this slightly wider circle.’”
The circle included Dean Diehl, Dr. Wilson, Dr. Green, and other music faculty.
Students must be selected to participate in the development program through an application and audition process. Once in the program, the young artists will have the luxury of meeting music industry leaders, something that can be difficult for a student to do on his or her own.
“The student who goes through the process gets to sit down with industry leaders at record labels, music publishers, producers, songwriters, booking agents and managers,” Thompson said. “That’s six different types of professionals that they would have a hard time getting to meet with on their own.”
Thompson says the program is geared toward a particular type of student, generally an upperclassman who has already developed an understanding of who he or she is as an artist.
“We are looking for a student who already has a fairly strong sense of who they are as an artist and some kind of vision for where they’re going with their work,” Thompson said. “Someone who has demonstrated to either me or another faculty that they’re teachable and hardworking—that they are going to take advantage of this opportunity because it is an opportunity.”
That’s a decision that current artist Madyson Williams understood when she applied.
“I knew that [Thompson] was being strategic about when he was picking people because he picked older students before me because they didn’t have much time left,” Williams said. “So, he is kind of waiting for the right time to pick certain people.”
Mrowka agrees—and says that future candidates should expect to be pushed outside of their comfort zones.
“Be humble and ready to learn,” Mrowka cautioned. “Don’t enter the program expecting to be patted on the back and told how great you are. This process is about learning and growing. It is about being stretched and being able to take instruction and apply it to what you’re doing. It may require you to try writing in ways you never have before, and it may require you to take critique.”
“This program isn’t the end all be all; it isn’t meeting people and becoming famous overnight because you met with a producer,” she continued. “It’s about absorbing all the wisdom you can from those you get the privilege to meet with and being open enough to at least try applying it to what you’re doing. Take the opportunity to try something new and get out of your comfort zone. It’s an awesome process.”
Even though only one student is chosen for the program each year, Thompson hopes to provide ample opportunities for the candidates to share what they’ve learned with the Trevecca community.
“The other aspect is the student going through the process delivers some wisdom, input and ideas that they’re picking up from their meetings,” Thompson said. “So, we have a couple of meetings in the classroom were Charissa will sit and talk about what she has learned, then that will benefit the larger group at Trevecca.”
Williams says the program has allowed her to learn more from professionals in the music industry. Hearing their stories has given her insight about following her own passion.
“It’s really interesting seeing some of the people I met and hearing their stories about how they got into music,” Williams said. “It’s kind of crazy that everyone’s story is different, and it goes to show if you feel like you’re led to do music, and you feel like it’s what God has called you to do, then it’s definitely something you should pursue.”
For Mrowka, the most important piece of advice new candidates need to heed is to have an open mind.
“The process is different for everyone and different things will jump out at different people,” she said.
Throughout the year, Williams will take part in meetings with industry professionals, working with producers, writing new music, and planning her showcase.
Applications for the Artist Development Program are open with submissions ending on December 1st. The next candidate will be announced before Christmas break.