Takin’ It to the Streets: Urban Collective Brings Music Industry Dreams to At-Risk Youth


We all love stories about people pursuing their passion and making it big. In business, in professional sports, and in entertainment, we are fascinated to hear about how ordinary people took a chance, got an amazing opportunity, or had their talent recognized by an expert. American Idol is one of the most popular shows on TV, and now the U.S. is borrowing another music idea from the U.K. – Urban Collective, the youth project for the music industry. It is part community-based project, part reality TV concept, and part dream come true.

Started in 2004 by Harry Leckstein, founder of Freeport Entertainment, Urban Collective is aimed at giving primarily at-risk adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15-25 the chance at a short, intensive, practical education in the music industry.  The project is hosted in several different communities around the U.K. so as many kids as possible have the chance to participate.

Before each session begins, flyers posted around the neighborhood invite anyone playing, producing, or making music of any kind to audition. Over the course of three or four days, around 200 people compete for 30 spots. Then begins a week of intensive training in all parts of the music business by industry professionals. Next, the program moves into the studio to record original music, followed by live performances, and a collective CD for sale after a national PR campaign.

Through a shared love for music, participants form friendships and partnerships that last far longer than the eight-week collective. Urban Collective reports that participants display an increase in self esteem, a decrease of dependence on drugs and alcohol, and manage to create a bridge over the barriers of territoriality and gang bonds. Since its start, more than 500 young artists have worked together to produce several commercial albums, an acclaimed feature film, several documentaries, music videos, live shows and music industry showcases.

In 2011, Urban Collective is coming to America. And, of course, the plans for it are bigger, flashier, and have a broader reach. By 2015, American Urban Collective plans to be in 15 cities, having auditioned more than 30,000 aspiring artists, selecting 3,000 to participate, and ultimately placing 500 of the most talented into the music mainstream. A state-of-the-art recording studio will be built in each city to create a sustainable program that endures through each collective in the future, and maintains a mentoring base and job network to support graduates as they apply their new skills.

Although the U.S. version has glued on the glitter, added sparkle and over-the-top platform shoes, I hope Urban Collective isn’t twisted into such a commercial venture that the original idea gets lost in reality-TV mania. It would be a shame if the purity of a musical dream was sacrificed for the sensationalism of seeing young people fail (like the early, cringeworthy episodes of each American Idol season when the panel delights in humiliating contestants who don’t make the cut), and a desire to pursue a dream was twisted into the worst aspects of human nature where back-stabbing passes for competitiveness, and poor behavior is rewarded with more camera time.

Hopefully, Urban Collective will stay true to its community-program roots. We can only wait and see. Currently, the American Urban Collective is running a fundraising campaign on KickStarter, and calling for partners and investors.

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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