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Program Serving Young St. Louis Musicians Wins Contest For Innovative Startups

Dreya Denise
Captivating Momentz
(L-R) Guitarist Jared Cattoor, drummer Jeremiah Long and bassist Elijah Neeley play during a jam session at Urb Arts facilitated by Soul Shed University.

Soul Shed University, a program for early-career musicians, has won Arts & Education Council’s annual stARTup Creative Competition.

The award for innovative startups in the arts sector includes $20,000, a year of rent-free office space and organizational support from the Arts & Education Council.

Soul Shed University Founder JerMarco Britton said it's easier than ever for young artists to record and share their music, but many lack mentorship from experienced musicians who could show them the ropes of the business.

“We have so much access to become independent artists that everybody’s kind of just jumping in the pool,” said Britton, 28. “But nobody’s been properly prepared to navigate the waters.”

The program grew out of a monthly jam session for young musicians at Urb Arts, in the Old North neighborhood of St. Louis, in 2018. Musicians ages 18 to 24 are eligible to participate. Tuition is $500, and scholarships are available.

The second cohort of students began the program in January. Since the onset of the pandemic, classes have moved online. Three students are enrolled this year, though Britton said he can accommodate up to 10, and walk-in participation is available as well.

Classes span a wide range of topics relevant to the working musician, taught by guest faculty culled from the local and regional music world. The curriculum includes ear training, marketing, physical fitness and the practicalities of touring as an independent artist. Among the guest instructors are keyboardist Mo Egeston, producer Timothy McGimpsey, vocalist Drea Vocalz and saxophonist Carlos Brown Jr.

Dreya Denise
Captivating Momentz
Vocalist Drea Vocals and keyboardist Antonio Foster perform during a Soul Shed University event.

“If you’re going to take the path of being an independent musician, you need to cover all bases,” said Britton, also a songwriter and vocalist. “You need to know about the music business, you need to know about music education, you need to know how to perform on the stage, you need to know how to take care of yourself.”

Britton said he’ll use some of the prize money to purchase instruments for the program and pay for some individual music lessons.

“What’s wonderful about Soul Shed University is that whole picture of not only improving their craft but making a business out of it, and making money,” said contest judge Sheila Sheila Burkett of Spry Digital. “It’s really a startup helping other startups.”

This is the fourth year the Arts & Education Council has held the stART Up Creative Competition, which is awarded to either one or two organizations. Previous winners include St. Louis-based Black Tulip Chorale, Shayba Muhammad’s The Makers Program and the Who Raised You? Listening Collective.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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