The Grammy Awards is an event we all look forward to. We get to see our favorite performers take the stage and give us an electrifying performance and walk the red carpet with style and grace. While this year’s Grammy Awards was held in Los Angeles, The Recording Academy is not just limited to the West Coast. The Recording Academy has a D.C. chapter, and I had the chance to speak with Executive Director of the DC Chapter, Jeriel Johnson about an Inaugural Block Party being held this evening. We discussed the Recording Academy, the musical guests, and the block party itself.
This is the first Block Party by the Recording Academy DC Chapter. What made you decide to throw one this year?
You know, we’ve been trying to establish a type of event for members to come out and celebrate one another, experience some great music and have an overall great time so, it’s a franchise, the Recording Academy, already has in place. You know, there’s a Texas chapter block party for many years. There’s been a national chapter block party as well. So, we’re trying to figure out what can we do for our members and our chapter that would be meaningful? Something that we could repeat year over year. We thought it best to create a block party that brings together the wide scope of our chapter, which covers Maryland, DC and Virginia, and West Virginia as well.
Well, that sounds great. I know people are looking forward to this block party. It sounds like an amazing event.
Absolutely, yeah. Our members are really excited about it, and I think the artists are excited to be a part of it. The artist teams have been really great to work with. There are some exciting and incredible sponsors who have come alongside us to support the event as well. So, we’re looking forward to a great evening tomorrow night.
That sounds wonderful. Can you tell us about the talent coming to the party? I hear there will be a special appearance by the DMV’s own Wale and go-go band Rare Essence.
Yeah, absolutely. So, the lineup includes artists that are from, currently living, or have strong ties to DC, Maryland, and Virginia. And so, we have the great group, Makuta; we have an awesome rock artist. Her name is Angelica Garcia. We have Motown recording artist Chaz French; we have Kevin Ross, also from DC; and definitely, we have the legendary go-go band, Rare Essence. And closing out the night, we have Atlantic recording artist DRAM, who’s also from Virginia as well. And then, of course, we have Maryland’s own Joe Clair’s going to be our host. Yeah, we have a couple of surprises up our sleeve, and I can’t confirm that Wale is supposed to make an appearance and attend the event as well.
For those who have never heard of the DC Chapter of the Recording Academy, can you tell us about it?
Sure. So, the Recording Academy, we are the premier organization that supports music creators, from songwriters, producers, artists, engineers; also music intermediaries, executives, publicists, attorneys, managers, etc. And we are most notably known for the Grammy Awards. So, the Academy is the parent company and the Grammys sort of fall under that umbrella, so we have, the Academy overall there’s over 22,000 members. We have a little over 13,000 voting members, and so those members—the voting members are who decide the Grammy Awards.
The local chapter level, we focus on creating professional development programs for music business professionals. You know, music professionals and so we do vocal health clinics or panels for specific industry topics, or we’ll create programming around the latest advancements in production technology and all sorts of things that will help enhance and support the careers of music professionals.
Will this be the first of future membership events to come?
Oh, yeah. This is the first of the DC Chapter block party. It’s certainly the first one. We certainly plan to have…we have a lot of events throughout the year. A lot of different programs, and we’re constantly looking to create innovative programming that’s exciting for our members. We’ve partnered with the board. We have a Board of Governors, comprised of the very top music professionals in our area, and so we are always strategizing and thinking of ways that we can connect with the community; whether it’s through our advocacy efforts and supporting creators and their rights, or some of the aforementioned programming like panels and discussions and even listening sessions and different things along those lines. So, we program 365 days a year. The one thing that the Academy’s most known for is the Grammy Awards. But those 364 other days, we are the biggest board of music creators in the world.
Until recently, I didn’t know there were multiple chapters of the Recording Academy, or that DC had a chapter.
Yeah, there are twelve chapters. We cover the full country. We also have a lot of members who live in other parts of the world. They’ll facilitate with whatever chapter makes more sense for them. We do know that music is being created everywhere so we’re proud to be able to represent in that way and be an organization that is the premier organization where these music professionals feel like they can align themselves and grow and networks and connect with their peers and keeps the music ecosystem alive.
What do you do as the Executive Director of the DC Chapter?
My role is really to oversee all of the affairs of the chapter and manage our programming slate and also I work with our Board of Governors and Executive committee and come up with the ways we’re going to support our chapter members. We’re also looking for our brightest stars and talent in our area. My role is really to just serve the community; to be here and come up with ideas for our programs.
I have a really great team and partner, Sharon Ingram. She’s our membership and project manager for our chapter. So, her focus is really on membership and then really, execution of a lot of our programs. So, between Sharon and myself, we also have a Grammy U rep. Grammy U is a program focused on students who wish to pursue a career in music, and so the Grammy U ambassadors at the different campuses in the universities in our area.
And then when we have a chapter intern who helps out with a lot of administrative support in a lot of other ways as well. So ultimately, my role is kind of to manage my team and then to work very closely with the board on all of our initiatives, most that come down from national level, the Academy as a whole but then going down, trying to figure out our particular market, which is very unique.
Have there been many Recording Academy events in the DMV?
Absolutely, yeah. We recently had a panel called, “The Music Business and Family,” and it was a conversation about how music professionals—whether you’re on the creative side, you’re on the business side, whether you’re an artist or an attorney—how you navigate a career in our hectic industry while having a family. So, maybe you have to be in the studio tonight until two am; tomorrow morning, your son or daughter as a T-ball game. You have to go on the road on tour, but you have a family reunion that you have to also attend. How do you navigate that, and how do you resolve that and figure out how to best manage your time as a music professional? And I also feel like there is no one way.
There is no one path. Everyone’s journey is different into the industry, and then everyone’s journey into having a family is different as well. And so, it really…it’s a conversation we felt was very important to have, given many people in the industry do have families as well. I think it’s something that we all deal with. Maybe your spouses need a break; maybe your partner is just tired. You’ve been out all night at an event.
There’s a lot of social demands and things of that nature, so where’s the balance? We had a really great lineup at the panel including 9th Wonder, Melanie Fiona. We had top attorney, Monika Tashman, we had a Grammy-nominated engineer named Daniel Shores. We had a woman who is a family therapist, who was apart of this important conversation as well, named Maura Roll. And it was just a dynamic of transparent conversation as well. I really appreciate how transparent the panelists were, and so we invited our members to come out and they came out and I think the Q&A was really great.
We had the opportunity to ask personal questions and questioned that were considerate to their lives and then really get the feedback from our panelists, again who we would ultimately all find out that we’re all trying to figure it out. We’re all trying to figure out how to live our best lives. One of the things that came out of it was self-care. So if you are so focused on your career and then you’re also focused on trying to be a great parent, where is the time for yourself? What are you left with at the end of the day? So, I think for me, my soft spot is the intersection of art and life. You’re really trying to create programs that tell a story, but also, you bring those pros together. Not only are we creatives, but we’re also human beings too, so how can our music and careers inform our lives and vice versa?
I like how you mentioned self-care. That’s something that resonates with me.
Yeah, it’s life. We all are striving and trying to do the best we can in this world, and so whether as a professional or as a family person, you want to give your best at all times. So with that, sometimes we forget about ourselves, and I think that’s a bigger conversation,obviously that goes beyond the music industry, but I think for the purposes of that particular program that we had a few weeks ago, we just wanted to make sure our members know that 1) you’re not alone in trying to figure this out. Whatever level you’re at, whether you’re a Grammy Award-winning artist like Melanie Fiona where you’re really just hitting your wave, establishing yourself in the industry, we’re all in need of support. We can all use some advice and some best practices and we can all learn something from each other.
If anyone wants to join the DC Chapter, how can they?
We have membership criteria that you must meet. There’s a threshold, in terms of credits that we’re looking for. You can apply for the Academy membership. Once you submit all your materials, there’s a peer review committee that meets once a year to figure out who’s going to be that next class of Recording Academy members. Once they decide that, they send out invitations and you can be invited to become a member of the Academy. And so, our membership, we accept members once a year, but all throughout the year, you can be preparing to submit your materials. We can help you through that process.
Tonight will be the very first Recording Academy Block Party, so get ready to celebrate with the best of the best the DC, Maryland and Virginia area has to offer. The event will be held at the City Winery in Washington, D.C. at 7:00 pm. Congratulations to The Recording Academy on your first block party!