Music accelerator expands to give artists a voice in Cincinnati

At a time when COVID-19 makes each day’s events uncertain, many people are turning to a place of comfort — music.

“Music is who we are. It is how we breathe. It is how we live. It is what we work out to,” said Kick Lee, CEO and executive director of the Cincinnati Music Accelerator.

Lee has been working hard to make sure music has a permanent place to live in Cincinnati. The nonprofit accelerator started in 2017 with a grant from the Haile Foundation and People’s Liberty. It is also supported by Artswave. Last month, the accelerator opened up a new office in Over-the-Rhine where members can take classes and receive guidance on how to turn their music into a business. Lee said they want to eliminate the starving artist moniker.

“Our tag line is ‘working to end the cycle of starving artists,’” Lee said. “I still am a starving artist. You know it takes a starving artist to understand a starving artist, to fight for a starving artist.”

Singer Aprina Johnson understands.

“I’m just getting out here and performing, talking to more people, trying to get into more circles and make this a life thing, and not just a side thing,” she said.

You can spot Johnson singing at various Cincinnati events. She even sings regularly at the downtown Kroger store. It’s a hired job through the accelerator. She said, even in the midst of the coronavirus, she wants to share the gift of song. She calls herself the Martin Luther King of music.

“I’m intentionally writing songs, producing songs that are empowering people, educating people,” she said.

Johnson first started singing when she was 5, but started working on a professional career in 2013. But, recently, she lost her day job.

“Due to a budget cut, I was cut out,” Johnson said.

But Lee was one of her cheerleaders.

“He had been working with me and motivating me for years through music. And, he said, ‘You should do this because I think you should get serious about what you’re doing,’” Johnson said.

Lee believes there is a lot of undiscovered talent in Cincinnati and that the accelerator is already uncovering some musical stars. He plans to highlight more of them through a new recording studio the accelerator will open soon in Northside. It will also be a place where younger artists can learn.

“Our youth are active,” he said. “With all these platforms, TikTok and so forth.”

Lee also has plans to launch a new traveling performance venue this summer through the accelerator, assuming the coronavirus has calmed down by then. It’s a mobile stage that can spotlight performers in the accelerator and bring live music to neighborhoods. Walnut Hills will be the first stop.

“We’re really trying to build the vibrancy of our ecosystem, develop and help fuel the vitality of this community,” Lee said.

But Cincinnati’s music-makers are being hit hard by the current coronavirus health crisis. Since many musical artists work in the service industry, Lee said, many of their jobs are gone. He’s hoping to generate assistance for them with tips on how to live-stream performances and with an apparel fundraiser.

Johnson believes there’s a disconnect between music performers and music listeners.

“I don’t think we’re taken seriously as artists,” she said. “People buy music all the time. People use music every day. But they can’t make the connection between me being a person that does that for you every day, (and) it being a real job.”

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