Backline Cleveland Uses a Startup Mindset to Launch Musicians’ Careers

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How a program from Cincinnati’s gener8tor will give four artists $20,000 to follow their dreams

Musicians and entrepreneurs are rarely mentioned in the same sentence, but a new Cleveland organization is setting out to bring the two worlds together to help launch Ohio’s next great artists. Backline Cleveland is a new program backed by gener8tor, a startup accelerator with offices in Cincinnati and other cities across the Midwest. The program will give four musicians or bands a $20,000 grant and a 12-week accelerator program to help them pursue their dreams. It’s free to artists, and takes no residuals, royalties or revenue share. Cleveland artist, manager and promoter Sean Oatz is set to direct the program, which he believes fills an important hole.

“It’s a program the City of Cleveland really, really needed for artists and musicians,” said Oatz. “I’ve been here for five years, and in my work before Backline it amazes me that when artists I work with go through my process, it works every single time. They get the results that they want and need. But then they’re signed to me and there are strings attached. So for Backline to come with a program that gives the musicians a $20,000 grant so that they can fund their careers with no strings attached is just a godsend. It puts everything into play and puts all the right puzzle pieces together.”

The accelerator program includes three steps: create, connect and plan. In the create stage, artists are introduced to collaborators, studios, photographers and other industry experts who help them create their product. In the connect phase, Backline adds mentorship, resources and industry leaders who help connect artists with those who can launch their careers. Finally, in the plan phase, the Backline team works with each artist to plan out the next year of their career. The planned approach is one that Oatz sees potential in, and he expects the combination of music and startup experience to be productive.

“Entrepreneurs and musicians don’t get a chance to work together often, and gener8tor and Backline can bridge that gap,” he said. “That’s all we needed for these people to connect and work together. Both of these groups are creating a career out of their own passion and understanding, whether it’s a tech person or a musician. We’re going to get all these creative people in the same room and they’re going to have conversations and brainstorm. You’re going to get creative ideas and things are going to happen.”

The Backline program will take cues from launches in other areas, like Milwaukee and Detroit. It also takes a startup feel, with Backline hosting community workshops and office hours with Oatz. Along the way, musicians will have their music heard by industry leaders arranged by Backline. For gener8tor partner Abby Taubner, the fit is a natural one.

“Since 2012, gener8tor has been supporting entrepreneurs traditionally defined as startup founders and business owners,” said Taubner. “We realized our organization could have more impact if we extended the definition of entrepreneur to also include artists and musicians, and we’re thrilled to be able to do that with Cleveland artists through our Backline program. Based on the success we’ve seen with the program so far in Milwaukee and Detroit and the wealth of talent in Cleveland already, we know this program has huge potential and we can’t wait to get started.”

For Oatz, the Backline program is a way of creating a new generation of Cleveland stars. Unlike other popular figures in the city, Backline strives to launch the career of someone from northeast Ohio so that they can use their success to continue to grow the community. That community, he said, is the most important part of the program’s goals.

“Think about NBA players that come for a season,” said Oatz. “You pay them millions of dollars in contracts because they do good things for the city, but they mostly take that back home to their city when they leave. What we need in Cleveland are more stars and influencers right out of the city who are connected to the music industry. They become role models for kids and we see them on TV performing at big shows. We need more of that here, and that’s what Backline is providing. It’s a way to create more breakthrough artists that can be stars right here in the city.”

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