Music industry major Katalina Garber shares a first-hand account of planning and executing a night of networking with USC Thornton alumni that promoted mental health and wellness.
Blue ambient lights, upbeat music and a cacophony of conversations filled the Trojan Grand Ballroom on Nov. 3 as 118 USC Thornton Music Industry program students and alumni gathered together for Sound & Soul Networking Night, an event organized by the MUIN 496: Music Media Solutions class with the help of our instructor, Kevin Lyman.
The event featured a performance by music industry student Megan Winsor, mental health and wellness tables, an evening of networking and a conversation about mental health between Thornton alum and MusiCares employee Hannah Kulis and Richard Wolf, a faculty member in the music industry program.
The Planning Process
As with many performances that have occurred over this past couple semesters, putting together this event came with its own challenges due to the continued changes in COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Each year, the Music Media Solutions class works together to plan an event that addresses a specific topic within the Thornton community. During the first year that Kevin — he tells us we don’t need to call him Professor Lyman — taught this class, the students put on the 320 Festival, and last year, another group hosted two virtual networking symposiums.
When our class sat down in August 2021, we decided that we wanted to do something involving networking with Thornton alumni and mental health. What we didn’t know was whether we could host an event in person or if we’d have to pivot to something virtual.
“This year, we came into the semester in a crossover spot. We were hoping not to be online, but we weren’t quite sure, so it took us a few weeks to get comfortable,” Kevin told me. “The students had to figure out how we were going to run this safe event with all of the different protocols that we had to follow, and I think we came up with a nice hybrid. We addressed a little bit of the mental health issues that have been facing so many people on campus but also created something that focuses on the alumni.”
Once we were given permission to have an in-person event, the next step was to find a venue. It took us about a month, but we eventually settled on the Trojan Grand Ballroom.
From this point on, it was all hands on deck. For the alumni outreach, we started by compiling a list of personal connections we all had, and then we sent out email invitations. In our emails, we asked each person to suggest a few alumni they knew who might be interested in participating in the event. Through this process, we were able to get 17 alumni to attend.
The mental health and wellness team reached out to multiple organizations to put together booths that students could visit throughout the evening to learn more about mental health and wellness in the music industry. The student team was able to get representatives from the Living the Dream Foundation, Wisdomania Fest, USC Mental Health Services and MusiCares. One of the students on the marketing team, Alethea Freidberg, was also able to invite two members of She Is the Music to set up a table at the event.
About a week and a half before the event, we launched our marketing campaign and spread the word about the event through social media posts, word of mouth, flyers and class visits.
Making New Connections
When the day of Sound & Soul finally arrived, we didn’t know what to expect. We kicked off the event with a performance from Megan Winsor and then launched into the networking portion of the evening. During this time, students were free to wander around where they liked and choose a seat at various tables with the alumni.
“I met a lot of knowledgeable people. Everyone was really open about sharing their path and how they achieved success. It gave me hope for the future of my career,” said Zoey Boyd, a freshman in the Thornton Music Industry program.
“It truly was surreal being on the other side of a networking event,” music industry alum Mitchell Alcoser (‘21) told me. “The music industry students are always so bright, so getting to have mature and educated dialogue about the future was exciting.”
We wanted to have as many facets of the industry represented as possible so that students could be exposed to all of the different kinds of jobs there are.
“Sometimes, in our program, we get focused on the jobs of being a manager, tour manager or producer. My friend Becca Clemmons was there for data analytics, and talking with her made people realize that there are other routes that they can take in this industry,” said Paris Watson (‘21), an alumnus of the music industry program.
After the networking portion, Richard Wolf and his former student Hannah Kulis hosted a short conversation about mental health and wellness in the music industry.
“I loved the mental health aspect of the event and how it was talked about so openly and positively. Especially after being on the road, I understand the importance of self-care and instilling those habits early versus kids not hearing about it until they’re in too deep,” Watson told me.
Looking to the future
As a team, we were very happy with how the event turned out, and Kevin said that it was “the biggest gathering of music industry program alumni” that he’d seen during his time at Thornton.
The overall feedback that we gathered from people was positive, and many of them asked if there’d be a similar event in the future. Since our class only lasts one semester, we wouldn’t be able to arrange something ourselves, but we did outline our planning process so that another group can make this an annual occasion.
“I hope that we can do this again, and to be honest, it should grow into an annual thing. The students who are in this class could be working in a year or two out in the market and they may want to come back to be part of this,” Lyman told me.