The worst thing that someone can ever tell you is "no." With that being said, fuck that. No stands for "New Opportunity." Keep asking. It takes a lot of time to convince people to use their time for your benefit.
Lindsey and I met last summer on Vans Warped Tour while I was shooting content for Alternative Press Magazine and she was doing multiple things for Watsky, a spoken-word, hip-hop artist. I admire Lindsey so much because of the unconventional way she works. She has a "take-no-prisoners," no bullshit, authentic way of operating her business, which you'll discover in this episode. As a chick in the industry, Lindsey more than holds her own when dick heads challenge her work or authority.
Lindsey Lerner, Founder of Level Exchange in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, started out as an Global Studies Major at Bryant University. During her time at Bryant University, Lerner studied abroad in Chile, where she met a fellow student, a musician, who shared her love of other cultures and experiences. Despite a language barrier, Lerner’s respect for the Chilean culture instilled in her a desire to bridge the cultural gap - which she did through booking her musician friend local gigs. Through this experience she came to the realization that music was a universal language boundless by race, country or religion, and Lerner’s interest in artist booking and band booking was born.
In this episode of Project Freelance, Lindsey and I discuss what it's like to be not only women in the music industry, but also as members of the LGBTQ+ community. We are in no way saying that women deserve to be pittied for any reason want to make it clear that regardless, what people think a man or woman is doing, because, frankly, we just don't give a shit. Lindsey does a lot of work with Women in Music, a non-profit organization with a mission to advance the awareness, equality, diversity, heritage, opportunities, and cultural aspects of women in the musical arts through education, support, empowerment," and recognition. who holds events in Boston, New York, and LA, to bring awareness that women constantly get overlooked for many opportunities.
After she returned, Lerner was met with the harsh realities of the music business - from pay to play policies, contractual imbalances, and other realities that face the DIY artist. It was an eye opener for Lerner who hadn’t experienced such an uneven playing field during her time in Chile. Once Lerner started vocalizing her discontent with the way things were ran within the music industry, at the expense of the artists and to the benefit of larger institutions, her message resonated with artists. Resolute to champion her “Artist First” message, she started throwing showcases and attracting artists to her native home of Rhode Island. Resolute in her mission to put the artist first and simultaneously elevate her home of Rhode Island as a musical epicenter, her next step in achieving her goal was to establish herself as a budding artist booker and entrepreneur.
During her senior year of college Lerner won Bryant University’s New Venture Competition and through the proceeds was able to put into action her business plan for growing a local music scene in Rhode Island to help both artists locally, and touring artists, to increase their exposure. Her business plan stemmed from taking Rhode Island’s renown food and culture establishments, leveraging them to lift artist’s exposure by using music as a vehicle to merge the worlds of food, music, and culture. The idea was like a cultural tinder where venues and restaurants would be matched with an music act-Lerner’s goal being to book music gigs at all varieties of local Rhode Island venues, bringing exposure to both the artist as well as a new demographic of consumers at local Rhode Island businesses.
At the top of 2015, Lerner founded Level Exchange – her mission based around the belief that musicians and performing artists deserve to get paid fair wages for the service that they provide for people, to level the playing field between artists and consumers. Her goal being to eradicate the common practice of robbing the artist to the benefit of the system, and ultimately serve as a vehicle by which to elevate great artists. Having barely tossed off her graduation cap and gown, Lerner quickly activated her ideas into reality with a group of likeminded music lovers by producing the company’s first “Fair Trade Artist Showcase” at The Met in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Her event was a hit, attracting and featuring an array of artists and diverse bands.
While in the early stages of building Level Exchange Lerner admired the work and management of genre dividing artist Watsky. After ardently pursuing Watsky’s manager Kevin Morrow (founder of Steel Wool Entertainment, former president of Live Nation, and SVP of Artists & Touring at House of Blues) she connected with Morrow on the phone and spoke to him about her aspirations to manage and book acts. The two stayed in touch, and a few months later Watsky announced a show in the nearby city of Boston. Determined to make an in-person introduction with Kevin, Lerner managed to maneuver her way into Watsky’s show, and after seeing her hutzpah, enthusiasm for the indie DIY scene, and ‘no task to small attitude’ toward her work with local artists in RI, Morrow called a few months later in 2016 and asked Lerner if she’d like to join Watsky’s team as a consultant and creative director. Lerner jumped at the chance and began juggling growing her own entrepreneurial endeavors in Rhode Island while balancing bringing to reality ambitious creative requests from Watsky - a challenge she met head on.
In fall 2016 Level Exchanges mission of bringing bands, brands, and fans came together in full swing, the company throwing popup shows and showcases monthly. Not long after news broke that a new craft beer cooperative, The Guild, was moving to town, Lerner saw similarities in The Guild’s and LX’s respective missions - hers being to provide resources for musicians and theirs being to do the same for craft brewers. Lerner also noted a lack of streamlined opportunities for local creatives seeking to find a more permanent fixed residence to resolve this issue and build upon her company’s work - she knew that The Guild was that place. Lerner called The Guild pitching the idea that their space would be the perfect place to help her book her own curated artist series out of their venue, while mutually capitalize off of the collaboration, hoping to align their goals to help one another. Showing the same ‘never take no for an answer’ attitude and infectious enthusiasm for expanding her company’s vision, Lerner signed the papers in spring 2017 to have Level Exchange cultivate, book, and activate LX’s first curated artist series “Level Exchange’s Live At the Guild Series,” featuring more than 30 artists and bands - bringing to reality Lerner’s dreams of being able to ideate and execute her showcases from start to finish with a full team of local rotating photographers, sound engineers, artist bookers, and graphic designers at a permanent residency featuring local acts.
During the summer of 2017 – Lerner’s hard work paid off again when Morrow came calling and presented her with an opportunity to learn another side of the business: Road Management, asking Lindsey to add to her existing role with Steel Wool, and join Watsky & Futuristic’s team spearheading road management during their Summer 2017 festival tour. This grueling, seven week, traveling music festival was also Lindsey's first tour, which, that alone, is enough to send chills down even touring veterans. In this episode you will hear her recap of what that experience was like and how she survived the seven week tour.
We then dive into the mental health aspect of touring, with a special segment about the day that Linkin Park's singer Chester Bennington was found dead by his own hands (it breaks my fucking heart to type that). Lindsey and I were both on Warped Tour that day, and Watsky had been with Chester only days prior. The impact of Chester's death shook the music world, especially among those in the "Warped Tour Scene," because so many of us have been so greatly influenced by Chester and Linkin Park. Lindsey talks about helping her artists cope with hard times and mental health struggles on the road.
In the touring world, it's important to realise that you are more valuable to a band if you have more than one skill to offer. Lindsey explains why this is so important and how she often takes on many more roles than what she is asked to do. Her experience on the road added an additional dynamic to her already diverse roster of talents. She and I will share with you just how important it is to make yourself an asset on the road if you want to STAY on the road.
Lerner has taken her expertise on tour, and has spoken on various panels about her industry experiences at the following institutions Brown University, Berklee College of Music, Bryant University, Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island School of Design, 1 Million Cups, Leadership RI and Millennial Professionals Group of Rhode. In less than two years since Level Exchange’s inception, the LX team has actively booked over 60 local and national artist showcases ranging from, but not limited to: Watsky, Futuristic, Mike Maven, Katie Kleyla, Le Roxy Pro, Shannon Cory, Vox Hunters, and Camila Recchio.
Next on the horizon for Level Exchange is building out her space at The Guild and expanding her team’s talents by creating a new media driven division - a live interactive digital platform. Seeing an exodus of local creatives to nearby larger metropolitan cities, Lerner strives to create a central platform of opportunity to feature, highlight, generate jobs, and provide exposure for all local R.I. content creators from music artists, journalists, studio engineers, photographers, graphic designers, and more.
If you want to hear how to tour successfully, full time, travel the world, or if you're curious about how it really is to live life on the road, check this episode out. From persistence to sneaking into shows, to landing dream jobs, Lindsey has quite the story!
Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your amazing unorthodox methods. I'll see you at a show, girl!
You can catch Lindsey at Level Exchange, any Women in Music conference, or any of Watsky's shows. Feel free to pick her brain! If you'd like to keep up with her, please please do!
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