By Press Release Submitted to Published Sep 07, 2018 at 4:30 PM

Backline, a grant and educational initiative designed to help Milwaukee-area musicians break out, has announced the four musical artists it has selected for its first 12-week accelerator program, which provides intensive music-industry mentorship and $20,000 grants.

The Backline artists selected for 2018 are:

  • Soul/pop artist Lex Allen
  • EDM producer Crystal Knives
  • Songwriter, singer and producer Abby Jeanne
  • Alternative hip-hop/rap artist Zed Kenzo.

"Among the many talented musicians who applied, these four stood out to the judges as being most ready to make huge leaps forward in their careers," Backline Program Director Mag Rodriguez said. "We have already begun helping guide them and connect them to the resources they need at this stage of their careers. Those in the music industry we’ve connected them with share our vision for these artists and see the huge potential for them to make their mark in the music world."

The artists were selected in late July and began working in the accelerator Aug. 3. Background on the artists is at

Backline received 340 applications from Milwaukee area musicians, bands and producers for the 2018 summer accelerator. As part of the rigorous evaluation process, 20 of the artists were brought into recording studios to produce music in small groups.

Five nationally recognized music-industry professionals from outside of Milwaukee interviewed the finalists and selected the artists invited into the accelerator. The judges were:

  • Lucas Keller, president and founder of Milk & Honey artist management agency
  • Jim McGuinn, program director of Minneapolis’ The Current radio station
  • Chad "C-Note" Roper, a Grammy-nominated vocal producer, songwriter and engineer
  • James Supreme, manager and A&R with Universal Music Publishing Group
  • Jessica Weber, owner and founder of co-sign, an artist development agency specializing in radio promotion and licensing

The accelerator consists of "create," "connect" and "plan" phases. During the "create" phase now underway, musicians have been spending time in studios to create music and develop their projects. Musicians have gone to Chicago, Los Angeles and London as part of this process and have worked with studios locally. During "connect," artists will be introduced to mentors and industry experts locally and nationally. The "plan" phase helps artists develop a 12-month plan to further their careers and equip them with tools to navigate the music industry.

Backline is providing artists with $20,000 each to boost their careers, with use of funding determined by the artists and Backline. They are also receiving services, such as financial counseling and personal training, aimed at holistically preparing the artists with life skills to succeed as musicians.

The 2018 accelerator culminates with a showcase performance by the four artists 7-10 p.m. on Nov. 16 at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee’s performance space. Those interested in attending can sign up for the Backline mailing list at to be among the first to know when tickets are available. All funds from ticket purchases will go directly to the artists performing.

Rodriguez said the high number and quality of applications confirms that Milwaukee is home to many extremely talented musicians. He said that Backline would provide assistance to other applicants and Milwaukee musicians through its free workshops and one-on-one meetings with staff. Two additional accelerator sessions are slated for 2019.

The next free quarterly workshop takes place noon to 3 p.m. this Saturday. It focuses on production and songwriting and features nationally acclaimed producer Bizness Boi and songwriter Rush Davis at the 88Nine Radio Milwaukee performance space. More information and free registration is at

88Nine Radio Milwaukee and gener8tor developed Backline to help Milwaukee musicians succeed, improve Milwaukee’s recognition as one of the country’s most vibrant music cities and assist companies in attracting the young employees they need. More information on Backline is available at

Backline is funded by organizations including Northwestern Mutual, Novo Foundation, Herb Kohl Philanthropies, Maihaugen Foundation, Maier Family Foundation, Majic Productions, Manpower, Quarles & Brady, Summerfest, VISIT Milwaukee and New Resources Companies. Individual donors include Lynde Uihlein, Sarah and Steve Zimmerman, Christie and Bill Krugler, Kyle and Ruthie Weatherly, John and Brigid Miller, Kate Wilson, John Crouch, Kelly Fitzsimmons, Gary Reynolds, Ross and Angela Williams, Josh and Sandi Adams, Ignacio and Susan Catral, Juli Kaufmann, Barbara Klein, C.J. and Julie Krawczyk, Maggey Oplinger, Patrick Guarasci, Eric Resch and Melissa Perez, Jeff Rusinow, Lacey Sadoff and Andrew and Margaret Krei. Bentoff Communications, Cascio Interstate Music, Hal Leonard Corporation, Tranfer Pizzeria and Cafe, the Kinn Guesthouse MKE and Wire & Vice are providing in-kind support. Backline is seeking additional donors and corporate partners.