Small Biz Superstar: Make Music Nashville

Matthew Fox, President of Make Music Nashville, shares insights on what the organization does in the community, and why every entrepreneur should keep equality as a priority.

1.    Why did you launch Make Music Nashville?

Make Music Nashville was started by a team of four people (Alan Fey, Dillon Minacci, Jesse Strauss and myself) after realizing Nashville did not have an official group organizing its efforts surrounding World Music Day – an international event that more than 700 cities celebrate every June 21). Dillon and I were working to organize the event without knowing that Alan and Jesse were doing the same thing from their end. Fortunately, the organizers of Make Music New York connected us together, and the rest is history!

Our goal for that first year was to have four bands perform in the parking lot of Yazoo Brewing Company. In less than five years, our June 21 event has grown to 150 musicians playing across 38 locations, and we gave away more than 1,300 instruments and 1,000 music lessons – all free to the public during a single day. The response has been amazing, and our stellar volunteer team works year-round to keep up with the organization’s growth.

2.    What has been your proudest moment thus far in your organization?

While we have now organized hundreds of concerts, jams and lessons throughout the region, one of my all-time favorite moments was seeing this rock star get up and freestyle during a performance we presented at Fisk University’s Mini-College in 2017. The size and scope of our June 21 event often keeps our heads in event-planning mode, and this kid’s energy and performance is the perfect reminder of why we do this whole thing in the first place.

3.    What was the first business you ever started?

In 2014 (the same year we founded MMN) I started a marketing/PR company called Fox in a Box Marketing & PR. I get to work with a number of amazing non-profits, musicians and small businesses and I love it. This company continues to be my “real life” job and is what keeps me stable enough to devote time and energy to MMN.

4.    What do you do to invest in our Nashville community?

Nashville’s creative economy is a thriving part of our city, but still lacks an even platform for musicians and outlets for those who struggle with perceived barriers to perform. MMN’s focus is to break down the walls that separate artists from audiences and audiences from exploring music. Through our June 21st festival, MMN provides a day of equitable performance opportunities for musicians of all genres, abilities and backgrounds - as well as facilitates lessons and music making experiences for the entire region, all completely free to the public

Beyond working with Make Music Nashville, I am on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee for Nashville Arts Coalition, which advocates for public policy and public funding that supports a healthy arts ecology in Nashville. I am also a student mentor for tnAchieves, a meal deliverer for FiftyForward's Meals on Wheels and a proud member of the Nashville Area Beekeepers Association. I also am in training to be a volunteer at Glencliff High School's student garden and am excited to dig into that project throughout this summer!

5.    What advice do you have for fellow Nashpreneurs?

Beyond the normal truisms (work hard, embrace failure, etc.), I’d say keeping equity and inclusivity at the heart of entrepreneurism is necessary to guide Nashville in a sustainable direction. Our city is in a huge growth period, which can be a convenient time to forget about these values in favor of personal and professional progress. Remain aware and vigilant of the influence you have and check yourself on occasion to see if you’re using that influence to bring authentic voice, agency and value to the community around you.

6.    Why do you think the Nashville region is a great place to be a small business?

MMN relies heavily on community partners to accomplish our mission and goals as an organization, and this has been made possible time and time again due to Nashville’s collaborative spirit. Our grassroots non-profit has been given countless opportunities to work alongside some of the best institutions in the region, and that’s not something I think you’ll find in most cities. There’s an urge and willingness to work together in Nashville to create, and the next exciting collaboration is always just a phone call away.

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