The Record Industry Says ‘Yes’ to Y.E.S.
When A&M; Records inaugurated the Y.E.S. (Youth Employment Summer) to Jobs minority program two years ago, many of the participating teens saw the introduction to the recording industry as a launching pad for performing careers.
“The assumption is that opportunities in the music industry for them was either going to be as artists or at a store selling records,” said Linda Baldwin, director of the Riordan Program at Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA, which helps recruit some of the Y.E.S to Jobs participants.
But at the recent orientation meeting for the 70 students who will be holding summer internships in Los Angeles through Y.E.S to Jobs, the key question posed to a panel of record industry management-level figures was: How do we get your jobs?
The answer given by the panel: Do what you’re doing and don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working your way up.
It was not an answer that frightened or disappointed the questioner, Jai Cannon, 16, a student at Taft High School.
“It really doesn’t scare me,” Cannon said later of the prospect of having to start in the mail room before getting to the executive suites. “I’d sacrifice a couple years to get to the top.”
That’s just one manifestation of the maturity and growth of Y.E.S. to Jobs, which began in 1987 by placing 50 minority students in internships at 25 record companies in four cities and this year has 200 teens in 75 companies in 14 cities.
This year, the Y.E.S. rookies also got to meet some of the past participants who stepped straight from the Y.E.S. program to real jobs in the industry.
Derrick Wade, 18, interned in A&M;'s promotion department in 1987 and at radio station KGFJ-AM in 1988 through Y.E.S. and now works for the Original Sound Entertainment company, which licenses old songs for film and TV, while he studies music at Cal State Northridge.
“It wouldn’t have happened without Y.E.S.,” said Wade. “To get into the industry is so hard, but the program opened the door.”
Said the Riordan Program’s Baldwin, “The students who have come back have had their eyesopened as to other opportunities in marketing or advertising or related areas like publishing. This is a little different from the usual jobs minority teens get in retail clothing or fast food businesses. It puts them in a more professional environment.”
Even more than that, though, the potential effect on the industry--which has been taken to task over the past several years for its lack of minorities in management positions--is starting to be felt.
“The industry is getting something back much more quickly than we anticipated,” said Karen Kennedy, an A&M; product manager who serves as the director of the Y.E.S. to Jobs program. “From last year’s group (of about 100 teens), close to 20% were hired on at the end of the program either full or part time, most at the same companies they were at during the program.”
Kennedy named Y.E.S. alumni working in jobs ranging from an editorial assistant at a trade magazine to data processing at the Warner/Elektra/Atlantic (WEA) distribution group, which joined the program last year and has expanded this year to take more than 40 teens.
“People are going on to become part of the permanent staff,” she said. “One student from last year came up to me and said, ‘Karen, here, have my card.’ A Y.E.S. kid giving me her business card just a year after being in the program!”
It was WEA’s experiences with the program that attracted Warner Bros. Records personnel director Steve Baird to the program for the first time this year. Baird echoed the feelings of many of the corporate sponsors by stressing that he does not view Y.E.S. as a charity exercise.
“I look at it in two respects,” Baird said. “It gives high school students an opportunity to see the record industry from the inside. But it’s a good source of talent for us. I’m looking at it as an investment in our future.”
Said Kennedy, “This is not a program for low-income or disadvantaged kids.”
The recruiting is done through the state’s Employment Development Department, which contacts schools and minority youth programs such as Riordan and Upward Bound.
“The kids that meet A&M;'s guidelines are motivated,” said Lois Webb, the department’s employment program supervisor. “They must have at least a 2.5 grade-point average and be truly interested in the entertainment business.”
That was borne out at the Los Angeles orientation when 17-year-old Marisa Lianggamphai stunned the panel with a sophisticated question regarding the profit-loss structure of record releases. Lianggamphai, a recent graduate of the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies who will enroll as an English major at Wesleyan University in the fall, views Y.E.S. as a “testing ground” for her future.
“When I go to college, I’ll probably have to narrow my interests before I’m really ready to,” she said. “Someone suggested that I should try many things before that. The record industry seemed a good place to do that.”