April 28, 2007 – New York City – Apollo Theater

Students and tv/film production hopefuls stood in line at 9 a.m. this morning to attend the
City of New York Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting second annual Careers in Television Event. Film Office Commissioner Katherine Oliver moderated the program. The esteemed panelists included Darlise Blount, associate producer of BET’s “106 & Park;” Melanie Byrd, production manager of the Food Network; Richard Martin, founder and president of Drum Television Network, Inc., David Puente, creator and anchor of EXCLUSIVA for ABC News Now and Yvette Vega, executive producer for PBS’ “Charlie Rose.”

The show kicked off with an intimate interview with Sway, creator and co-host of “The Wake Up Show” billed on their website as “the most listened to hip-hop radio show on the planet.” Sway and co-creator/partner King Tech started their program from Sway’s room in his mom’s house in Oakland, CA. 11 years later he and Tech continue to host the groundbreaking program, but is also a part of the MTV News Team.

Like many of the aspiring artists in the audience, Sway started from humble beginnings. The youngest of three in a single parent home, Sway did everything he could to see that his dream of giving a voice to the underground hip hop masses would become a reality. Washing dishes, making deliveries for UPS, delivering shrimp, breakdancing for cash on Pier 39, none of these jobs were beneath the talented young man who aspired to be the next Run from Run DMC and Russell Simmons.

With the money he and Tech saved, they took classes in marketing, business and manufacturing and put out their own independent records. They then advanced to radio. When I asked Sway how he got the word out – mind you, this was the late 80s, early 90s before the explosion of viral video and myspace – his answer was grassroots. In other words, guerrilla marketing.
They had from the start loyal listeners who tuned in every week to hear them play the music the mainstream wouldn’t touch. Those loyal few told their friends, and the word of mouth campaign began. They created a street team to diseminate information. When artists came to town to appear on their show, they offered to drive them around – took them to hotspots, clubs, concerts, where they could promote their latest albums and themselves. And most important – they were authentic, their genuine selves wherever they went. And they slapped their logo on everything they handed out. These were the tools Sway and Tech used to go from Sway’s momma’s house to the big time.

It was MTV that courted Sway – three times – before the creator/producer decided to give them a shot. And only if he could stay true to himself. They wanted him, he said, because “The Wakeup Show” was “the ear of the streets.” They gave him freedom because he could come to the table with leverage. He had the audience and the artists they wanted. And MTV was openminded enough to see where hip hop was truly coming from.

Along the way, Sway learned many skills, among them: learning people’s sense of humor and learning how to relate to people on every level. He also learned to be aggressive, confident and non-confrontational, at first, then be yourself once you have gained credibility and have proven that you have something to offer. He immersed himself in culture, reading up to four newspapers a day, watching the news, reading books both fiction and nonfiction. Keeping his mind open gave him the confidence, and believing in his own self worth enabled him to deal with various people at all levels, because he says, being a black man with confidence is tough in the corporate world. People are instantly afraid of you and speak to you differently, so you have to show people that you can work with them, that you are someone they can trust.

“The more you educate yourself, the better equipped you’ll be because you’ll know how to react,” said Sway.

After a brief intermission Ms. Oliver began the second part of the program by bringing out the panelists for a discussion on how they achieved success in their careers. Ms. Oliver first asked each panelist to describe “their typical day,” and the answer for all of them was that in the world of television, there is no typical day. Case in point for Ms. Vega – Monday morning the crew received a call from the White House, requesting for Charlie Rose to interview the President the next day. The interview happened, but not before the team flew Charlie from Las Vegas back to New York, researched everything the President spoke about in the last nine months and made sure that their best production team members were there for the shoot.

What everyone agreed on is the need to do research on your field.
“Learn everything you can about what you’re doing and someone will notice,” said Ms. Vega.

The other key is being willing to put in the work.
“People think Generation Y doesn’t want to work 12 hour days,” said Puente. ” Prove otherwise – prove you’re willing to work.” The willingness to work often separates the wheat from the chaff. Many of the panelists started out doing the menial jobs that all up and comers out of college hate – the unpaid production assistant aka gopher positions. But showing up early, staying late, and showing initiative is what gets you noticed, said Ms. Byrd. Some of the other skills required for making it and staying within the industry are being dependable, responsible, on point and being able to and willing to communicate with people. When asked what one should do to break into the industry, and if there is ever an age limit, the panelists responded that one is never too old to be an intern. There will be people younger than you that know less that are your boss, and you may have to “carry around the screwdriver” according to Mr. Martin, in other words, look like you are busy so people think you are, but there is always a way.

“Whatever you choose to do, you need to be passionate about it,” said Ms. Byrd. “Many a false move is made by standing still.” In other words, don’t just stay there and expect something to happen. Make it happen.

© 2007 Angela Entzminger

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