LOWELL, Mass. – More than 75 UMass Lowell music and business students recently put their creativity and entrepreneurial skills to the test as one of five universities in the nation to participate in an all-day hackathon presented by music-streaming service Pandora and Real Industry.
UMass Lowell was the only university in New England selected for the Pandora Challenge, through which teams of students competed to devise the best national campaign to raise awareness about a particular cause among Pandora’s 74 million monthly listeners.
Each institution was given a different organization to focus on and UMass Lowell was assigned The Ally Coalition, a national nonprofit founded by leaders in music, fashion and entertainment including Grammy winner Jack Antonoff and his sister Rachel, a designer, that works to promote support among those industries for LGBTQ equality. Other campuses chosen to participate were Stanford University, the University of Southern California, New York University and Middle Tennessee State University.
UMass Lowell’s challenge was to create a series of fan engagement opportunities before, during and after The Ally Coalition’s fundraising concert, The Talent Show, to help make a lasting impression on not only the audience, but their friends and communities. The show is set for Jan. 24 in New York during Grammy Week and is scheduled to feature acts including Lorde, Kacey Musgraves and Antonoff’s Bleachers. Last year’s event, which raised $100,000 included performances by Charlie XCX, Carly Rae Jepsen and Lauren Mayberry.
Participating students were among the first ever to work on a campaign with access to Pandora’s Artist Marketing Platform (AMP) and data from Next Big Sound to engage listeners using music, technology, marketing and more. The event was organized with Real Industry, a nonprofit that works with companies and academic institutions to help students develop real-world skills under the guidance of industry experts.
At the Pandora Challenge, the UMass Lowell students divided up in teams to work like think-tanks, sharing their respective skills and education in music and business to develop strategies and then presented them to fellow participants, as well as representatives of Pandora, Real Industry and UMass Lowell.
“Working with the UMass Lowell students was invigorating,” said Jeb Gutelius, executive director of The Ally Coalition. “We came away with so many fresh ideas on how to better share our work and engage fans to make an impact.”
Faculty from the Music Department, including Prof. Alan Williams and the Manning School of Business, including Deborah Casey, were among those who participated, along with Steve Tello, vice provost for innovation and workforce developmemnt, who helped found the university’s DifferenceMaker Program, which teaches students how to apply entrepreneurial skills to challenges in business and the community.
The challenge, Tello said, was a great opportunity for students from music, marketing and other majors to work together and they exhibited “commitment and concepts that deeply impressed the judges.”
Williams said he was impressed with the focus and energy that the students – many of whom had not met before – exhibited in combining ideas, social media and data for the challenge, and “even more so by the positive support they gave to each other, with members of teams that were not in the final round offering information and ideas to strengthen the other groups’ plans.”
“Yes, it was a competition, but it was more of a contest to meet the demands of the challenge than between the groups themselves,” Williams said. “The sense of community they exhibited reflects the mission of UMass Lowell and is part of what makes our students so unique: They are fully committed to using their education to better the world.”
“The Pandora Challenge is a unique opportunity for UMass Lowell students to work on a real-world artist marketing campaign with access to cutting edge industry tools and massive music streaming audiences,” said Priyanka Shekar, program director.
On the day of the hackathon, the student participants gathered at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub, the university’s downtown Lowell business incubator, and got a taste of how entrepreneurs work to develop new ideas and plans to execute them. Over the course of the Saturday, the groups spent seven hours working on their concepts and an elevator pitch.
Each group competed in a preliminary round and the four finalists selected presented to a panel including representatives of The Ally Coalition, Pandora and Real Industry. At the end of the day, a winner was selected: the #IamWithThem campaign.
The winning team was made up of three music business majors – Renee Lamy of Northborough, Andrew Marshall of Boxford and Shaina Perates of Haverhill – and biology major Andrew Silveira of Seekonk, along with Emma Glynn of Shrewsbury, a music studies and world language major. In addition to being considered for implementation by the nonprofit, the team’s win entitled them to a “skip the line” chance to interview for internships with Pandora. For Marshall, a first-year student, the experience also helped him decide to pursue music business as a major.
When he participated in the hackathon, he was a music education major, but shortly afterward, he switched to music business. His new major allows him to continue to study music and perform while combining that and his love of organizing events and coming up with creative ideas like those associated with the Pandora Challenge.
Marshall, whose hackathon participation was the first of the hands-on learning opportunities he plans to seek out during his four years on campus, said the Pandora Challenge experience also made him even happier that he chose to attend UMass Lowell. "Opportunities like this set universities apart."
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu