By Emily Upshur, cofc.edu
Two College of Charleston students have taken their classroom lessons out into the real world, launching a non-profit to support new musicians.
Started by students Cody Dixon and Julian Harrell, S.O.U.L. (Sounds of Universal Love) Power Productions is essentially a record label without the for-profit mission. Its primary goal is to enable new artists in their careers by producing their music and connecting them with other musicians and venues in the Charleston area.
Dixon, an arts management major, founded Soul Power after he and Harrell took a grant writing class with arts management program director and associate professor Karen Chandler. Chandler’s class combines theory and practice, encouraging students to visualize how arts and cultural institutions operate and function. Her emphasis on creative sustainability in funding the arts opened Dixon’s eyes to how often resources go unused. He noticed the assets available in the Charleston area, and, equipped with knowledge from Chandler’s class, decided to put those resources to work.
“To actually start an arts nonprofit has operationalized and made really real what Cody and Julian are learning,” says Chandler. “This is what teaching and learning is all about.”
Not long after starting Soul Power, Dixon recruited Harrell, who majors in marketing with an arts management minor. Harrell says his experiences at the College allowed him to use what he learned in his business classes to support and expand his hobby as a musician. He says that one of Soul Power’s missions is to educate artists about making a living doing what they love, with the stipulation that the artists need to put some effort into the process.
“You have to have some sort of drive and ambition to even approach us,” Harrell says. “We want you to be proactive and engaged.”
A good example of a motivated, burgeoning artist is Tynishia Brown, an English major at the College who worked with Soul Power to release her album Experience EP in 2017.
Soul Power also features a secondary outreach effort called “Building Blocks,” which strives to increase music education opportunities for youths from low-income areas and schools that lack adequate arts funding. Along with creating rehearsal spaces and after-school programs, Dixon plans to host music-writing workshops to bring young musicians out into nature to work on their craft.
“We can take them out to where they don’t have cellphone service or Wi-Fi,” Dixon says. “Just nature and bare necessities, and creation and music and art.”
Although Soul Power is located in Charleston, the first Building Blocks project will take place in Dakar, Senegal. This month, Dixon is traveling to Senegal to teach and record a children’s choir at the IQRA Bilingual Academy. While there, he will build a studio space for the school and fill it with sound equipment purchased through Soul Power’s fundraising efforts. Dixon is looking forward to the experience.
“The kids have a really raw talent of singing but they have no musical training or musical theory — stuff I’ve learned at the College that I can relay to them,” Dixon says.
Dixon and Harrell are currently focused on raising additional funds to further their project through a GoFundMe campaign. So far they have raised $3,500 toward their $10,000 goal. Dixon’s travel fees and living expenses for his upcoming trip are covered. All that remains is the money necessary for purchasing more equipment, instruments and curriculum for the students at the academy. Funding comes mostly from individual donations through Soul Power’s website as well as purchases from its “merch table,” which is stocked with T-shirts and albums donated by local bands and businesses such as Vinyl Countdown and Eastside Soulfood. Not only does the table accrue money, but it also promotes partnerships with grassroots artists as part of Soul Power’s mission.
Dixon says his background as both a musician and sound engineer aided him tremendously in starting the organization. Before arriving at the College, he had interned with Awendaw Green, a local venue that hosts concerts as well as music workshops called Swamp Sessions. The connections he made during his internship have grown stronger during his time at the College.
“College of Charleston was a good catalyst for a lot of the stuff I was already trying to do, like the connections and the souls and the people that are here trying to inspire and create,” Dixon says.
While Soul Power is still in its infancy, Dixon and Harrell, propelled by the generosity and encouragement of others, are confident that the non-profit will grow to become a strong advocate for local artists of all ages.
“That’s the purpose of a non-profit,” says Harrell. “It’s not for the people who’ve designed it and are helping to sustain it — it’s for the people who it’s aimed to help.”