Music and Business Open Pandora’s Box for Good

UMass Lowell music and business students will join forces to help one of music’s hottest performers and producers reach his fans to support LGBTQ equality.

“Pandora Challenge: Music and Social Impact,” an all-day hackathon to be held on the third floor of the Innovation Hub on Oct. 21, will bring together academia and the internet music streaming service Pandora to brainstorm for The Ally Coalition, a pet cause of performer/songwriter/producer Jack Antonoff. Teams of students will come up with ways to support the Ally Coalition’s mission of ending discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Similar events will be held simultaneously at Stanford University, the University of Southern California, New York University and Belmont University in Nashville, bringing together students to address social causes identified by other performers, including Tegan and Sara, the twin singers whose work sparked the first Pandora Challenge last May at Stanford. A performer has been linked with the event at each university. Antonoff, a Grammy winner with the bands Fun and Bleachers and producer of Taylor Swift and Lorde, is a passionate supporter of the Ally Coalition, co-founded by his designer sister Rachel.

The event is open to as many as 100 students and is about three-quarters full. Students may sign up at Teams will be formed at the event. 
Students will break into teams – “little think tanks,” as Music Department Chair Alan Williams calls them – to brainstorm marketing strategies to get the message out about the Ally Coalition. Teams will have access to Pandora data, which is usually a closely guarded secret, Williams says. “They’re in the business of data as well as music, and it’s very unusual to have any access to it,” says Williams, who notes that the mix of business and music majors will meld the knowledge and perspectives of each.

“They each bring to the table what the other may not,” he says.

“We tell students that, if they’re going to be successful, it’s imperative that they intersect with other majors and disciplines,” says Sandra Richtermeyer, dean of the Manning School of Business. “Getting moved into a different space is really healthy for them. I’m a big music fan, so it’s cool that Pandora is involved, but the biggest thing is to see students working together across disciplines. Collaboration is what it’s all about.”

Near the end of the seven-hour session, each team will give “their best quick elevator speech,” explaining their solution, says Williams. A winner will be chosen, and their strategy will be used by Antonoff and his marketing team.

UMass Lowell got involved in the Pandora Challenge through its association with Real Industry, a nonprofit that partners with companies to help students learn real-world skills.

Music Prof. Gena Greher had brought in Jay LeBoeuf, executive director of Real Industry, to speak to her music education students about using technology. He was a huge hit. He later asked Williams if the department would like to be part of the Antonoff event. 

“We didn’t have to think about it,” he said, noting the other participants. “We were a minor league team that somehow got bumped up to a larger franchise.”

So will Antonoff be coming to campus? “Well, we’ve got a pretty high-profile artist,” says Williams. “I’m not sure, and they’re not saying one way or another. But whether he does or doesn’t, I don’t think it’s necessary. His role and his cause speak for themselves.”



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