Jazz Hands For Autism defends neurodivergent musicians – Billboard
Sean McRae, a black animator, illustrator, and composer on the autism spectrum, can dream up an entire creative concept one night, compose music the next morning, and sketch out visuals later that same day. Recently, the 21-year-old took sounds from racing games and turned them into an aptly titled jazz fusion album Runner. And it’s only just begun, says Ifunanya Nwekefounder and executive director of Jazz Hands for Autism (JHFA): “He’s going to give Hans Zimmer his money’s worth,” she says.
McRae, a native of Compton, Calif., is one of many neurodivergent musicians on the autism spectrum (“neurodivergent” being an umbrella term for people who have various learning and mental health differences such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD, Tourette syndrome and more) who produce “phenomenal” music, as Nweke describes McRae’s work, but struggle to reach a wider audience because they don’t have access to good resources and opportunities.
“I remember his mother, rest in peace, was like, ‘Ifu, he’s my son. I need you to make sure people hear him,'” she recalled. said, ‘Listen, Mrs. Janice – that’s what I’m going to do.'”
Founded in 2014, Nweke’s 501(c)(3) professional and artist development organization supports people musically inclined on the autism spectrum like McRae — who has worked with JHFA for four years — by offering jams information sessions to improve their vocal and instrumental abilities. performance, building trust and inviting collaboration as well as performance opportunities, both through its own concert series and various outside concerts. Jazz Hands For Autism also helps individuals succeed in music-related jobs through social, career, and musical training.
Now Nweke makes sure people know where to find their music.
On Friday, April 1, which is the first day of World Autism Month, JHFA is launching the industry’s first-ever music library that features songs and original compositions from neurodivergent composers (including McRae’s Racer album) who range from west coast hip-hop to indie rock. The library, which can be found here, currently contains over 50 tracks that can be searched by artist, mood, genre, tempo, BPM and more. The library’s Sonic Search v2.0 advanced search also allows its users to upload a track from their computer or paste YouTube/SoundCloud links into the search bar to find similar sounding tracks via an algorithm of machine learning.
Once users find their desired track(s), they can download them to their computer for free and/or pay to license them for productions, broadcast programs, mobile apps, broadcast commercials, movies, or other uses, with costs ranging from $80 to $10,000. . Musicians keep 100% of their writer and publisher share, while JHFA takes 10% of actual revenue from sync licensing.
“Our goal is to be able to use the library as a way to give voice and a platform to neurodivergent musicians near and far,” says Nweke. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for filmmakers, directors, and production houses to be able to put their money where their mouth is and really include neurodivergent people in every production process.”
The Music Library, which has been in the works for two years, also allows neurodivergent musicians under JHFA and beyond (the library includes a separate tab for outside submissions) unfettered access to one of the most lucrative aspects of music. company: synchs. To this end, JHFA has partnered with its long-time supporter Angela Jollivette – a music supervisor who has worked on TV shows like OWN Green leaf and BET Sunday clothes – to include the JHFA music library in the catalog of its music supervision/production company Moonbaby Media, which is part of a larger independent music library called Transition Music Corporation.
According to a study published in 2020, 15 to 20% of the world’s population is neurodiverse. But the entertainment industry hasn’t always done a great job of truly portraying people who see the world differently, whether on camera or behind the scenes. Sia has come under fire for choosing neurotypical dancer Maddie Ziegler (a choice the singer has defended) as the lead in her 2021 Golden Globe-nominated directorial debut The music, which follows a non-verbal autistic teenager named Music who communicates with the world through song and dance. (Rather than “cancel” Sia, Nweke is ready to have an informative conversation with the award-winning hitmaker for her interview series. 3 Minutes with Ifuin which Nweke talks to people in the music industry about how they are increasing diversity.)
Nweke thinks that JHFA is “a model that [music] industry can embrace knowing how to provide comprehensive support for neurodivergent people. The reason neurodiversity really matters is because normality doesn’t exist, does it? Everyone’s brain works differently,” she explains. “And just because our society privileges certain ways of seeing the world doesn’t mean that other ways of seeing the world aren’t discarded.”
Recently, the music industry has made efforts to genuinely address and support neurodiversity. In January 2020, Universal Music UK published a manual titled Creative differences on the integration of neurodiversity in the creative industries. In the foreword to the manual, Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine (who was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia as a child) wrote, “As an artist, I think it’s a given that not thinking like everyone is positive and beneficial…. People were talking as if my songs, my accomplishments, my career, etc. had been achieved despite things like my dyslexia. But I thought, wouldn’t it be because of these things?
Welch is far from the only artist in the neurodivergent population. Billie Eilish opened up about Tourette’s diagnosis as a child and how it affects her day to day in her AppleTV+ documentary The world is a little blurry. Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, Solange, Justin Timberlake and will.i.am have publicly come out with ADHD. DRD4-7R, a genetic variant linked to ADHD, has even been dubbed the “rock star” gene. Those successes aside, Nweke says the music industry still needs to “do a better job of creating safe spaces” for neurodivergent artists.
Going forward, JHFA – which is currently nominated for Nonprofit Team of the Year at the Los Angeles Business Journal‘s 2022 Nonprofit & Corporate Citizenship Awards – seeks to further integrate within the music industry to ensure that neurodivergent musicians (and not just those in the organization) are seen and heard. With JHFA’s Educational Studio located in Culver City – which has partnered with JHFA for an upcoming Memorial Day concert on the Culver Steps – Nweke also hopes to team up with its neighbor across the street, Sony Music Entertainment, so that Sony’s in-house neurodivergent musicians can have their additional support needs met at JFHA’s studio, which they strive to make meaningless.
The organization has also set a goal of being part of the Recording Academy – which might be the ultimate spectacle of inclusion. “I think it’s really important that neurodivergent voices have a place at the table,” says Nweke. “We don’t want you to stay at Jazz Hands forever. Jazz Hands should be a launching pad for them to be part of the world.