Curation through Sound: An Interview with Akpanoluo Etteh II
Our founder, Yuko Kudo, took some time with Akpanoluo Etteh II founder of the Soundshop, a community for music lovers--listeners and creators--which uses music as a powerful source for social good.
Yuko: Thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed! The very first Soundshop event I attended was “Music & Healing” and I was blown away by the warmth of this community. The performers and their stories are incredible and the entire audience is so welcoming, open and diverse. It’s exactly what you described in your blog “Sofar Sounds”+”Song Exploder” + “TED”. Has it always been that way? And how do you, as a founder, describe The Soundshop Community and what it means to you?
Akpanoluo: Soundshop started in my apartment in January 2017 as an invitation-only event featuring myself, my brother, and nine other musicians. Everyone got really into sharing music, talking about what they shared, and then discussing the music in great detail, so it always had that “Sofar Sounds”+”Song Exploder” + “TED” vibe. I think the moment where it started to really feel like the community that I know and love today was April that year when, after the music sharing, everyone took part in a jam session, doing improvised songs such as “Into You” by Ariana Grande.
The “Music and Healing” event that you attended was a transcendent moment in the evolution of The Soundshop. I think the three events under our “wellness” category (“Music & Healing”, “Rhythm & Healing”, “Music and Mental Health”) have taken the warmth of community I now regularly feel to another level, in terms of giving a space for the emotionality of music.
Yuko: You mention often that you’re really good at meeting awesome people inside and outside The Soundshop. With you being an artist yourself, do you experience different types of self-doubt both as an artist and as a founder? How do you overcome it?
Akpanoluo: I have no doubt in my creative intuition as an event curator. I think that makes me different from the musicians I spend so much time with. But I think that the skill of event curation is a different beast from being a performer, and I’ve truly put in my time towards perfecting the skill.
When I was in college in 2006, I would curate playlists for parties, or even throw ones together for impromptu parties, which I do to this day. By 2010, during my senior year, I hosted my first themed party “Ak’s Panda Lu’au”, a title based on a layered pun on my full first name “Akpanoluo” and my erstwhile nickname “Ak”. From then on, I put my creative energy in throwing parties such as “The End of the World” at the former venue Glasslands Gallery to celebrate the end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar in 2012, “The 27 Club” for my 27th birthday party in 2013, “The Soulstice” for my third-consecutive Summer Solstice party in 2014. I got a bit jaded with the whole thing, even as all these events gave me confidence, but as soon as I conceived of Soundshop, my skill at conceiving creative party ideas translated perfectly to the art of Salon hosting.
While I’ve always been involved in music in one way or another (piano, trombone, a cappella), I’ve never actually put my own work out there. I have a ton of voice recordings I’m sitting on, flashes of inspiration I think could be fleshed out. It’s not a matter of doubt, I just don’t have a nagging need to put music out the way that I have the desire to curate. Plus, the sheer amount of time I spend being social gets in the way, and now, Soundshop takes precedence over even finding performance opportunities, much less putting out music.
Where I am most like the typical artist, however, is in my self-doubt as a co-founder. I’ve struggled over the last two and a half years to build a team, and it can feel demoralizing. It’s still a challenge to find venues given my limited time; that part of the process has never been a fun endeavor for me. Finding performers is easy because my nature of being social leads me to them, and coming up with themes is easy because that’s just the way my mind has learned to think from all the parties I’ve thrown. But organizational matters are definitely a persistent struggle for me. The way that I’ve dealt with it recently is to remind myself that it probably isn’t time to build a formal organization. I also remind myself that despite all of the logistical and organizational frustrations, I keep making the events happen, and each event is always so validating, informative, and fun, both for myself and the community.
Yuko: As the community has been growing and more industry related events are being held, do you have a different intention/expectation for your community? Where is The Soundshop heading?!
Akpanoluo: While it’s been a tough transition back into being a solopreneur (as of late May), I have come to embrace the flexibility it’s brought. I can reassess what I’m getting out of it and just try out new things. For example, I’ve started hosting concert events at Mehanata, something I’d have not embraced in the past, since it deviates from my music + conversation format. Of course, I’m not just hosting a concert. For my first curation, I’m getting a set of four artists together to perform short sets and come together at the end to do improvisation. One of them’s a tap dancer. Who knows how that’ll play out! Experimentation excites me. I think if I worry less about explicit direction and business structure, and think of event curation as my art, and just see what happens, I’ll be much better off.
[Editor’s Note: This interview occurred before the curated event, Live Mixtape, which was held on August 22nd]
Yuko: Last, but not least, what’s possible with Music?
Akpanoluo: I would love to give a talk about this. I think there are so many different lenses through which I could answer this question, and so many rabbit holes one could go down. That is what each of these events is asking, in a way. When I did “The Orchestra” for example, I curated a set of presenter-performers who would expand everyone’s notions of what orchestral music was. When I did “Music and Romance” a professional matchmaker told a story around the music she and her partner listened to when they met, while a woman with a porn salon gave a talk about the history of music in pornography, starting with the age of silent film. Meanwhile, in my first Music and Healing event you attended, people gave spontaneous hugs, laughed, cried, and I got to learn about the history of music therapy and its clinical importance, and the fact that there’s such a thing as competitive air guitar.
Meanwhile, there’s the personal, and even spiritual relationship that one can get from music, which presents so much, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of that by sharing in others’ joy about the music they love, meditating to music, or using different music to serve as the backdrop to life’s highs and lows, as well as focused and relaxed moments. I’m sure that even as you are reading this, you’re thinking - omg but he’s forgotten to mention X,Y,Z! So yeah, there’s like an infinity of infinities for what’s possible!
To learn more about "The Soundshop" visit, www. the-soundshop.com . Their next event is on 9/15/2019 "Making Money in Music: Strategy & Business Savvy"
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FB : @soundshopnyc
"I AM" Series | Blog | Editor-in-Chief, Brandon Rumaker