As the newly-hired Woodlawn Studio Manager, Sam Newton supports the growing Mason Music Foundation by uniting considerable professional experience with a lifelong personal interest in music.
“Throughout my whole upbringing…the arts had always been a way for me to not only escape, but also find fulfillment and importance and enjoyment,” said Sam. “I think that’s what directly led me to be involved with Mason Music and particularly the Woodlawn Studio.”
Born in Nashville and raised in the Birmingham area, Sam’s musical interests began in middle school, where he wrote music and lyrics. After graduating from Indian Springs School, Sam worked at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Art Gallery while studying journalism and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He credits the experience as igniting an interest in music administration.
“Working with that museum kind of struck a chord in me that that could be a career – maybe not a museum but more arts-based,” said Sam.
Sam transferred to Belmont University to study songwriting and music business, immersing himself in music-based coursework like songwriting classes and voice lessons. According to him, these conservatory moments formed an appreciation for music’s role in holistic development.
“In studying music, you grow individually, but then also being around other students studying music is kind of like osmosis,” said Sam. “Music is able to help you so much in your academics, in terms of critical thinking-that’s one of the most powerful tools of change besides just basic education.”
Sam’s music business skills further developed as he interned at the Recording Academy, a learned academy of music professionals most famous for the Grammy Awards. The Academy also leads community development efforts in the music sphere by supporting musicians in need offering opportunities for young people via the MusiCares Foundation the Grammy University Network, respectively.
“It felt like it was everything I enjoyed coming together into one thing,” said Sam. “It was developing a music community, and different ways that music can help a society grow and help people grow.”
After earning his degree from Belmont in May 2020, Sam found his way to the Woodlawn Studio’s current space at Desert Island Supply Company (DISCO), attracted by the Foundation’s nonprofit nature and its mission to enrich students’ lives through affordable music lessons.
“It’s something that makes most people feel a sense of importance and fulfillment where they might not feel it anywhere else,” said Sam.
Sam builds the first relationship with interested parents and students far before the first lesson occurs, guiding them through the scholarship process and connecting them with teachers whose personalities and teaching styles will develop lasting relationships with the student and encourage their continued musical success.
“We’re very lucky that all of the teachers at the Woodlawn Studio we have right now are very encouraging people and great teachers, so if it comes down to scheduling and I want them with this teacher, but they can’t make that time work, I’m not worried that the other teacher will be a bad fit,” said Sam. “But I do want to make sure it’s the person that makes the most sense with them.”
In addition to this upfront role, Sam also maintains the Foundation’s day-to-day logistical needs, opening and closing the studio, preparing welcome bags for new students, accepting instrument donations, and maintaining a space conducive to music lessons. However, according to Sam, his foremost responsibility in the studio is representing the Foundation’s values and view of music.
“Ultimately, my job is to create the culture of the studio by making sure we have amazing teachers and then building the relationship with the parents and the students myself as well,” said Sam. “At the end of the day, music should be enjoyable and something that you find fulfillment in – and also you get good at, but the more you find hope and purpose in the music, the more you want to improve and learn, and I think that’s what’s unique about Mason Music.”
Sam’s position at the Foundation directly reflects the Foundation’s hard-won growth in the Woodlawn community. Since 2015, the Foundation has transitioned through multiple facilities before arriving in its current space at DISCO. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the studio and its teachers have adapted, providing both virtual and socially distant in-person music lessons to roughly 30 students of all ages every Monday and Tuesday.
“That’s the good thing about being surrounded by creatives in a musical community,” said Sam. “Everyone’s inherently a little creative, so they are pretty good at coming up with creative ways to solve problems.”
Sam’s position builds a growing infrastructure inside the Foundation that anticipates more students and a larger community impact. The Foundation has plans to hire more full-time voice and percussion teachers while continuing CDC-recommended protocols for in-person lessons, and can accommodate for future student growth by adding available weekdays for lessons. Once safe to do so, the Foundation can also resume renovating its future office and performance spaces at First Avenue North’s historic Woodlawn Theatre site, providing a centralized location and proper home in the neighborhood it serves. The location allows incoming local students to see their lessons’ promising future through DISCO’s front windows.
“The permanent studio in the theatre will be literally right across the street, so we’re able to show the kids starting that this where we’re at right now, it’s fun, but [the new location] is where they will be, and they’re already used to the area, so it’s fine,” said Sam.
Despite difficulties, the Foundation’s future prospects and six-year presence in Woodlawn signal sustainability for its vision and create a hope for the future that Sam finds invigorating.
“In the last year or two, it’s very much going through an evolution where the Foundation and the Woodlawn Studio is being set up for the future,” said Sam. “There’s a loose goal – we want to provide access to music to as many students as possible – but how we get there is very much open to creativity, which is exciting.”
Sam enjoys collecting and listening to vinyl records in his free time, including Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” his all-time favorite and most recent find. His other musical tastes include the likes of HAIM, the Black Keys, Vampire Weekend, the Beatles, Kacey Musgraves, Ruston Kelly, and Chris Stapleton.
“I like lyrics more than anything,” said Sam. “When there’s someone that I think has an interesting lyrical voice, that’s what I enjoy.”