Michelle Edgar is the founder and executive director of Music Unites, a nonprofit organization that funds sustainable music education programs in underserved US public schools.
Music Unites has produced over 20 events with artists including Swizz Beatz, Eve, Sting, Mark Ronson, Melanie Fiona, and Peter Bjorn & John at the U.N., Lincoln Center, and also produced a Rolling Stone music series.
Edgar’s passion for music education stems from her experience as a pianist. Edgar proclaims herself as a concert pianist at heart and has played the piano since she was 5 years old.
After working in the journalism field for a few years, first at Vanity Fair and later at Women’s Wear Daily, Edgar decided that music was missing from her life and decided to start her non profit from the ground up.
With some prior experience working for a homeless charity, Edgar, despite the naysayers, managed to build up Music Unites in the span of 5 years and collaborate with notable people in the music industry.
Michelle’s career has always combined her passion for the music, entertainment and marketing from her wide-range experiences working at OK!, WWD, Vanity Fair to Warner Bros. Records, CAA, ICM, IMG to EMI.
One of my mentors in the music business said, “write me your job description”, I said “I don’t even know where to begin”. But I knew I was passionate. So you know I just dreamt of what would be that ideal job?
My name is Michelle Edgar, I’m the founder and executive director of Music Unites. I’m also an executive in the music business at Red Light Management. It was clear at a young age that I was very drawn to this instrument and other kids wanted to do other things and I would just sit there. And when I became old enough, my parents said, “you know I think she wants to take lessons”. I started learning very, very early on which, was a gift. Going to North Western I was able to double major in music, piano performance and journalism and thanks to an internship I had in London working for Vanity Fair out there the summer before I graduated, I was able to land an assistant job on the business side. And one thing lead to the next and I was able to land my next job as an editor and actually learned how to write at Woman’s Wear Daily. I had a career in journalism and after a few years I decided that, you know music was missing from my life. I felt that I wanted to give back and get involved.
Before I came up with the idea for Music Unites, I already had some of that practical experience. I was part of a board for a homeless charity. So I started researching the different non-profits and which one really resonated with me. And I didn’t really find something that really spoke to me. Cause I wanted to really find an organization that involved up and coming artists, established artists, all genres of music coming together for this greater vision to empower kids through music. I said probably with this kind of thing I want it done right. So I hired a lawyer who focused on that work and told her what our vision was, built a budget.
I remember when I said “I’m starting a charity” and everyone said, “you’re crazy, what do you know about this? You’re going to be done after a year. Why put that investment?” I remember when I told my dad I wanted to make sure everything was done, a logo and all this. “Why are you investing? It’s going to just be a hobby for a year”. Well let it be a hobby for a year you know, test yourself out. You know, sometimes if you don’t give up and you dedicate yourself to something it’ll become reality.
We had no idea what we were doing, our mission has changed so many times but that’s part of the joy you know, there’s evolutions of growth. We just started throwing these underground concerts to raise money and all the money went to our programs. And you know, 3 to 6 months after I started the organization I found out about this choir in need and I said, “oh that’s it! I’m like that’s my first program, we want to raise money for this choir” and fund it for 3 years. We put that into motion and after the first year we accomplished that. After 6 months in I got a call from a friend who said, “we have this project with Sting, would you guys want to get involved?” A few months later I got a call for our kids to perform at caragie hall. The thing just started growing.
We’ve worked with a very diverse range of artists from Swizz Beatz who’s an ambassador to us. To Michael Zakarin from The Bravery to Danja. Everyone from Marc Ronson , Sting, Chester French, Melanie Fiona. Eve. It’s a great mix.
It’s been 5 years of hard, hard work. And you know, it’s not just been me, it’s my team. But it’s work that I’ve done everyday on top of a full-time job. Still to this day, Music Unites is run by a group of very, very passionate and dedicated volunteers. So I think it’s not giving up and listening to yourself.
I remember when I wanted to switch into the music business it was hard. People were saying, “you’re a writer, you’re covering the beauty business, what makes you think you want to do marketing and artist development for musicians? You don’t have any experience.” I even got laughed at in an interview. Networking was always important to me and finding good role models. And I was very fortunate and I think that’s what helped my career. You know, there’s a lot to learn from people who’ve already done it. I took my spare time and my holidays sometimes trying to meet with an executive and to say, “can I have a coffee with you and 5 minutes just to ask you how you got to where you are?” They probably just thought I was entertaining or crazy.
Being curious and driven and passionate, I think that gets you far. So dream big and go for it.
Cinematography: Miriam Agwai, Danielle Calodney
Edited by: Adam Abada
Interviewed by Laura Lehmann