Roger Brown ’78: Launching Artists and Opportunities at the Salt Lick Incubator
Author: Danielle Strickland
The through-line of Roger Brown’s career is clear: trying to make people’s lives better.
From working internationally on social change and education to building a worksite childcare organization in support of working families to leading Boston’s Berklee College of Music for nearly two decades, the focus has remained identifying opportunities to create new experiences, improve lives and take steps to make those things happen.
“The people who bring something into existence that didn’t exist before—in music, business, non-profits—those are the people who inspire me,” Brown said.
A 1978 Davidson grad, Brown is moving us forward once again as the founder of the nonprofit Salt Lick Incubator. As their website states in the simplest of terms: “We bring new music to ardent music lovers; we fund the artists you love; we foster artistic growth and support the musical community.”
“I’m an irrational lover of music and an admirer of people who have the guts to be musicians,” he said. “While I was at Berklee, I witnessed hundreds of hyper-talented artists creating amazing music. Some—the minority—found enormous success. Most struggled, as artists often do.”
So Brown, once a serious avocational musician himself, and the Salt Lick Incubator team are helping artists get a leg up in an incredibly tough industry—an early gust of wind for those they believe in most.
The team decided not to focus on genres that already have loads of support: pop, hip hop, pop country. They’re well-oiled machines. Instead, they’ve zeroed in on R&B, neo soul, singer-songwriters, folk, Americana, indie-folk and the like.
“If you think of a bullseye on a target, we’re looking at everything but the bullseye,” he said.
The incubator has only been up and running about six months, and they’ve featured artist recordings (originals and covers) on their fast-growing Salt Lick SessionsYouTube channel, awarded grants, connected artists with producers and songwriters and more. They are currently working with the following artists: Alisa Amador, Beane, PAMÉ, Tiny Habits, Jax Anderson, Kaovanny, Elizabeth Moen, Mom Rock and Jazelle.
The popularity has grown at record speed. When the team was looking to award five grants earlier this year, they received 172 applications. Not an easy job for the organization’s advisory board members, including industry leaders like Jon Batiste, T Bone Burnett, Harvey Mason, Jr. and Patrice Rushen, who aim to do justice to all the grant hopefuls.
“I was really trying to think about what to do in this phase of life when I’m not likely to start a new company and I’m not running a college,” Brown said. “It seemed like the best thing I could do was be a coach, mentor and cheerleader for young people I believed in. Sadly, the music industry is populated with people who take advantage of idealistic young artists , so we are basically trying to create an exploitation-free zone for musicians so they can focus on their music and get an early project going: an EP, a music video, merchandise, touring, etc.”
So how does Brown plan to measure success? In a few years, he hopes the team can point to a handful of artists who have signed onto a deal that takes them to the next level. He also hopes they will see a few viral moments with artists who take their recordings and release them onto popular streaming platforms.
“I feel great about where we are,” Brown said. “We’re a small, virtual, lean team serving incredible artists. One of the things I love about entrepreneurship is that you make up a name and idea and then you test it and refine it. You’re not waiting for someone to give you permission; you just do it. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Salt Lick Incubator is in the early stages of its own creative journey, supporting artists in the very same place. This journey will be one worth watching.