Two Friends Jump-Start Miami's Live Music Culture

January 08, 2014 | by julia ford-carther | Talk of the Town

The Black Key GroupIsabella Acker and Whitney Lykins at Miami Ironside Warehouse with one of the pop-up pianos by Chor Boogie.

Last year, Miami witnessed a bump in innovative live-music initiatives, including the III Points Festival in Wynwood, Woody Stock in Coconut Grove, and Art Basel’s Pop-Up Piano Miami, which, now in its third year, attracted a partnership with mega Miami development firm The Related Group.

With a hand in all three events—and countless more—The Black Key Group is reshaping a local music landscape that typically caters to club-banging DJ imports over the city’s live music culture. At the helm stand Isabella Acker and Whitney Lykins, two impassioned pioneers looking to bring Miami’s budding indie offerings to the main stage.

TBKG takes a grassroots, ground-floor approach to Miami’s live-music maze and has developed an acute eye for how to improve the business of band appeal, citing a variety of challenges from a lack of audience curiosity to decentralized live venues, says Acker.

“One of the biggest reasons we started was we [were] going to a lot of music events and the bands were awesome, but we went to look them up online and everything from their branding to their logos was awful,” Lykins explains.

The pair cherishes a long history, having shared an eighth-grade classroom in Atlanta before moving down to Florida for college, where they seamlessly assimilated into Miami life. Acker got her entertainment marketing start with nightlife management house The Opium Group, while Lykins’s background in fashion styling for music scenesters helped her grow a strong local network. Shortly thereafter, TBKG seemed a natural evolution.

As Acker and Lykins talk about Miami’s music scene and rich talent pool with a contagious fervor, it’s hard not to be swept up in the cadence of their conversations. In fact, it’s how they land clients. For them, “no pitch is too big,” says Acker, and they take their message straight to the top at companies like Sony and The Recording Academy.

They’ve struck a chord. Today, the company handles local-grown, nationally known singer-songwriter Cris Cab (his collaborators include Pharrell Williams, Wyclef Jean, and Big Sean), and last fall, TBKG inked a deal with concert-promotions company Live Nation to be its exclusive local promotional arm. TBKG now produces backstage coverage, on-camera interviews, and social media content surrounding Live Nation acts in South Florida, such as John Legend and Jessie Ware.

Fostering these types of partnerships will continue to revolutionize the terrain. “If we link brand[s] and the band, there could be a really vibrant scene funded by huge marketing dollars. [Bands want] to come to Miami. The bands and the musicians are here,” says Acker. Adds Lykins, “People are starting to become more curious about Miami and the scene. We’re a part of a really big change.”

PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICK GARCIA

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