:NEXT With Sierra Lever: The Rising Music Marketer Talks Artist Storytelling, Kendrick Lamar & More
Meet Sierra Lever, a young music professional primed to make waves in the industry. As Associate Marketing Director at Columbia Records, she already has worked on such major releases as Tyga, Polo G, Chloe X Halle, Chase B, and previously at Motown Records on Migos, Stefflon Don, Zaytoven, and more. She's also featured in the latest episode of :NEXT, the Recording Academy’s new digital short-run series featuring the future of the music industry.
Her journey began back home in Portland, where she put on parties to showcase local talent. She began booking more artists, big artists, such as Too $hort and Big Krit on her college campus. Her DIY spirit and interest in the behind-the-scenes workings of the music business led to her joining GRAMMY U and eventually taking an internship in the Recording Academy, where she worked in the Awards department and the Executive Office.
This wide range of experience helped illuminate Sierra's path into marketing, where she could learn how to tell artists' stories in a way that helps spread the word about their music. And while going to a Spice Girls concert as a little girl that lit the initial spark of Sierra's interest in music, it was a seminal hip-hop album that showed her the way to a career in the industry.
"Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was the album that really inspired me to enter into the music industry," she said. "[It] really tells his story. And it connected to me, and it connected to so many, It really represented the pressures of our environment that we live in… the minute I listened to it, it was on repeat. There's really no skips for this album. It's very thematic. It has all these different themes from the Bible to street violence to love and lust, all those different elements."
Sierra felt she was part of something when she listened to that album. Not content to be just a fan, she wanted to share that sense of belonging. She drew inspiration from the artists she loved and channeled those storytelling concepts into her own career on the business side of music.
"You have to be a student of the game," she said. "That is what really shows. You see these artists and you see how them studying the game really translates to their evolution over time, and I feel like that's the same for me working as a professional in music, [finding my] individuality [and] really taking risks."
Sierra first heard about :NEXT as an intern at the Academy. As her eligibility for GRAMMY U was coming to a close, Lever thought it'd be the perfect segue into a professional career. She was right.
"The best part about being a 'Nexter' is really being able to connect with your peers and see your peers evolve. That is a big thing for me, to be able to support each other, to know that you do have a support system," she said, adding, "We have panels, we have these industry vets that we get to have that face time with and connection with."
Sierra also talks fondly of her mentor, Recording Academy Washington D.C. Chapter Executive Director Jeriel Johnson. "He is someone who is really connected in the urban [music] space, someone who is a leader within it. I identified with him in the sense of, this is where I want to go and where I want to grow," she said.
"The most valuable lesson I learned from him is to always try," Sierra said. "Always go with your foot forward in the sense of, 'I'm learning and I'm going to be successful.'"
Now, Lever is striving to pursue her dreams in the music industry, and being a part of :NEXT has helped her stay on course. She compares the support she's received—and given to her fellow young music professionals—to that of a family.
"I will say this: The GRAMMYs, they are a family to me. There are so many people who have seen me evolve over time," Sierra says.
Her long-term vision is to continue to tell artists' stories, and she's off to a great start. She puts it best when asked what else she's learned from Johnson, her :NEXT mentor, about being successful in music:
"When you strive for success, you never fail, you just learn."