How Cherri Quit Her Job & Started Her Own Music Production Business
Full name: Cherri C. Culcleasure
University Degree: Dual degree recipient in Music and Recording Arts
Career title: Music Engineer & Founder of Cherri’s Song Productions
In 2016, Cherri got inspired to quit her job and start her own music production business, Cherri’s Song Productions.
She provides services to talented artists and musicians, some of whom have toured worldwide with acts from notable artists such as Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyoncé, as well as competed as semi-finalists on shows such as American Idol and NBC’s The Voice.
Cherri shares her inspiring career story with CCG.
Her Career Story
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself, your academic background, and how you started your career in the music and production industry?
Cherri: My family is very musical and since I was born into a musical family, from a very young age I learned how to play the piano, sing in harmony and master musical techniques. When I got into college, I wasn’t sure about want I wanted to study – I never really thought that I could have a career in music.
During my time in college, Winston Salem State University introduced a music production program which I enrolled for and ended up obtaining a degree in Music, and later my degree in Recording Arts from Full Sail University. After college, I moved to New York, I didn’t know anybody but I took the risk anyway. I knew that if I wanted to grow within the music and production industry, I had to surround myself with artists and people with the same interests as me.
When I landed a position as Music Engineer for a recording studio, I was able to learn from well-known songwriters, recording engineers, and producers.
Q: In 2016, after being in the music and production industry for almost 10 years, you took a bold decision to start your own production business, Cherri’s Song Productions. What triggered or inspired you to start this journey in your career?
Cherri: In 2016, I travelled to South Africa which was an amazing experience and my biggest inspiration. It was so humbling to see people who barely had anything make the best out of their lives. During the 2 years before my trip to South Africa, I was feeling discouraged with my career and was finding it difficult to get back doing something I really love which is making music. In South Africa, I learned a lot about the culture, their music and their way of living which really inspired me to get back to my roots, so I quit my job and started my own music production business.
Q: So far, looking back at your career journey and experience within the industry, are there any significant challenges you faced in your career as a female music engineer? If so, how did you overcome them?
Cherri: Yes and no! I wouldn’t say that I necessarily faced any significant challenges. However, I did notice that as a female Music Engineer working at a recording studio, some clients tested or questioned my ability to do my job.
For example, I would feel like everything I did was put under a microscope just because I was a woman. On the contrary, some clients trusted that I was experienced and that I knew how to do my job efficiently. Being a woman (and southern) put me at an advantage at times because in a “mans world”, taking the leadership role can mean riding a fine line. I work every day to take on that strong leadership role, while still being gentle enough to make people feel comfortable. Some clients even hired me to work for their own businesses and would genuinely appreciate my quirky ways, while valuing my work and skills. You have to be yourself, that’s what made me memorable.
No matter what industry you are in, I believe that as a woman you just need to have confidence in yourself and be confident in what you are doing. Believe in your own worth, always stay professional and don’t comprise for anything or anyone.
Q: What are some of the main lessons you have learned in your career journey and as a Music Engineer?
Cherri: Whether you find yourself in the corporate world or music industry, whatever your dream job or dream career is, I have learned that your success is based on two main things – your skill and your attitude. Having a bad attitude will not get you far, no matter how great your talent is or how good you are at doing your job. Always be kind and respectful to people. The person you meet today might actually be the one helping you to further your career tomorrow.
Furthermore, don’t take anything for granted. Before my career in the music industry, I worked in a nursing home, I had worked in sales as well, and the skills that I gained from those jobs really helped me in my career, even today.
Q: You host open mic sessions called ‘Sunday Night Groove’ in Brooklyn, New York, which encourages young musicians to showcase their talent. In your opinion, how much of a role does talent play when it comes to discovering your career path?
Do you think that an individual’s (ultimate) career path connects with their talent or can it be two separate things?
Cherri: I believe that people have many talents and many gifts. You can find different ways to put your gifts to work. And that doesn’t mean that you (always) have to be on the forefront. For example, because of the musical family I grew up in, I know how to sing, but that doesn’t mean that I want to become a singer.
However, I am using my ‘gift in singing’ in many different ways - Singing backing vocals and helping artists arrange their music. Just because you feel like you don’t have enough talent to do something, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it – The most important thing is that you are passionate about what you are doing.
Also, your talent is something very intimate and something close to you. Yes, use your talent, however, also be mindful of how you use it, because there are always people willing to take advantage of your talent – Guard it.
Q: What career advice would you give to young women embarking on their career journey whether in the music and production industry or corporate workplace?
Cherri: Whenever you’re presented with an opportunity, even when it’s completely the opposite of what you want to do, take advantage of it. There are many jobs and internships that I have had which seemed pointless. However, today I am so appreciative of those opportunities, because you will always learn certain skills that will be of benefit in your career journey. Whether you’re building relationships, communication or presentation skills, it will always be useful in the long run.
Also, have an idea of what you want to do. Always be ready to adjust because industries are changing all the time. Make sure you use your resources, train yourself or get training. If you need more experience, make sure you apply for an internship, get a coach and be determined to learn and grow.
Lastly, don’t get stuck on just one thing or one career path. Be open to learn in different industries. Expand your knowledge and build and foster genuine relationships. I truly live by one of Maya Angelou’s quotes: people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.