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  • How This SMG Impact Fellow Learned to Support the Future of Music
  • Oct 14, 2022
How This SMG Impact Fellow Learned to Support the Future of Music

This article is written by Keona Leano and is part of the SMG Impact Fellows Mix Tape Series, a collection of first-person essays written by the 2022 Sony Music Group Impact Fellow cohort. Read more about the SMG Impact Fellows Program here. 

Keona was a 2022 Impact Fellow working with Sony Music’s Early Career, Talent Acquisition team. 

Yá’át’ééh & Talofa lava (hello). My name is Keona Leano, I am a young woman in the U.S. who comes from two strong and beautiful Indigenous cultures; Navajo (Diné) and Samoan. I grew up living on the Navajo Reservation which requires strength physically, emotionally, and mentally because Diné people are still trying to heal and rebuild in modern-day society while preserving their traditions. Today, Indigenous populations face immense hardship. For example, according to the PNPI, only 24 percent of 18–24-year-old Native American students are enrolled in college, where, in most institutions, they will make up less than one percent of the U.S. graduate and undergraduate student population. Fortunately for me, through American Indigenous Business Leaders (AIBL)—an organization that empowers indigenous leaders and promotes Indigenous representation through education and leadership development opportunities—I am part of Sony Music Group’s Impact Fellows Program. I’m both amazed and honored to have a space carved out for me at such a prestigious organization. 

What does music mean to you and how does your outlook on music fit in with your internship at Sony Music Group? 
I consider myself a broad music appreciator since I value a wide range of genres and artists. My role as an intern on the Talent Acquisition (TA) team connects to my appreciation for music because the TA team hires talent that brings music to the world.  

Artists and producers, marketing and A&R, communications and public relations—there are so many jobs that help music reach the world. The TA department seeks to recruit and hire individuals that will support each department, and the Early Career team under the TA function recruits and invests in students and recent graduates who could potentially join the music industry in the future. So, by assisting the Early Career team, I feel like I’m assisting the future of music. 

What does an average week look like on the Early Career team? 
An average week consists of individual and team meetings where we set department goals, provide business updates and have fun with team building activities. Team members handle tasks independently, but there are always open lines of communication between everyone.  

What I admire most about this team is their teamwork, accountability, and commitment to developing young professions—like me—by creating a great learning environment filled with respect and understanding. I’ve been fortunate to experience a little bit of everything the department has to offer by working on unique projects with each team member, such as creating requisitions, helping to create standard operating procedures for rotational programs, tracking intern data, brainstorming content ideas and recruiting college prospects.  

Could you tell us about one of your highlights from the role? 
It’s hard to name just one as there are numerous highlights from my role, so here’s three: 

  1. Every conversation I had with my team members taught me something about the TA function, that I could also apply to my own life lessons.  
  2. Watching the process of passionate people becoming a part of Sony Music Entertainment. It’s exciting to see new candidates go through each interview step and then reach the offer stage; I get so happy for them.  
  3. The greatest highlight would be when I traveled to the New York City Sony headquarters for an SMG Fellows session, organized for us to connect with professionals across the business. The visit exceeded my expectations on every level. I was very fortunate to tour the studios and archives, as well as meet Rob Stringer, SMG’s Chairman, in person during the session. (It was incredible to see him take the time to listen and offer great words of wisdom to the SMG Impact Fellows!) In addition, there was a special moment during the session where I was given the opportunity to speak about land acknowledgement and its importance to indigenous nations. I was relieved when my statement was heard and well-received by such influential people.  

How have you changed after your time in the internship program? 
I’ve blossomed through my experience at Sony Music Entertainment in various ways. I am walking away with new skills and valuable life lessons. I’ve gained more self-confidence in my work and realized that my perspective has value and there are people who are open to listening to a different point of view. I have told many people that my biggest takeaway from my time with Sony Music Entertainment is Hope. I am hopeful for the future generations of my people and hopeful for the future of music. I have also been fortunate to have a special place carved out for me, because like I said, opportunities like this don’t come by too often for Indigenous people.  

Great advice you’ve received so far? 
I have been fortunate to have great conversations with great people. Here are a few pieces of advice I’ve received so far, and hope others can find value in for themselves: 

  • Be your authentic self.  
  • If knowledge is power, then learning is your superpower. When you reach an obstacle, pivot, and find your superpower. 
  • Always take care of yourself. If you’re not good to yourself, you won’t be good to others, let alone your job.  
  • You learn your lessons in the valley. It could be two days or two years. Break through. 
  • It’s okay if you don’t know everything. Give yourself time to learn and permission to ask questions. 

What songs are currently in your rotation and on repeat? 

  1. “Alien Superstar” – Beyoncé
  2. “x10” – Koffee
  3. “She” – Harry Styles
  4. “Déjà Vu” – ATEEZ
  5. “Brown Skin Girl” – Leon Bridges

For more stories on the SMG Impact Fellows second cohort:

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