Mutual Mentorship for Musicians

building new paradigms of mentorship


Co-founded by vocalist-composers Jen Shyu and Sara Serpa, M³ began as a labor of love and research between its co-founders, who are also active composers, teachers, performers. M³ was born out of the need for greater community, opportunity, and support among women composers in creative music—a need experienced deeply and identified by decades of lived experience shared between its co-founders, during which they experienced isolation, inequity in opportunities and monetary fees, lack of representation, lack of recognition or visibility in press and community, and limited access to women and non-binary mentors, while carrying the burden of having to sacrifice many aspects of their personal lives to achieve a portion of what same-age male composers have achieved. 

M³ recognizes that the music and performing arts worlds, with their multiple languages and traditions, have been mostly shaped by male power, resulting in unbalanced environments and presenting multiple challenges for musicians from underrepresented groups to have access to meaningful and respectful mentorship. M³ co-founders drafted their mission addressing values of equity and diversity, proposing a new paradigm of mentorship and collaboration to/for their music community. M³ activities are guided by a deep sense of fair treatment of all M³’s cohort members, collaborators and team members, striving for a just distribution of compensation, visibility and opportunities.

When the COVID-19 lockdown began in NYC in March of 2020, Shyu and Serpa began conversations about elevating women and non-binary musicians, particularly women and non-binary musicians of color, in their global music community. Based on their own experiences of their own limited access to women and non-binary mentors as they began their careers, with the majority of their mentors being older male musicians, and based on current dialogue with women musicians across generations, they combined concepts of mutual mentorship and group support to create a model to address the gaps and imbalances in the music industry.  We drew inspiration from these sources: the We Have Voice Collective, LeanIn Circles, MAP Fund’s SPA Program, Jennifer Koh’s “AloneTogether” project, and conversations with many artists, colleagues, and mentors such as the late Muhal Richard Abrams, who preferred the word “exchange” over the hierarchy that was implied in conventional “mentor-mentee” relationships.

With M³, Shyu and Serpa hope hope this new paradigm for mentorship and career development, in which musicians and music writers connect, support, and create together, through collaboration, respect and empathy, will inspire others to build new paradigms of mentorship around the world, not only in music and arts, but in other industries.