What does the music industry look like when imbued with the Trojan spirit? According to The FAM founder Aaron Raus, it is a non-hierarchical field where compassion and collaboration triumph. The FAM is working toward making that a reality. What started as a project in a USC entrepreneurial class has become a non-profit — largely led by USC alumni.
Disturbed by the competition plaguing the music industry, Raus, then a sophomore at USC majoring in business administration, designed the club as a subscription-based organization. His goal of creating a more collaborative environment was largely inspired by the Trojan Family.
“In the Trojan Family, we may have no connection; we could be 25 years apart, studied completely different things,” Raus said. “But because you’re a part of the Trojan Family, I want to see you be successful.”
After its launch during Raus’ sophomore year, The FAM, which is short for FAMily, became a USC campus organization, shedding its entrepreneurial elements. Their membership is now at a couple hundred students on campus, according to Karyn Ben-Gal, a senior majoring in music industry and The FAM’s director of membership.
Despite The FAM’s diverse offerings — ranging from workshops to social events — the organization’s leadership under Raus and USC Chapter President Kyu Hun Han, said its panel series is the most valuable program they offer to the USC community. For Han, a senior majoring in music industry, The FAM’s panel series gave him the confidence to take risks as he prepares to begin his career in the industry.
“We brought on a hip hop artist named Call Me Ace,” Han said. “He talked about his unique experience in the industry, and how he’s balancing his corporate life with his creative work. As someone that wants to personally take that route, it was super cool to see how he was balancing everything.”
The FAM’s name was not just a stylistic choice. Maintaining a family-oriented nature, even amongst strangers, is central to the club’s mission according to Raus. Ben-Gal, who transferred as a junior, credits The FAM for making her transition much easier. She said that the organization provided her with an avenue to make friends when she was initially placed in classes largely dominated by freshmen.
“Everyone already had their friend groups. I was looking at other ways to get involved and meet people within my major,” Ben-Gal said. “I heard of The FAM, and I was like, ‘This is a great way for me to get involved and meet people who have the same goals and aspirations as me.’”
Like many clubs on campus, The FAM maintains club activities remotely. The organization, heavily dedicated to promoting networking and facilitating connections, naturally faces difficulty as they’re forced onto Zoom according to Han.
“I feel like the industry does thrive, and music in itself thrives on the one-on-one conversations you can have in-person, and that face-to-face is super important to me,” Han said.
There is a bright side to the remote conversations forced by the coronavirus pandemic, however. After moving events onto Zoom, Raus noticed an uptick in the number of attendees who lived outside the country.
“We’ve had people from Australia and people from Mexico come to our events,” Raus said. “That tells me that we should be continuing to host virtual events — maybe not nearly as often — but providing opportunities for people that don’t have the luxury of a music community wherever they are.”
After reaching outside the country, The FAM is setting its sights on even more difficult to reach territory — UCLA. Not only does it seem intuitive to expand their potential network by reaching out to a long-known rival, UCLA’s location and overlap is perfect, according to Raus, as The FAM eases into creating a new chapter there.
“Our goal is to start our second chapter this fall,” Raus said. “Our network is in Los Angeles, and they have a great music program.”
As an outsider to other universities, Raus recognized he had to acquire some sort of credibility to garner support for The FAM on other campuses. His solution was to morph The FAM into a non-profit, something radically different from the project he created as a sophomore at the Marshall School of Business. After a nine-month-long process, the organization acquired 501(c)(3) status — what is known as a charitable organization.
“We’re able to have that credibility and take that to NYU, or Belmont or Miami,” Raus said. “I think just being a club doesn’t give you that same credibility.”
Raus shared that there was also a financial motivator for his eagerness to acquire 501(c)(3) status. As a non-profit, The FAM has a wider array of sources to fund donations. Now, they work toward receiving funding from patrons who are not exclusive to the USC community.
“We have tax-deductible donations, which means we can now connect with anyone who’s interested in supporting the arts,” Raus said.
The FAM’s efforts provide another safety net for USC students in warranted crises as they struggle with pre-professional aspirations. Its transition from a Marshall entrepreneurship class assignment to a club that caters to hundreds on campus reflects The FAM’s growth as it attempts to maintain community-centered values according to Raus. These values would be The FAM’s differentiator from any other networking club on campus.
As the organization enters a new era as a non-profit, students across the country are being exposed to something that Raus believes the Trojan Family figured out a long time ago — a commitment to fostering community over competition that makes the pre-professional arena easier on everyone involved. Still, in Ben-Gal’s experience, The FAM’s greatest value lies in its family-oriented quality that ensures that, even while networking, one can still find a friend.
“[The FAM] has taught me the importance of being kind of a family and a bigger sister to others,” Ben-Gal said. “Being someone that others can lean on and use as a resource, rather than being like ‘this is my spot and you can’t take any of it.’”