McCormick junior Aaron Nissim Senfeld always had a passion for music, but after playing classical piano for a decade, he reached a dilemma.

“I became disenchanted with classical music because I felt like I was always using other people’s emotions rather than being upfront with my creative energies,” the 20-year-old hip-hop producer and entrepreneur said. “I started improvising, and then something clicked. I would much rather make my own music than play other people’s.”

Senfeld’s complicated relationship with music led him to a new passion for production. He ultimately became integrated into the Chicago music scene and got involved in entrepreneurial ventures with the Garage. His time spent at Northwestern’s innovation center led to his most recent involvement in the Artist Incubator and Residency Program, the university’s first artist incubator.

Senfeld’s involvement in music entrepreneurship all began when he ventured away from the traditional classical music and took a deep dive into hip-hop in eighth grade. He came out the other end as a producer and looked at producing as his own form of self-expression. “I produce for other people, but my productions are songs in and of itself,” he said.

After developing his craft throughout high school by playing in musical groups and experimenting by creating his own work, Senfeld arrived at Northwestern and quickly established himself in the Chicago music production scene. He began working with respected local artists like Mick Jenkins –– a well-known Chicago-based hip hop artist –– and used his passion for the music industry to generate an abundance of ideas on how he could monetize the arts.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Senfeld
Photo courtesy of Aaron Senfeld

For advice, he looked to the experts at the Garage. He entered with an abundance of ideas that were narrowed down to his first venture called Jampack – a music curation service that created playlists for its customers based on a series of personal attributes. His experience with the startup also led to his most recent work on the Artist Incubator and Residency Program founded by SESP junior Olivia Hernandez.

Each year, the incubator program selects a cohort of eight Northwestern artists across all mediums and guides them through a year-long curriculum to prepare them to operate their art as a business. The program helps amateur artists showcase and streamline their work, so they can reach a target audience.

After connecting during a WNUR event, Hernandez invited Senfeld to join the team and design the curriculum during its inaugural cohort after becoming familiar with his work during their freshman year.

“He’s very forward-thinking,” she said. “He has a lot of experience in entrepreneurship and target market research. I think he does a really good job at helping our artists find what differentiates themselves from the rest of the landscape.”

Senfeld used his experience in design, entrepreneurship and art critical theory to plan the program’s curriculum and help the artists get noticed.

“We’re not trying to commodify your art,” he said. “We’re trying to learn about how people relate to it, so we can forge more of those connections and strengthen those connections and really create a sustainable business for you without compromising your artistic integrity.”

The team of four hopes to expand into an agency after graduation, so they can advocate for artists both at Northwestern and in the greater Chicago area.

While Senfeld has expanded his entrepreneurial ventures outside the music realm into other mediums like film and visual art, he plans to forge a career in music, so he can chase his dreams and make a difference.

“The music industry has a lot of issues,” he said. “It’s my hope to be both a participant and a critic of the industry in a really involved way. There’s a lot of things I want to change about the industry that hopefully I’ll get to enact in the future. I have a lot of musical aspirations. I do want to go on tour. I want to be a historically significant musician, not just one that is popular – one that makes an impact.”