Urbanity: An Interview with Jeff Billingsley

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Newark, NJ social entrepreneur, and consultant Jeff Billingsley is CEO of Cobblestone Multimedia, an Independent Multimedia Company that is comprised of a music, film & television content production group, casting agency, and professional audio recording services located in Newark, NJ. He studied Business at Essex County College and Rutgers University in Newark, NJ, holds a Mini MBA in Digital Media Marketing from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ and is a Leadership Newark Alumni. He currently stands at the helm of several apprenticeship programs for youth and adults in partnership with Rutgers University, Essex County College, and the Berklee College of Music City Music Network. At Cobblestone Multimedia Jeff also partners with Day 28 Films, ACE Media Corp, Indigi Music, NEWART Film, Newark Riverfront Revival, Ironbound Film Studios, Newark International Film Festival, The Newark Office of Film & Television, and is an Alumni Community Partner at Express Newark working on numerous collaborative global ventures. Jeff is a Senior Entrepreneur in Residence at the Rutgers Business School, Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development as a Co-founder of the Newark Business Hub and is also the Assistant Director of Communications at Rutgers University-Newark. Billingsley has always yearned to make a positive difference in the lives of underserved youth and adults. He created several ventures as a result of his appreciation of the entertainment industry and the untapped potential it represented as a personal and professional resource for residents in urban areas.

Billingsley is the recipient of the 2016 Newark NAACP 102nd Freedom Fund Entrepreneurial Award and his resume includes notable positions such as Executive Producer of The Birth of Def, Who is Bob Sumner? Documentary Producer and Music Consultant for the award-winning feature film called “Gimme Shelter” starring Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, and the legendary James Earl Jones. Associate Producer for the award-winning and critically acclaimed Short film “Ugly” that also screened at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France. “Ugly” is currently airing on HBO and Cinemax.  Associate Producer and Music  Associate Producer and Music Supervisor for the award-winning Docudrama called “Surviving the Streets”. Co-Creator and owner of “Entrepreneur Life”, apparel & online merchandise store.  A member of The  Quincy  Jones Music Consortium,  former Director of Community Relations for Harlan  Media, Director of Rutgers University’s Project C.O.R.E. & S.E.A.R.C.H., Professional Development Consultant for the NJ Department of Labor, Newark Public Schools Department of College to Career Readiness, At-Risk Youth Program Consultant and a contracted vendor.   In addition, he has worked with the Rutgers University  Police  Institute’s  Operation  Ceasefire  Anti-Gun  Violence Program and Public Education  Campaign.  He is also a member of ASCAP  and  BMI  through  Cobblestone  Music Publishing.  With multiple successful programs under his tutelage and entertainment  industry relationships, Billingsley is making a difference in his community, music, film, and the lives of the next generation of entrepreneurs, creatives, and leaders.



KG: You are a multi-talented man and kudos to all of your endeavors, but what do you want to be remembered for?

JB: Thank you Kisha. I am working to create a legacy that lives on when I’m no longer here in the physical.  I want the programs, movements, and companies that I have a stake in to continue to give underserved individuals and creative entrepreneurs access to executive level education, networks, and capital that creates equity, ownership, profitability, sustainability, and empowerment for brown and black people globally.

KG: You turned a negative into a positive and your re-entry story has a happy ending, how did you accomplish this?

JB: This is all God’s plan.  While I was incarcerated over 25 years ago I learned how to focus on the positive opportunities that adversity presents. Being humble, persistence, and continuing education pay. I have learned the power of paying things forward and mentorship.  My journey is far from the happy ending, but I surround myself with positive talented people that are like minded. I am also allergic to negative energy. Everyday above ground I fight to remain sucker free, it’s not easy but is necessary! I know a lot of people, but my core circle is so tight it’s a dot. I know for a fact that I will always figure out a way to expose underserved youth and adults to opportunities if they are serious about doing the right thing with their life.  

KG: You turned a negative into a positive and your re-entry story has a happy ending, how did you accomplish this?

JB: This is all God’s plan.  While I was incarcerated over 25 years ago I learned how to focus on the positive opportunities that adversity presents. Being humble, persistence, and continuing education pay. I have learned the power of paying things forward and mentorship.  My journey is far from the happy ending, but I surround myself with positive talented people that are like minded. I am also allergic to negative energy. Everyday above ground I fight to remain sucker free, it’s not easy but is necessary! I know a lot of people, but my core circle is so tight it’s a dot.  I know for a fact that I will always figure out a way to expose underserved youth and adults to opportunities if they are serious about doing the right thing with their life.

KG: Describe a typical day in your life?

JB: This is a loaded question, nothing is typical about being a serial social entrepreneur lol.  In addition to the companies I operate, I also currently work at Rutgers University-Newark Office of Communications as the Assistant Director. The Office of Communications reports to the R U-N Chancellor’s office. The department manages many aspects of communications for R U-N, including the core website, media relations, multimedia digital content production, social media, publications, selected special events and community engagement projects. Members of our staff work collaboratively with other campus administrators and faculty members to advance R U-N’s excellence in teaching, research, and service.  One of the things that I am grateful for is having a team with my companies. That allows me to manage and schedule my time effectively. With Cobblestone Multimedia we are currently producing a documentary “The Birth of Def, Who is Bob Sumner?” running a youth reentry multimedia program in partnership with the Juvenile Justice Commission, Rutgers TEEM Gateway and Express Newark, producing music for television and film, getting ready to begin promotional campaigns for a film “Catch A Girl” that we helped produce and another documentary “Killing Beef, Gun Violence In The Black Community” that we produced the music/score for that will be premiering January 2019 on Revolt TV.  As a Senior Entrepreneur in Residence at the Rutgers Business School and Co-founder of the NewarkBusinessHub.com we are expanding with our first affiliate program, The Memphis Business Hub in Memphis, TN that launched in July 2018 and we also began a cultural, arts, and creative entrepreneurship exploratory exchange in Havana, Cuba. We also have an e-commerce merchandise store, WHEREISTHATMONEY.COM that I manage. Spending time and checking up on my family & loved ones, and living a healthier lifestyle is a very important part of my everyday life.  

KG: Where do you see yourself in five years?

JB: Doing much more business internationally. Doing a promotional run for my autobiographical documentary film, and television series about my journey. Providing financing for commercial real estate and retail development that drives neighborhood transformation via the Newark Business Hub model worldwide.  Living bi-coastal and spending more time with my loved ones. 

KG: What do you see that is missing in media, and what contribution do you plan to implement?

JB: Currently the state of NJ is a media desert.  New York and Philadelphia are the largest mass media outlets close to us.  We need to develop, produce, and distribute positive NJ stories and news globally through platforms that are NJ based and that we have equity and ownership in.  The NJ Film Tax Credit and the Newark International Film Festival are tools that we have to promote to attract more NJ based productions. So instead of complaining, we are currently working on creating something to help fill this media desert void in our state.  This is a huge collaborative effort.  We are looking to make an announcement later in 2019 so stay tuned in.

KG: What is one word that best describes you?

JB: Focused.

KG: What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career in multimedia?

JB: Do as much research as possible to determine what your passion is in this industry in advance. Learn the business model by doing internships behind the scenes and it helps to get mentors that are in the industry as well. The internet is a major tool to conduct research. Use your time wisely.

KG: How has your hometown supported your endeavors?

JB: Yes and no depending on what specific demographic from Newark you are talking about.

  
KG: Tell us about your company, Cobblestone Multimedia, LLC 

JB: Cobblestone Multimedia is an award-winning company that is comprised of music, film, television, and video content production divisions, a casting agency, state of the art professional audio recording services, and several youth and young adult multimedia entrepreneurial apprenticeship programs in partnership with Rutgers University, Essex County College, NJ Juvenile Justice Commission and others. My business partner Marcel Green and I started off the company as Cobblestone Records, LLC in 2004 as an independent record label and professional recording studio on Bergen Street and Renner Ave in the South Ward of Newark, NJ. As the music business experienced a huge transformation due to the internet and streaming, we evolved into Cobblestone Multimedia, LLC in 2008 and we began to produce videos, commercials, documentaries, and films using the music we produced in that content as well as licensing our music for major film projects and television networks.

KG: How has social media helped you and your business?

JB: Social media is an ultimate marketing platform that allows us to reach targeted demographics globally with very low overhead. Social media allows us to collect data and analytics that informs our current clients as well as establishing new clients.  We conduct a lot of market research on social media trends that help our business projections quarterly and annually.