Popular music undergraduate launches entrepreneurial career

Winston Turner

Winston Russell Turner, Bachelor of Arts in popular music. Courtesy photo


Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Undergraduate student Winston Russell Turner said he feels like the universe brought him to ASU for the popular music program, even though he originally enrolled as a journalism student.

“After class, I was making beats and found so much joy and freedom through it that I eventually got to a point where I would be sitting in class thinking about how to get better at music,” he said. “I was putting assignments off for music and began making purchases to upgrade my studio — speakers, headphones, keyboards, etc. I began to research different music programs in the nation and found the ASU Popular Music program. I felt at home immediately after seeing the building and what it had to offer.”

This May, Turner will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in popular music from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

He is now a music producer, DJ, creative director and co-owner of a company called om*.

“Winston has excelled in each one of his classes, been instrumental in building the producer community in our program, and been a shining light of positivity, innovation and creativity. He demonstrates an unwavering entrepreneurial mindset,” said C. Samuel Peña, clinical assistant professor and assistant director of popular music.

Turner said his biggest accomplishment while at ASU was founding om* in September 2023 with his longtime friend and now business partner, Donovan Johnson.

He said om* is a combination of both their talents — Johnson specializes in photography, videography, creative direction and graphic design — while Turner specializes in music production, music management, DJing and creative direction.

“We have the opportunity to use our talents for the good of others, and it’s been a lot of fun,” Turner said. “I’ve always been interested in working for myself, so aligning my creative practices with my work was always a huge goal for me.”

The company's mission, Turner said, is to give voice to the voiceless and make a positive impact by giving back to those in need, supporting the duos core values of compassion and community support.

The duo created a popular clothing line and organized a photo and music exhibition at The Greater Good in Phoenix featuring Johnson's journey to the Amazon Rainforest and his time at IYARINA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the rainforest and supporting the Indigenous community. They donated proceeds to the nonprofit.

Turner is also a co-creator of the ASU Popular Music event “60 Min Flip,” which takes place four times a semester and has attracted the attention of national artists and producers Kaelin Ellis and Sha Money XL, who attended the spring 2024 event.

Turner has made beats for rappers, artists and podcast intros and has worked with numerous Valley artists, including Yungbc, stirlingsims, Young Scorcher and Aidan Govan. In addition to DJing professionally, Turner also performs DJ sets that he organizes or has been invited to, including the ASU FIDM “Uncertainty” fashion show and the Herberger Institute’s annual Herberger Institute Day event alongside Peña. He said his favorite genres to spin are drum and bass, rap, house and afro beats.

He has composed, produced and released eight single recordings nationally with featured artists.

“Winston is creative, calm, cool, kind and courageous and I am consistently inspired by his leadership, strong work ethic and unwavering positivity,” Peña said. “As a music producer and DJ, he always works to develop his musicianship and his reach of audience. As an entrepreneur, he is innovative and brings folks along as he builds community and art. Without a doubt, Winston Turner will continue to make remarkable contributions in the years ahead.”

Turner is the recipient of the 2024 Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Outstanding Entrepreneur award.

Q: What is something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: The biggest thing was my outlook on my future. I realized that the path is never what you think it’s going to be — it’s constantly changing. I remember wanting to be a video game designer when I was younger, a psychiatrist, a journalist and now I’m in a field that I never expected to be in. You just have to trust the process. It’s super nerve-racking at first because before you know it those four years in college are over, but it’s like finding puzzle pieces along the way that eventually make a bigger picture. Now that I know that I just pay attention to what may or may not be a puzzle piece and continue on. Be open to the possibilities life throws your way.

Q: Which professor or faculty member taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Samuel Peña has taught me the most important lessons since being here. He taught me how to DJ, and he’s done nothing but push and support me to be the best version of myself. He’s always looking out for me, and I see a lot of myself in him as well. He taught me to keep going and to always have fun with what you’re doing. The way he carries himself when he’s swamped with work is inspiring because I’ve been there a lot since switching into the program. We’ve had the opportunity to work with each other multiple times, and those are some of my favorite moments since starting music.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best piece of advice I’d give to those still in school is to keep going. The road is confusing and hard but the more you keep going the more sense it’ll make. At times you’ll feel lost and want to quit, but it gets easier! Fail over and over until you get it right.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I plan on staying here in Arizona for a while to grow om* and also develop my music career. I’ve got a good foundation right now that I hope to expand on even more in these coming years. 

Q: Did you receive any scholarships while at ASU, and if so, which ones? What did it mean to you to be able to receive this funding?

A: I received a couple of scholarships while at ASU, two grants and the Dean’s Distinction Award. It meant a lot to me because I am an out-of-state student.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: If I had $40 million to solve one problem it would have to be homelessness. I don’t think any human should have to live without a roof over their head. When I’m in Phoenix or back home in Vegas for the summer I feel for those on the side of the street in triple-digit heat; it’s not fair. With the money, I would create shelters for those in need and support them with jobs as well so they can transition slowly from those shelters.

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