Seniors Gardner Grantham and Mason Pashia have had more opportunities and exposure to the professional music business in four weeks than they ever would have thought was possible in Kansas City.
The two were members of a group of 24 artists selected out of hundreds of applicants for the Grammy Museum’s Music Revolution program last summer, a camp for aspiring, gifted artists dedicated to exploring the music field.
The Grammy Museum, based in L.A., held its pilot program in Kansas City and was open for auditions for everyone between the ages of 15 and 24. To audition for a spot in the competitive program, applicants sent in videos of themselves performing their instrument or vocal talent along with an essay describing why they were interested in the program.
“Then they asked a bunch of creativity questions, like ‘If you could combine to genres, what would they be and why?’ and stuff like that,” Grantham said. “Then they came to Kauffman and interviewed us in groups of people they were interested in accepting.”
Once accepted, the two attended the camp from late June to early July. The program’s material was split into four weeks. The themes of the weeks covered a range of genres. The first week focused on blues, the second on hip hop, the third on country and the fourth on miscellaneous.
“My favorite week was country, just because it was the most fun and closest to the type of lyrics that I write,” Grantham said.
Pashia thought the hip-hop week was the most interesting. He had originally disliked the genre due to its current lack of imagination, but liked hearing the original artists and their messages. It made him appreciate it more, thanks to the genre’s history lecture given by program’s director, Bob Santelli.
“In the morning, [Santelli] lectured us on the history of the genre, and he would just tell us about famous artists and how it became what it is today and play us examples,” Pashia said. “It was like a music appreciation course. Then he’d go tell us to write a song in groups for that genre and present them to the rest of the group.”
The pair had the opportunity to become better acquainted with Santelli, a major name in the business as the director of the Grammy Museum and good friend of Bruce Springsteen’s. They met with CEOs, entertainment lawyers, writers, producers and musicians prominent in the music community. Examples include Jimmy Jam, Janet Jackson’s producer, Claude Kelly, who wrote “Grenade” for Bruno Mars, “Circus” for Britney Spears and “For Your Entertainment” for Adam Lambert, Andy Gibson, an up and coming country star, and the manager for Karmin.
But the final week was when their daily routine of lectures and writing took a twist. The groups were asked to pick names of bands or artists out of a hat, then write a song, lyrics and music reflecting the style of that artist. They would present their song to the rest of the group, and everyone would vote on which they believed was the song that most closely reflected the artist.
“I wasn’t too excited at first because I didn’t really like his music,” Grantham said. “The guy I partnered with laid down these beats and a piano part [off of his computer] after like ten or fifteen minutes. I just had to come up with the melody and the words, and by the time he laid that stuff down it sounded like a happy Bieber song, so I wrote a song about ‘Oh, I’m Bieber, talking about the girls I love, and how I’m gonna win that girl over, blah blah blah blah blah.’ Although he wouldn’t need to, since all girls love him.”
It worked out for the best, because Grantham and his partner won the contest.
Their prize? A chance to meet Justin Bieber and pitch their song to him.
“We thought we were going to get, like, candy or something,” Grantham said. “But the prize turned out to be that whoever won would get to meet the group they wrote for, so we were supposed to get to meet Justin Bieber the day before his concert.”
However, due to a last-minute booking at a charity event in New York City, Justin was unable to come. But Grantham’s disappointment didn’t last long; the morning of Oct. 25, the students reunited for a meeting and press conference for their camp and the opening of a small version of the Grammy Museum at the Sprint Center.
“This guy we’d never seen before came in and told us we were going to the Grammys,” Grantham said. “It turns out it was Tim Leiweke, the President of AEG Entertainment [the company that owns the Staples Center, Sprint Center and other entertainment venues]. I’m so excited.”
The group will get an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to perform at Leiweke’s pre-Grammy party, then watch the Grammys from a private suite.
Leiweke’s party will give them the chance for exposure in a music hotspot, as well as the opportunity to add to their list of contacts in the music world.
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Although Pashia is mostly a solo act while Grantham is guitarist and lead vocals for his band Local Talk, the pair have done performances together all through high school on weekends at different cafes, fifth quarters (post-football game socials) and sometimes give impromptu performances on the Plaza. But the end of high school won’t be the end of the line for them.
They both plan to attend Belmont University in Nashville together, and are hopeful to get into the school’s competitive music school. They hope their recommendation letters from the camp, written on Grammy stationery, will give them leverage, since Santelli is best friends with the owner of Belmont.
Pashia thinks he will study engineering if he doesn’t get in to the music school, but will still write and perform on the side.
Grantham wants to start a small record label, then try to make it become a major one. He is intrigued by the process that arts and repertoire (AR) people go through, and may like to become one himself. An AR person’s job is to go out and find aspiring artists, and, if they like them, ask them for a CD or demo to bring back to the label. If the label likes it, then they’ll sign the artist.
“But something that’s really not cool that labels will do is when the artist signs the contract with the label, and the label doesn’t like them, the label won’t let them record any albums,” Grantham said. “But the contract keeps the band from going to other labels, so basically they are just keeping them for themselves. I wouldn’t do that, I don’t think that’s the point.”
But like the Grammy Museum, the boys will leave their mark here at the jumping off point.
“To see the future of music right here and to know that the music will go on here long after we’re all gone really is inspirational,” Brenda Tinnen, General Manager and Senior Vice President of Sprint Center, said. “I want to hear one of you [up on stage winning a Grammy] say thank you, I got my start in Kansas City at the Music Revolution program. That would be the icing on the cake.”