Black Gold Road – A Black History Project

From Detroit to New Orleans, each city in our team’s region offers something integral to American music by way of their artists, sounds, genres, record labels and history at large. Not only were Black artists in Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans creating world changing music during some of Black America’s most troubling times, they were also responsible for the creation of distinguished and acclaimed genres and musical movements that gave the outside world a glimpse into the beauty of the Black experience, and gave our inside world hope, joy and strength to carry on.

BLACKGOLDROADCOVERIn honor of Black History Month and the contributions that Black artists from each of our cities made to American music, we present:


A collection of songs and sounds that go down the road of some of the most essential cities to Black music and explore the history, impact and beauty of music inspired by our home towns of New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Chicago and Detroit.

*Scroll to the bottom of post for Soundcloud playlist of Black Gold Road*



“What’s Going On” is one of Marvin Gaye’s biggest hits.  Marvin Gaye was one of the original artists of Berry Gordy’s Motown– which was founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1959 after droves of Blacks migrated to Detroit for job opportunities in the automobile industry- giving Detroit the largest population of Blacks in the country. Motown became first Black-owned record label to reach widespread acclaim- achieving more than 180 hit records worldwide and launching global artists like Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, The Temptations and Michael Jackson. Because of Motown’s unifying impact on such a segregated country, Detroit is said to have created “The Sound That Changed America.” “What’s Going On” was the perfect song to remake right now considering the division in our country and recent school shooting in Florida. Every youth that participated in the creation of this track enjoyed it thoroughly. We hope it lifts your spirit like it did ours.


howlin-wolf-1Chicago Blues was born following the great migration of African Americans from the southern US to the industrial cities of the North. This population included working class people and musicians as well. The specific Blues style found in Chicago evolved from street musicians who played dense areas for tips and to mingle with fellow musicians. This track, produced at the Notes For Notes Chicago studio, reflects characteristics of modern South Side Chicago Hip- Hop. It includes Drill, a subgenre of Trap music whose gritty and realistic undertones hold threads to the classic Chicago Blues sound. Not only is the sound of old school Chicago deeply ingrained in the new generation of music, but also its attitudes and spirit of humility and hardwork. “Chicago Blue Soul” includes samples of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake For Me,” an excerpt from a 1966 interview with Howlin Wolf, and Gene Chandler’s “A Song Called Soul.” These artists recorded with Chicago record labels Chess Records and Constellation Records,  which specialized in Rhythm and Blues.


cliffordExecutively produced by youth producer, IV, “The Dream” is your Trap cliff notes to your annual Black History Month lesson. Featuring rappers Lil Spittii and Eric, the track features a Clifford Curry sample of his song “Ain’t No Danger.”  Curry was a notable R&B and Soul musician active in the Nashville music scene from the late 50s up to the late 90s. The Nashville Scene called him Nashville’s R&B Hero. Nashville’s historic Jefferson Street, which connects its two Historically Black Colleges Tennessee State University and Fisk University (and ironically connects our two N4N studios in North Nashville), was a haven for Jazz and Blues music. During the 50s and 60s, you could find a Jazz or Blues club on every corner of Jefferson Street. Artists like Etta James, Jimi Hendrix and Hank Crawford spent some of the earliest years of their careers developing their sound, creating, and performing right here in Nashville, Tennessee. This fresh take on a historic track is the perfect soundtrack for highlighting the amazing accomplishments of Black Americans past and present.


R-4636022-1370633199-6246.jpegMemphis is home to the legendary Beale Street and has also been deemed “Home of the Blues.” By the 1900s, Beale Street was filled with clubs –many of which were owned by Blacks– where you could hear Blues music being performed by some of America’s most noted musicians such as B.B. King, Howlin Wolf, and W.C Handy. The Blues was created on southern plantations as slaves, ex-slaves and sharecroppers sang about their sorrows. Blues influenced musicians worldwide and certainly made its mark on Memphis artists like Isaac Hayes. “Wild Flower” samples the Memphis/Stax Records legendary artist Isaac Hayes and his hit record “Walk on By.” The beat was created by our New Orleans program director (Thanks Justen!) and many of the lyrics are inspired by the movie Black Panther, which debuted in theaters last weekend. The lyrics are also inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and significant historical events of the movement that took place in Memphis such as the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike, Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, and the great leader’s assassination at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel in 1968.



Marching bands and Second Lines made up of predominantly brass instruments and driven by robust horn sections are a huge part of New Orleans’ culture and the Black population’s contribution to it. From high school and college events to parades during Mardi Gras season, marching bands can always be heard –filling the air with the essence of New Orleans culture. New Orleans is considered to be the birthplace of Jazz music and the city’s musical legacy is recognized worldwide. African influence on the city’s music traces back to Congo Square, where slaves would congregate to play music on Sundays. In “Any Means Necessary,” one of New Orleans most elite marching bands, St. Augustine High School marching band, was sampled and paired with Hip-Hop beat made by Prosper Jones. Youth artist Lance is also featured in true New Orleans fashion, expounding on his connection to Malcolm X’s approach to achieving equality. 



From Motown to the Big Easy

As a performing/recording artist who has always made it my personal mission to empower youth in creative, after-school program settings,

Notes for Notes is the perfect collision of two worlds that I always hoped to exist fully within.

So, naturally, working in my initial position as a program director in the Detroit studio was like a dream come true. I not only had a space and platform to create music everyday, I had the opportunity to do that work with youth from my hometown- from a community that is so precious to me.

Soon after I got my feet in the ground at the Detroit studio, I gained the opportunity to work with and travel to the Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans studios as an area director. As if Detroit’s musical legacy of Motown wasn’t enough, I would now have access to the youth artists creating in the cities where Country, Jazz and Blues were birthed!

Check out some photos of the amazing youth I’ve encountered creating/performing, and our awesome program directors doing what they do best in their cities and studios during my travels!

First, gotta show love to Detroit – my home studio. Here’s some of our amazing youth from the S.O.N.G project after a long and successful recording session. 

An impromptu lesson with Memphis guitarist David.

Enjoying Taylor Gayle’s set of originals at the BMI showcase in Nashville.

I’m a fan 🙂

Making friends with aspiring rappers/producers Monte and Tae in our South Nashville studio

South Nashville program director, Cam, teaching Monte and Tae production fundamentals.

Sitting in on a session with Nashville North program director, Will, and youth rapper King Lil C’Jay

Our Nashville East program director co-writing a song with Eric during a Songwriter’s Workshop

Youth artists ZuZu, Keeven and Tae presenting their song at a Songwriter’s Workshop in Nashville

Needless to say, visiting cities across the country with an immensely rich music history and working with the youth creating from their legacies is the icing on the cake of an already sweet situation 😉

Girls Rock Detroit: Obliterating Gender Biases In the Music Industry written by Nia Shumake

By Nia Shumake


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“Unlike a man [a woman] is never simply and gloriously a musician. She is a ‘female guitar player’ or ‘a female drummer’. Her gender precedes her” —-”Anonymous

     Gender Biases in the music industry has been prominent since the very beginning of time and in the last decade though the workplace has become heavily infiltrated in the business sector of the industry, female artists/musicians still struggle to earn the respect of their male counterparts. In 2015, Fusion found that performances by women only, contributed to only 26% of Billboard’s Top 40 and only 10% of the acts on the music festival circuit. According to the Women Audio Mission, only 5 % of people working in music production are women. Here at Notes for Notes we are intentional about providing opportunities to the demographic of our youth at the SAY PLAY Detroit center. We have an overwhelming group of young women who frequent the studio with interests in the music that range from voice, songwriting, production and learning to play instruments.

“We have an overwhelming group of young women who frequent the studio with interests in the music that range from voice, songwriting, production and learning to play instruments”


When Michigan-based musician, Melissa Coppola approached the Notes for Notes Detroit Staff with her vision to have our studio host her project Girls Rock Detroit, we knew it was what the music community needed and coincided with the values of our non profit. The summer camp is an accelerated course in creating music for girls from age 8 to 16. We hosted the musicians for the week of August 21st , and at 9:30 am each day, the youth worked writing and taking music courses in their respective room rotation/ band until 4:30 pm. The Board of Directors were anal about having women represented thus all classes were taught by women and each classroom was labeled with a popular female musician/producer. The sound of the young rock stars permeated the entire building as we heard a combination of drums clashing in one room and writers writing to chords in another.

     “The sound of the young rock stars permeated the entire building as we heard a combination of drums clashing in one room and writers writing to chords in another”

 By the end of the camp, the bands held a showcase concert for family and friends. Nonetheless, the impact that the camp had on the young musicians was phenomenal and challenged me to question the way in which many people often view artists. Often times when people see a woman who is into music they’ll assume that you are solely just a vocalist or a songwriter, when there are endless possibilities and plenty of gifted musicians that happen to women creating. It is our hope that this camp has inspired girls to consider creating music as a valid career choice. At N4N Detroit studio, we place emphasis on both representation and intersectionality. Furthermore we want our youth to feel empowered as though they have a right to be taken seriously pursuing music professionally both as female and at our studio POC. Hopefully this will challenge us to call our girls up higher and encourage them to do whatever they put their minds to accomplishing musically.

     “Hopefully this will challenge us to call our girls up higher and encourage them to do whatever they put their minds to accomplishing musically”

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Summer Song Series: A Review

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By Nia Shumake

     Light and love had illuminated Hard Rock Cafe, the night of Motown Mix. I was in awe of what had been accomplished by the youth over a couple of months–rewriting world renowned bops is not an easy task, and our youth handled this with grace making each song listenable and unique to a modern day Detroit experience. It was bittersweet, I being both overjoyed for the success of the showcase but also melancholy about the departure of brilliant youth who I wouldn’t see until the very end of the summer. Nonetheless, it was time to move on to next project.
    After, a debrief on the showcase we had just  under three short weeks to create an execution strategy for our newest project: Summer Song Series. It would encompass bringing incredible artists together to create original material with the final product, an EP.  We were excited and began brainstorming curriculum, programming & tools for registration as a means of personality and musical aptitude assessment. Because we wanted optimum results, our registration process was only a precursor to our first day of the series. Using a combination of Myer-Briggs, The Four Temperaments, and music taste we managed to create two separate groups of artists/producers. Strangely enough, we managed to get a type a “Voyage to India” fan with 15 personality types in the same group as a kid producer who wanted to create Jay Z  “4:44” vibes and a social butterfly Taylor Bennett fan. The youth were both anxious and excited to make magic.
File_000 (1)Our first try at jamming involved adding a song to J. Cole’s Born Sinner where Childish Gambino sang the hook. Though elated, it was obvious that the youth weren’t as vulnerable with their peers. Creativity is sacred and it takes courage to share work amongst strangers – I empathized. Much to my surprise by that Wednesday, writers came ready to work on original material for their fellow singer-songwriter Maia. The song was finished by the following Monday afternoon + and they are now working on more original music.
 I am constantly impressed with the array of talented youth that we’ve encountered at and the work that has continued to come out of our studio. We are simply a microcosm of all the city has to offer. Motown Mix was incredible, and it proves the capabilities of our Detroit youth. It set the bar for our studio and we as Detroit staff work at making our performances and material better. These kids are the quintessence of talent,  diligence and potential. I am amazed by their emotional intelligence, acceptance of constructive criticism and responding to the their life experiences with their art. I am honored to be apart of their musical journeys and look forward to all of the magic that will be made towards the very end.

A Colorful Music Palette: Jam Session with Ocean Park Standoff

Ocean Park Standoff makes a visit to Notes for Notes Detroit.

By Nia Shumake

When I learned that we had an upcoming artist visit from the pop group, Ocean Park Standoff , the band comprised of Pete Nappi, Ethan Thompson and Samantha Ronson, sister of the world renowned English producer/musician Mark Ronson, I thought to myself, how will the LA based pop group with English roots relate to our youth?  Charity and I, are both adamant about representation and relatability for our youth. So for me these questions constantly cross my mind in regards to studio programming. Our studio is predominantly Black and we serve youth in the Detroit and Metro-Detroit area from different socioeconomic statuses and backgrounds. But regardless of socio-economic status/background,

young artists need to see themselves.

Nonetheless, for the Detroiter and/or Black Detroiter experiences are not all monolithic, and the proof is in the history of our music scene being the catalyst for multiple genres ranging from Motown to Electronic. Through co-managing the studio, I’ve witnessed youth who aren’t just interested in pop culture’s hip hop, but often inquire about artists like Tribe Called Quest and J Dilla while simultaneously building appreciation for classical pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto. On the other hand, we have our crew of church kids that will belt out  Tasha Cobbs’ “For Your Glory” right after singing Jay Hawkins, “I Put a Spell on You”. This is all apart of the rich history in Detroit’s music scene and its remnants happen to be left in our youth. 

Samantha, Pete and Ethan of Ocean Park Standoff

Samantha, Pete and Ethan of Ocean Park Standoff

When I read in a Paper mag article from April that  Ocean Park Standoff enjoyed the release of EPs for the sake of expressing themselves in multiple genres, I felt a sense of relief.  I had confidence that they would understand the music that our youth loved. I knew there was an opportunity for true connection.

We value the power of creativity through collaboration and are overjoyed partnering with other creatives”


Singer JoJo performing a Corinne Bailey Rae song during the Jam Session

Singer JoJo performing a Corinne Bailey Rae song during the Jam Session

Before the group’s arrival that Friday, youth artists Renita, Jojo, Shaunell and Dre were present with a repertoire of songs prepared to perform for their guests. Meanwhile, Kevin worked in the back with producer, D Slate on sampling the group’s hit single, “Good News”. At the studio, we value the power of creativity through collaboration and are overjoyed to partner with other creatives. Therefore, our CEO Phil created an incredible platform for the youth and band to share their music via jam session. The keys and mics were free for all to pick up and add to their own sound to the environment.

Lyricist Dre freestyling during the jam session

Lyricist Dre freestyling during the jam session

Towards the the end of the session, Dre freestyled to music from his peers and managed to woo the LA band with his lyricism to their sound.

“I create because I have to.”

Renita and JoJo interviewing the members of Ocean Park Standoff at the Mojo in the Morning Broadcast Station

Renita and JoJo interviewing the members of Ocean Park Standoff at the Mojo in the Morning Broadcast Station



Up next was Renita and Jojo’s podcast interview with the group, tackling a plethora of topics for artist such as remaining relevant, versatility in musical genres and those moments where you wonder if you’ll ever create your best work again. The key was to keep creating, in the words of Ethan Thompson, “ I create because I have to”, something that felt so familiar to each person in the room. When they talked about musical influences, it was to myself and the students’ surprise that Ronson’s songwriting was inspired by both the lyricism of Hip Hop legends like Nas and Jay Z but also the enigmatic folklore poet, Leonard Cohen.

Then we approached the final moment of the artist visit when Kevin presented his work to  Samantha, Pete and Ethan. It was almost as if he took the room to church with his chords and bass line and we were all impressed, asking him to play the loop over and over again. Here we had mainstream singer-songwriters, an English American DJ, vocal jazz ensemble members and church kids all in one room and in creative synergy for the love of music. The visit was not exactly what I had expected.  

The language of music is both universal AND cultural, hence why the cliche metaphor “music is a bridge” can often fail to include those cultural intricacies, but that day the phrase rang true, and I saw the power of true collaborative creativity at work.

Thank you to Ocean Park Standoff for an awesome artist visit and thank you having such a colorful music palette!

The Motown Mix Review

JoJo, Ivon and Renita performing their reworking of
Singer, Dewaun, preparing for his verse in "I Wish".

Singer, Dewaun, preparing for his verse in “I Wish”.

Eddie and De'Jah rehearsing "I Wish". Stevie Wonder's version was about wanting rewing the hands of time. Their version was about wanting to speed them up!

Eddie and De’Jah rehearsing “I Wish”. Stevie Wonder’s version was about wanting rewing the hands of time. Their version was about wanting to speed them up!

On a Friday evening hours after the studio’s regular hours had ended, I felt myself holding back tears. The participants of the Motown Mix project and I had just finished our final rehearsal and this group of teens had evolved from youth participants into members of what felt like a creative family. We had gotten into the habit of rehearsing for twice as many days a week and for twice as long in efforts to put on an amazing show at Detroit’s Hard Rock Cafe, and at the end of what was a trying but rewarding process, I remembered their auditions six months before and the goosebumps I felt on my skin when I imagined them making music in the N4N studio. This experience had truly come full circle. The 13 Motown Mix participants had learned so much about Motown, become friends, learned to respect, celebrate and collaborate with one another, and began to identify as songwriters when they thought they’d only be singing, and as producers when they thought they’d only be playing.

Youth intern Renita introducing the first act.

Youth intern Renita introducing the first act.

The following Sunday, the youth performers were anxiously humming the lyrics and melodies to Motown classics around the Hard Rock Cafe and before we knew it the room was filled to standing room only capacity with N4N staff, volunteers, and the proud family and friends of the night’s headliners. Just before the show began, Hard Rock’s speakers filled the room with the Motown Mix Playlist – songs featuring classic Motown samples the producers had worked on alongside production mentor Dennis Mars. Our drummer Destin’s eyes widened upon realizing what was playing and he proudly said, “That’s us!!”

3 out of 4 of the Motown Mix Band Josh, Destin and Kevin (left to right), Allen not pictured.

3 out of 4 of the Motown Mix Band Josh, Destin and Kevin (left to right), Allen not pictured.

The stage was soon occupied by a band fully comprised of high school students that played impeccably to the voices of the Motown Mix singers and songwriters. Together they performed their original ode to self love “Alright” then their lyrical and musical rearrangements of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and The Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye”.

Shaunell and Ivon who performed "Every Little Bit Hurts" by Brenda Holloway and "All I Do" by Stevie Wonder during the "Ladies of Motown Medley"

Shaunell and Ivon who performed “Every Little Bit Hurts” by Brenda Holloway and “All I Do” by Stevie Wonder during the “Ladies of Motown Medley”

After a few songs, N4N’s faithful volunteer, Motown Mix mentor and brilliant artist Olivia Millerschin performed some of her originals and a beautiful rendition of the Temptation’s “My Girl” that the crowd blissfuly sang along with her. After a passionate delivery of the “Ladies of Motown Medley” by a few of Motown Mix’s special girls, it was my turn to perform a set of my own.  In the midst of performing my originals and working a little “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder in, I was holding back tears again as I looked to my right and saw the youth artists cheering me on as I’d earlier done for them.

N4N volunteer and artist Olivia Millerschin performing a set of originals at the Motown Mix Review.

N4N volunteer and artist Olivia Millerschin performing a set of originals at the Motown Mix Review.

Detroit N4N program director Charity performing a set of originals at the Motown Mix Review.

Detroit N4N program director Charity performing a set of originals at the Motown Mix Review.

The show concluded with warm and encouraging remarks from Motown’s own Robin Terry (who gave us the initial charge to lead a collaborative project between N4N and the Motown Museum) as the youth took their final bows and received their swag bags full of classic Detroit snacks and goodies from the Motown Museum and Hard Rock Cafe.

Motown Museum's Robin Terry making final remarks.

Motown Museum’s Robin Terry making final remarks.

All Motown Mix participants receiving swag bags and taking their final bow.

All Motown Mix participants receiving swag bags and taking their final bow.

The next day, I expected the youth to take the day off to recover from their long weekend, but they all showed up  to the studio bursting with energy- recapping the day before. In that moment, I knew that the project was not only the most fulfilling and inspiring youth project I’d ever led, but a true success that had provided N4N Detroit a strong group of consistent, passionate, and talented teen artists.

Thank you to Robin Terry, Raina Baker and David Ellis with the Motown Museum, my amazing and supportive teammate Kristin Myers, our awesome partners at the S.A.Y Detroit Play CenterDetroit School of Arts, Hard Rock Cafe, The Future Project and mentors – Dennis Mars, Craig Shephard and Olivia Millerschin for all of your help in making this project and event a success!

Check out the Motown mix below!

Abbey and Detroit N4N’s First Album!

Members of  Paper Crowns after premiering their debut album. From left to right - Ashley, Joe, Ian, Abbey, Rhys & Fred

By Nia Shumake

Abbey is no ordinary teenager. 

Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist - Abbey

Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist – Abbey

She balances school and the pressures that come with applying to college with working, volunteering at the Notes for Notes, and as of recently- completing her freshman album along with her stellar band – Paper Crowns.

Abbey, the lead vocalist of Paper Crowns, completed the strenuous process of recording her project “Chasing Constellations” with her band mates Ashley, Joe, Ian, Rhys and Fred one Tuesday afternoon at the Detroit N4N studio. They all seemed both relieved and excited for the recording process to end. Abbey, in particular, had previously recorded backing tracks and scratch vocals for several weeks after volunteering in the studio teaching youth guitar lessons. It was inspiring watching her wear the two hats of being a mentor and then an artist. However, on this day, she would blossom not only as a singer-songwriter, but as a producer. Although it was obvious that Sexton was a musician, it was to our amazement that she could wear the hat of producer as well, with the advice of Rhys- her electric guitarist.

Paper Crown's CD table from the Chasing Constellations album release event.

Paper Crown’s CD table from the Chasing Constellations album release event.

Throughout the session, we spent time changing a cello’s legato to pizzicato, working on sound dynamics and taking out backing tracks that were not beneficial to the overall sound of the project. Abbey truly has the gift of thinking in sound. Yet, in all of this it was not just her musical aptitude and ability to multitask that stood out, but her willingness to create. She is like most artists- a perfectionist. Oftentimes, artists are so anxious to create a finished work, whether it be published or recorded, that tiny details or minuscule mistakes are overlooked. Her attentiveness to small details is incredible. In preparation for Paper Crowns’ album release show, she and area director Charity Ward worked after hours on multiple occasions in efforts of perfecting tracks and achieving the perfect mix.

Abbey performing her original songs at Paper Crown's album release event.

Abbey performing her original songs at Paper Crown’s album release event.

It was incredibly fulfilling listening to Paper Crowns’ finished record, knowing how hard Sexton had persevered until its completion. Our Detroit team, is honored to have played a role in the production of Sexton’s first album and especially grateful for all of the volunteer hours that Abbey has put in over the course of this past year.

We are looking forward to hearing more from Paper Crowns in the future, and excited to keep working with Abbey!

Stream “Chasing Constellations” below!

Detroit Does Grammy Camp!

Notes for Notes teens Shaunell and Renita sharing their lyrics at the end of Grammy Camp

I was overjoyed when I heard Grammy Camp was coming to Detroit for the first time.

IMG_0428After quite a rough patch, Detroit is rising again, and national organizations have recognized the resilient spirit of our city that has never and will never die. Creative forces like the Detroit Institute of Music Education have planted their feet in Detroit’s rich soil to bring a bit of the music industry back to the city and to give our young people a real shot at being apart of it. The Notes for Notes studio rests in the heart of the city with a mission to produce tomorrow’s musicians and give Detroit’s youth exposure to equipment and opportunities that they would rarely encounter for free of charge.

FullSizeRender 9My work at Notes for Notes gives me the opportunity to not solely participate in the resurgence of Detroit’s art scene by being a home-based artist, but to also empower and develop our next generation of creatives. So, finding out that the Detroit staff would be helping facilitate Detroit’s first Grammy Camp on behalf of Notes for Notes was a complete honor. After months of planning alongside the Grammy Camp staff, Grammy Camp turned out to be an inspiring day of creativity and collaboration that wouldn’t have been half as awesome  without the help of DIME who provided their amazing facility, Marie and Liana Guerra from Cloverleaf Restaurant who provided a delicious lunch and Briony Hill from Starbucks who provided drinks and desserts.

Notes for Notes teens sharing their lyrics at the end of Grammy Camp

Notes for Notes teens sharing their lyrics at the end of Grammy Camp

Songwriters brainstorming on an original track

Songwriters brainstorming on an original track

Youth producers learning to navigate ProTools

Youth producers learning to navigate ProTools

Laura Donohue flew in from Nashville to lead the singers, Greg Chin flew in from Miami to lead the production crew and our nearby neighbor, Anne Heaton, came in from Ann Arbor to lead the songwriters. After a full day of learning and working together, the youth concluded the day with a showcase performing rearrangements of popular songs, lyrics they’d began working on to the beat the producers created and original songs about quite original topics – like hunger and their love of food!

We are truly grateful for the visit Grammy Camp made to Detroit and for the valuable insight you shared with our youth!

We hope this was the first of many more!

Dennis Mars Takes Motown to Outer Space

By Nia Shumake

The Notes for Notes Detroit and Motown Museum project – Motown Mix – aims to expose young musicians to  both a nostalgic and modern approach to creating music. While our singer/songwriters, spend time writing, reflecting and arranging on Mondays,

Wednesdays at the N4N Detroit Studio are loud and lively due to the energy that our Motown Mix musicians and producer mentors bring.

FullSizeRenderDennis Mars is no stranger to Detroit’s art scene having been a major visual contributor to the media development of many upcoming local artists in his earlier years. His knack for technology landed him in Silicon Valley as a Senior Web Developer for LinkedIn. Nonetheless, Dennis was insistent on creating a life for himself that was fueled by his greatest passion – music. So he returned to Detroit to put in his 10,000 hours as a pianist and producer. Now, an emerging creative director and music producer, Dennis is a vital contributor to our studio environment. The musician turned producer has worked with Jhene Aiko, Royce da 5’9 and Trey Songs.

Through his demonstration, drive and versatility, our promising students are compelled to create.

Dennis works with youth producer Kevin on a remix to “Ain’t No Mountain”

On any given Wednesday, Dennis can be heard giving youth passionate advice about discipline, commitment and the magic of creativity, then flipping Motown records inside out- sampling iconic lines then adding Hip Hop drums, 808s and new keyboard arrangements.  He is a phenomenal leader, because he embraces the youth’s musicianship; giving them permission to voice their ideas during music production. Youth are able to possess creative autonomy in a learning environment, without sacrificing their own sound. This truly epitomizes the essence of a production mentor, challenging the young musicians and producers to achieve greater music goals while maintaining the integrity of their artistry.

Thank you Dennis for partnering with N4N Detroit’s Motown Mix. We look forward to making more music with you!

Looking Both Ways w/ Olivia Millerschin; from Classical to Contemporary

Olivia Millerschin is a multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter who has toured the country with her new sophomore album “Look Both Ways”. Her album cover artwork puts you in the mind of Francis Cugat, the graphic artist for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic “The Great Gatsby” and while she humbly expresses her appreciation of novel writers, she remains a graceful songwriter. Nonetheless, she was well equipped for the students at the Detroit Notes For Notes™ (N4N) Studio, as she’s been volunteering with us for two years. Originally trained for opera, with experience on Broadway, Olivia easily related to our classically trained Detroit School of Arts singers. She harnessed her classical training into a contemporary style much like they are learning to do.

IMG_0474The N4N songwriters and Olivia set out to rewrite Motown’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, from the perspective of ex-lovers. The youth were given much creative control and raved about their writing experience with Olivia. At a glimpse, the session highlighted the student’s excitement to vent, while remaining creatively autonomous. After all, they had a long day at school and already written in their journal were lyrics to be conjured to melodies. Renita and Shaunell were very interested in providing the vocal arrangements, harmony, and call and response to the song with Olivia’s help.


Initially, Millerschin ran an exercise similar to that of last Monday’s Guest Instructor Antea’s, but while Shelton emphasized the art of storytelling, Olivia began rewriting the Motown song immediately with the students. We found that both instructors’ methods of creating music were different, but very much so beneficial to our singer-songwriters.

Thank you so much Olivia for you continued support of N4N Detroit! We are looking forward to strengthening our partnership with you!