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.
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”
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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!!”
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”.
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.
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.
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 Center, Detroit 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 is no ordinary teenager.
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.
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.
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!
I was overjoyed when I heard Grammy Camp was coming to Detroit for the first time.
After 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.
My 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.
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!
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.
Dennis 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.
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!
Passion is defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion. It’s a word full of inspiration. A feeling better demonstrated than described. A driving force that may slow down at times, but never fully stops.
Outside of my children, I’ve been passionate about two careers in my life. As such, I had to find a way to make them intersect because that’s the only way life would make sense:
20 years ago, I was a member of the Michigan State University Women’s Gymnastics Team. No matter what, I wear that badge with the utmost of pride and honor. Because once you’re a Spartan Gymnast, you are guaranteed loyal teammates for life. Not friends… TEAMMATES.
3 years ago, I began to work with Notes for Notes. It was a baby of an organization at the time, and I could tell it was in need of some serious national support. I immediately reached out to my Spartan teammates and asked for help. I called Linder about Ventura, Chrissy about Dallas, Bri about Detroit, Leen about Portland, Polly about Austin, Eileen and Lindsay about Brooklyn, Erin with questions about Kalamazoo, and Lori about Nashville.
Then I called my coach Kathie in East Lansing. “Kath – I work for this amazing non-profit. Free youth music studios. Can we make you some floor music?”
I was giddy when her answer was YES.
Enter Elena Lagoski – a powerhouse of a tumbler and rockstar of a dancer. N4N had just been offered a very special opportunity.
I immediately called Will Flores in Nashville – N4N Lead Producer, Program Director and student alumni. Will flew to Detroit’s N4N Studio inside the SAY Detroit Play Center to meet with Elena in person to get the exact feel for the music that would inspire her to perform her best.
Elena, Will and assistant coach and choreographer, Nicole Curler, collaborated in front of the production station for hours – talking, counting, adding beats, dancing, then subtracting beats.
I was the only person who fully understood the level of artistic and athletic talent present in the room:
Elena the gymnast. Will the producer. Nicole the choreographer.
As the structure of her intense floor music began to take shape, I couldn’t help but predict:
WOW. THIS IS GOING TO BE BIG.
And was it ever. After a season full of unexpected twists and turns, public controversy and scandal that would make anyone want to run and hide, Elena took the floor at The Big Ten Championships with the weight of the world on her shoulders. With pressure coming at her from every direction, the next 1:30 would determine her ability to dig deep, focus and conquer. Aware this might be the last floor routine of her life, Elena took a deep breath and put on a smile.
It was game time for this young woman with a Spartan heart.
Congratulations, Elena Lagoski, 2017 Big Ten Floor Champion!
Your strength is incredible. Your passion is inspiring.
Thanks for letting Notes for Notes be just a small part of your team.
Kristin (Peugeot) Myers
MSU Spartan 1996-2000
Written by Nia Shumake
Monday was not an ordinary day for our Motown Mix singers and songwriters who frequent the Notes For Notes Detroit Studio to both study and recreate the “Motown Sound”. They experienced an enriching writing session with guest instructor, Antea Shelton, a Grammy nominated songwriter for Universal Music Group and artist at Detroit’s Original 1265 Records. Placing records with pop stars Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber, the young artists were floored by Antea’s musical achievements and eager to learn more of the craft.
After discussing the defining key features of Detroit’s Motown Sound, the students serenaded Antea with a song they had written with Program Director Charity Ward entitled “Alright”. It was evident that juxtaposing these distinct sounds would set the atmosphere for sonic reinvention and cultivation. While many of our students grapple with identifying as singer-songwriters, Antea assured them,
“If you can sing, you can write songs.”
She led an exercise that encompassed the art of storytelling which compelled them to be vulnerable in a group setting. This in itself was powerful for establishing rapport. It shed light on the students’ innermost feelings about teachers, past relationships and music; but what we found most intriguing was the revelatory aspect of the exercise that it simultaneously affirmed them as songwriters. It is our hope that this newfound mentorship between Antea and our students grows and also that they are fueled to expand their musicianship through the art of songwriting.
When Spike, co-host of Detroit’s #1 morning radio show Mojo in the Morning, showed up with a box of Dunkin’ Donuts in hand, Notes For Notes youth knew they were in for a special night. Aware he’d be breaking the universal rule of NO FOOD OR DRINKS IN THE STUDIO, coffee was a must for Spike after an exceptionally long day of work that started before dawn at Channel 955 followed by Christmas shopping for his family. That box of donut holes was just as impressive as learning Spike has shaken the hands of influencers like President Barack Obama and Will Smith. The most impressive though? When he could sing the entire theme song of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air right along with our youth. Now that was cool!
After an inspiring and informative group Q & A session, N4N podcasters went right to work asking Spike thought-provoking questions that required him to tackle an array of topics such as: the division sparked by the 2016 Presidential Election, today’s power of technology and his unequivocal love of Detroit.
Spike’s presence in the N4N Studio spoke volumes to our youth and made the pursuit of a radio career tangible and real to our students. The addition of the Mojo in the Morning sponsored broadcast station in Detroit’s studio has been such an effective teaching and learning tool that now every studio in the nation is equipped with a podcast station of its own. Thank you for your innovation and commitment to keep radio alive Mojo in the Morning and Crew! It’s working!
We are forever grateful for our experience with Spike at the Notes for Notes studio. If you’d like to listen to more of the podcast you can access it HERE.
Allen and Josh arrived at Detroit School of Arts’ Studio A confident, poised and unmistakably charismatic musicians. This was obviously not their first rodeo and they would soon wow the panel of judges as they seamlessly played Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do” with friends and band mates Kevin and Destin. The entire quartet, with Josh’s colorful keyboard playing and Allen’s funky bass, was an instant and unanimous “yes” for the judges who were looking to find some of Detroit’s most gifted youth for the Notes for Notes and Motown Museum collaboration – Motown Mix. These young budding musicians were a perfect fit for the Motown Mix project, which would reimagine Motown classics through the collaborative efforts of DSA’s singers, songwriters, musicians and producers.
Check out a clip of their audition HERE !
Soon after auditions, the small group of the selected producers and musicians began frequenting the N4N studio, and Detroit program director Charity– who moonlights as a performing and recording artist- found herself in need of a band to accompany her for a gig. She realized she’d stumbled upon the perfect opportunity to bring her work of “Producing Tomorrow’s Musicians” from the N4N studio to the real stage. Josh and Allen would share their talents again in a new way- this time as Charity’s peers and fellow musicians.
After spending one hour in rehearsal, the DSA 11th graders played skillfully and self-assured alongside Charity as she performed a few soulful originals at Detroit’s Carr Center. The audience applauded wildly upon learning that the band was comprised of local high school aged musicians. Josh and Allen were such crowd favorites that the next performer, saxophonist Gerald Dixon, requested them to accompany him during his set.
Notes for Notes is deeply grateful to the Motown Museum for the opportunity to develop young musicians through the lens of the Motown legacy and to Detroit School of Arts for sharing its brilliant youth.
We look forward to the magic that will be made by Josh, Allen and their fellow creators during the Motown Mix project.