2006: Notes for Notes (NFN) was simply an idea, formed through co-founder Philip Gilley’s mentorship in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Santa Barbara, CA. He sought a way to make a meaningful connection with his “Little” and pass on something that would last with him forever. As a guitarist, Phil thought that introducing the instrument that occupied his own time would perhaps inspire his “Little”. However, Phil’s “Little” didn’t want to learn guitar; he wanted to learn drums. Not having a set, Phil took him down to a local music store and taught him the basics on the demo kit. This became a regular outing of theirs – Phil justifying each visit to the music store with the purchase of a pack of strings or picks – while he taught his “Little” drums. He quickly realized that this wasn’t a sustainable model, and that more youth should have access to instruments like guitars, drums, and even studio recording. He realized that starting a non-profit might be the answer to give youth access to these instruments.
It started as an idea and without a background in business let alone a college degree, Phil began to mold the idea with help of musical friends. While working as a valet at Lucky’s Steakhouse in Santa Barbara he met Natalie Noone, who was not only a server at Lucky’s, but also a musician like her father, Peter Noone. When Phil proposed the idea of NFN, she immediately became interested and involved in forming the organization to what it is today. Lucky’s would also “serve” to be a convenient meeting place for early NFN’s Advisory Board members, including David Crosby, Jeff Bridges, Carol Burnett and Peter Noone.
It was a serendipitous article in fall 2006 in the Santa Barbara News Press about a teen center being built downtown, which included plans for a recording studio that prompted Phil to meet with city administrators and pitch the idea: NFN would equip and operate the studios, offering youth the opportunity to explore, create and record music, while the teen center would provide the space. This collaborative model would grow to become the means through which NFN would expand with Boys and Girls Clubs (BGC) locally and nationwide, keeping costs at a minimum.
2007: After months of development, Phil and Natalie opened the first Notes for Notes Studio, which they first called the MusicBox Studio, in March 2007 in Santa Barbara’s Twelve 35 Teen Center. To outfit the studio, they scraped together old gear and instruments of their own. And so began the journey.
A chance encounter a month later is what truly put NFN on the path to what it has become today. Rod Hare with the Santa Barbara Bowl’s Education Outreach Committee stopped by the Teen Center one day for a meeting on another project only to discover the studio. Seeing the studio immediately resonated with Rod and recalled a similar idea he had once had when he too was a Big Brother back in college. It was after this meeting that NFN was truly “founded” as an organization. Rod introduced NFN to the Santa Barbara Bowl and championed this embryonic organization, helping it to receive its first significant funding. Rod became the Founding Board Chair and established the Board of Directors, secure a 501 (c)3 status, and ultimately guide NFN every step of the way into the organization it is today as a co-founder alongside Phil. It was also that very same day that Michael Marans, a veteran of the music industry also stopped by the studio to offer his help on the technical side with equipment and studio recording. Michael would also become one of the very first Board Members.
2007 also saw the very first NFN fundraiser featuring Peter Noone and Jeff Bridges (pre-“Crazy Heart”) who even performed on his birthday.
2008: After a year of successful operation, NFN was ready to grow into another location and increase the amount of youth they hoped to serve. Phil was introduced to the BGC of Santa Barbara and Executive Director Carolyn Brown, who was eager to see a Studio in her club. This meant a larger space in which Phil could develop and refine the studio programming, thereby offering the musical resources to even more youth in the community. It was Carolyn’s open mind and collaborative spirit that made this expansion possible locally and in turn nationally by helping fine tune the partnership NFN continues to expand with.
2009: After nearly 8 months of development, the new studio opened to a flood of excited youth looking to explore music. It was at this time that Natalie Noone chose to pursue her music career in Nashville, and would later lay the grounds for NFN’s first national expansion. The new studio being nearly double the size provided as many new opportunities as it did challenges all that have helped shape the organization. The very first member from this studio, Alvaro is still a regular to date.
2010: Once there was an East side location it was apparent there needed to be a Westside one as well due to the unfortunate reality of territorialism in a small town like Santa Barbara and youth being unable to safely travel back and forth across town. The United BGC of Santa Barbara County reached out, expressing an interest in converting space in their Westside club to a Studio. It was also during this time that the idea of expanding the organization began to take shape with Nashville as a logical first step: our board member Natalie was there; it was a central hub for the music industry; and it had several universities with music programs from which NFN could pull interns and potential employees from. Phil connected with the BGC of Middle Tennessee (BGCMT) and things quickly fell into place with the introduction of their new CEO Dan Jernigan. They had two clubs in which media centers had been constructed, but needed some extra attention including a make over and dedicated staff- it was a perfect partnership opportunity. Thanks to Joe Emory at the Hot Topic Foundation, NFN was able to secure enough funding to make this growth possible. This expansion was also an opportunity to connect with Nashville-based Gibson guitars, which quickly became a huge supporter of the organization later outfitting the Nashville studios with Epiphone and Gibson guitars.
2010 also marked the first Holiday Soundcheck event featuring a DJ set by Martin Gore (Depeche Mode).
2011: NFN opened the studio at the Westside Club in Santa Barbara in February, while conversations in Nashville continued. July 19, 2011 marked the inaugural Seymour Duncan Benefit Concert to support Notes for Notes featuring the Steve Miller Band. In addition to raising over 50,000 it also marked the 35th anniversary of Seymour Duncan as one of the world’s greatest pickup manufacturers. Following Phil’s move across country in August to Nashville the first Studio in the Andrew Jackson clubhouse opened and NFN officially became a national organization.
2011 marked the return of the Holiday Soundcheck with Martin for the 2nd year in a row.
2012: NFN added its second Nashville location at BGCMT’s Preston Taylor clubhouse in June. As one of NFN’s biggest supporters Hot Topic expressed their desire to help the organization continue to expand nationally starting with a studio in Los Angeles near their headquarters as well as in Detroit. A partnership with the BGC of Santa Monica began to form around NFN assuming responsibility and converting their existing studio at the JAMS Branch into a Notes for Notes Studio. Later in the year, in the weeks right before winter hit, Phil and Rod made the first trip to Detroit to meet with the BGC and tour a facility.
The 2nd Annual Seymour Duncan Benefit Concert to support for Notes for Notes was huge success on August 30, 2014, bringing sensations Los Lobos and Joe Bonamassa together in support of the organization.
2013: The first NFN Studio in LA opened at the JAMS clubhouse in September. Following the Grand Opening was announcement of NFN’s grant award from the Knight Foundation supporting the construction of the Detroit Studio. National expansion was continuing and the support to do so came from the generosity of foundations, individuals and musicians. The 3rd Annual Seymour Duncan Benefit Concert to support Notes for Notes was what some would consider a “Super Jam”, with musical director Jimmy Vivino and The Basic Cable Band (Conan’s house band) delivering an unforgettable set with SLASH, Robert Randolph, Alan Parsons, Don Felder, and Seymour Duncan himself. NFN also announced the first honoree of its Hall of Fame – Chimaway – who took the stage with the guitar greats and rocked out on his new Fender guitar.
2014: NFN’s biggest year to date thanks to a growing partnership with the CMA Foundation which has made a commitment to support five new Notes for Notes Studios in San Francisco, Detroit, Brooklyn, Austin, and Atlanta by the end of 2015. This partnership marked a major step in the organization’s national expansion with many more studios to come thanks to this partnership as well as that with Hot Topic. This relationship with CMA introduced the organization to Chevrolet, who donated in support of the Detroit expansion, and announced it nationally during the 2014 CMA Awards Show, introduced by Brad Paisley.
Again in partnership with Seymour Duncan, the organization held it’s 4th Annual Benefit show in Santa Barbara, flying out a young musician from Nashville who performed on stage with Joe Bonamassa, Jimmy Vivino & The Basic Cable Band, Laith Al-Saadi, Robben Ford, Rich Robinson, Shari Puorto, and more.
NFN continues to develop in Los Angeles, opening its newest studio with the Boys & Girls Club of West San Gabriel Valley in Monterey Park on October 27th.
2015: NFN has successfully opened five new studios to date this year: San Francisco, Brooklyn, Ventura, Atlanta, and Detroit and still has plans to open more by the end of the year in Cleveland and potentially Austin. The Ventura Studio was the first to model a community-driven Studio. Thanks to the fantastic efforts of a steering committee, a relationship with the Ventura County Boys & Girls Club was established with great enthusiasm. The committee engaged members of the community to support construction and associated costs with opening a NFN Studio by holding small events and garnering a group of individual and local business donors, all with NFN cheering from the sidelines and attending meetings. Thanks to the Ventura group, NFN has a proven model of success for other smaller communities across the nation to emulate should they want a NFN Studio.
In summer 2015, NFN announced a partnership with “Empire”, Fox TV’s hit primetime show, and launched a national campaign called “Empire Behind The Beat” (EmpireBTB) found at http://empirebtb.com. Leveraging Empire’s national audience, EmpireBTB offers donors the chance to take part in building a NFN Studio in Chicago. With varying levels of donations, supporters can have their name inscribed on a plaque or even take part in the Grand Opening celebration in Spring 2016.