(The seventh annual GRAMMY Camp, produced by the GRAMMY Foundation from July 9–18, is a residential summer camp for high school students with a focus on providing hands-on instruction about careers in the music industry. For the first time ever, GRAMMY Camp will also be held in New York Aug. 2–8. GRAMMY.com will feature select blog entries from camp participants relating their firsthand experiences from this unique educational opportunity. To apply for GRAMMY Camp in 2012, click here.)
By Ben LoPiccolo
"What is creativity?" began Tom Sturges, executive vice president and head of creative at Universal Music Publishing Group, at the start of GRAMMY Camp's creativity panel, held on July 11 at the Carson Soundstage at USC's Thornton School of Music. Joining Sturges was Lamont Dozier, the GRAMMY-winning songwriter who was a big part of shaping Motown's iconic sound and penning many of the label’s No. 1 hits; and Candice Nelson, one-fifth of the Clutch, a songwriting/production collective that has worked with artists such as Britney Spears, Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige, among others. For the next two hours, the panel offered valuable insights to campers regarding the creative process and presenting an admirable finished product.
Throughout the session, one point that was stressed the most was the endless amount of possibilities there are to start the flow of a new song. Sturges introduced several thinking exercises ("What is ____" and "10 things to do with a _____"), while Dozier inspired the group with his views on being a conscious listener. Talking about "eavesdropping on the world," he revealed that his hook for "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch" actually came from memories of his flirtatious grandfather talking to young women outside of his family's beauty shop. Nelson added her experiences on collaborating with artists of different genres, stating that she prefers to immerse herself in a specific type of music for a few days before she begins to write. Having different perspectives on many types of situations proved especially helpful to each student.
From that point, the panel was open to camper questions, many regarding the difficulties that creativity poses.
"There's no such thing as writer's block, that just means you're lazy!" Dozier joked during a response. "I may take a break, but the song will stay in the back of my mind, and I'm always working." The comment garnered a few laughs, but his staunch philosophy has paid off.
"If you're going to be creative, you've gotta hear what's out there," Sturges said. "We're not just talking about songwriters or symphonists, we're talking about any creative field."
As if the three visitors' input wasn't enough, Sturges introduced a surprising twist: his two colleagues would take to the piano and craft a song. After student input, a collective decision was made for the tune to be written as a mock duet for Beyoncé and Ray Charles. Dozier immediately began plinking chords while Nelson hummed on top, quickly creating a melody while their audience watched in awe. Minutes later, lyrics began to surface, the two trading off lovelorn lines that eventually merged into an infectious, soul-drenched hook. "Lonely since you've been gone/Please come home," they crooned, playing their last note to a standing ovation. Ending the session with industry insider hints from Sturges, the panel left each camper inspired and ready to begin the composition of their own original songs the next day.
(Ben LoPiccolo is a lot of things. Both a self-taught musician and avid journalist, he comes from a small town in rural Rhode Island. Other than playing music, Ben's favorite thing to do is spread the word about exciting new artists, albums and events.)