By Steve Baltin
Like all GRAMMY Week events, GRAMMY Camp — Basic Training is rich with big name talent, from "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” music director Rickey Minor and three-time GRAMMY winner Pepe Aguilar to two-time GRAMMY-winning producer Jimmy Jam and GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester. But the activities spread out across the University of Southern California campus on Feb. 8 weren't about GRAMMY Awards, platinum albums or sold-out tours. It was about the more than 700 Los Angeles-area high school students who were on hand to learn how to build a successful career in the music business.
One of the best aspects of GRAMMY Camp — Basic Training is the spontaneous interchange between students and the professional participants. Case in point, one lucky student who was selected in the Music Director, Producer And More panel to sing with Minor and the other panelists, including saxophonist Miguel Gandelman, guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. and percussionist Kevin Ricard. The same panel found former "American Idol" finalist Lacey Brown break into the title track of her latest EP, Let It Go, and singer/songwriter Didi Benami serenading attendees with "Release Me," a song from her forthcoming EP.
Other professionals who participated in the day's activities included radio personality DJ Skee, EMI Music Publishing's Amanda Berman, Bill Silva Entertainment's Ryan Chisholm, "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" music talent booker Scott Igoe, and video director Matthew Cherry.
Whether there was music or just insightful conversation, students embraced the opportunity to take in the knowledge of the assembled participants. And just as GRAMMY Camp — the GRAMMY Foundation's parent summer program for high school students — encompasses all aspects of the music business, the basic-training edition tackled it all, from a New Media seminar highlighting which social platforms —Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others — offer the best traffic results for artists, to a Singer/Songwriter track for budding songwriters.
Among the many highlights of the day were country artist Sarah Darling instructing students attending the New Artist/Public Relations panel on the process of her weekly YouTube series and the importance of giving content to fans, and singer/songwriter BC Jean sharing a technique she used to learn to write music in which she copied down the songs of No Doubt and Alanis Morissette and followed their formats to turn her poetry into her own songs.
This type of interchange makes GRAMMY Camp — Basic Training an important day for both the students and artists passionate about music education, a point underscored by Recording Academy and GRAMMY Foundation President/CEO Neil Portnow.
"I think at a time [when] funding for the arts in schools has basically evaporated and children are at risk of never being exposed to music, that's a tragedy," said Portnow. "So the GRAMMY Foundation has these robust programs. And it's a real-life experience [students] can't get anywhere [else]."