By Lynne Margolis
(Check back for GRAMMY.com's daily blog coverage from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, including reports on Recording Academy-related events. Meanwhile, visit The Recording Academy on Facebook and Twitter for more SXSW updates.)
On March 12, the day when the massive South by Southwest interactive and music conferences intersected, The Recording Academy, SoundCloud and Hyundai announced Barnaby Saints, Gentleman Hall and Phillip Magnus Hartley as the winners of an artist development initiative that merges music, digital media and innovation.
The three artists were selected from thousands who used the SoundCloud digital platform to submit tracks to Center Stage Powered By GRAMMY Amplifier, an extension of the GRAMMY Amplifier program launched in January. GRAMMY Amplifier gives emerging artists exposure by inviting established artists, including GRAMMY winners and nominees such as Kelly Clarkson, Snoop Lion, Ozzy Osbourne, and RZA to share music from acts they like via social media.
Center Stage ambassador Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park chose the winners, who will receive a recording session with a GRAMMY-winning producer, a music video produced and/or directed by a noted professional, an opening spot on a festival or well-known headliner's tour, or some other form of mentoring tailored to their needs.
"We want to give emerging artists a tool and a platform to be seen and to be recognized and exposed," said Recording Academy Chief Marketing Officer Evan Greene at the SoundCloud Creator Clubhouse, aka the Waller Creek Boathouse.
The amplifier concept grew from The Recording Academy's #TheWorldIsListening campaign during the 55th GRAMMY Awards, according to Greene.
"[It's] about celebrating the journey that an artist takes, whether you're an artist that has already become successful or an emerging artist sleeping on floors and going from gig to gig," he said. "There's a magic in following your dream and performing your craft."
As invited clubhouse guests gathered on the shore of Austin's Lady Bird Lake, Barnaby Saints delivered a lively set of harmony-filled Americana tunes anchored by engaging singer/songwriter Erich Lennig. A native of upstate New York, Lennig moved to Los Angeles five years ago to pursue a music career.
"I had my heart broken musically," he explained after his performance. "I stepped away from everything for almost two years." A convergence of people and events helped rekindle his passion for playing music, which led to Barnaby Saints.
"It's been amazing ever since," said Lennig.
Barnaby Saints' track "Over And Over," which was "amplified" by appreciative site visitors who shared it, also attracted Shinoda, as did Baltimore R&B singer Hartley's "Superhero" and Boston-based synth-rockers Gentleman Hall's "Sail Into The Sun."
According to Greene, the response to the GRAMMY Amplifier program was a pleasant surprise.
"The response was overwhelming, and we realized that we were on to something really, really special," he added. "We wanted to give more artists and more bands more opportunity to be exposed, to be shared and to be discovered. So we're going to take this to the next level. … At the end of the day, we want to help them get to the next level in their career. And we want to find out what the most effective process or tool will be to help them get there."
Beginning in April, Hyundai will follow all three Center Stage artists as they expand their musical aspirations whether in the studio, making a music video or performing onstage.
"We are going to spend a couple of months with these [artists], helping them polish their creative product," said Jim Cannella, Recording Academy Director, Marketing & Strategic Alliances, who added that the program gives The Academy an opportunity to provide "real, meaningful mentoring."
"The Recording Academy is a member-based organization of professionals in the business. Who better to mentor these folks?"
Plans are for Center Stage to become a long-term career development avenue, giving artists mentoring opportunities similar to those provided by singing competition shows such as "The Voice" and "American Idol."
"It feels like a sea change, if that makes any sense," added Lennig, who had applied to showcase at previous South by Southwest conferences, but never made it. "So I'm trying to be as free as I can to go where the wind takes us."
At South by Southwest, some 2,500 acts vie for similar opportunities, hoping to land record deals, management or whatever kind of buzz they can drum up to lift themselves from anonymity to stardom — or at least become artists who can survive doing what they love.
(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis currently contributes to American Songwriter, NPR-affiliate KUTX-FM's "Texas Music Matters," regional and local magazines including Lone Star Music and Austin Monthly, and newspapers nationwide. She has previously contributed to the Christian Science Monitor (for which she was the "go-to" writer for Beatles stories), Rollingstone.com and Paste magazine. A contributing editor to the encyclopedia, The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen From A To E To Z, she also writes bios for new and established artists.)