GRAMMY Camp — Basic Training Teaches Students To Listen

  • Recording Academy and GRAMMY Foundation President/CEO Neil Portnow, Allison Iraheta and Rickey Minor
    Photo: Michael Kovac/
  • Elle Varner, Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy and GRAMMY Foundation, and Lecrae
    Photo: Michael Kovac/

By Steve Baltin

GRAMMY Week isn't only about handing out awards, it offers plenty of opportunity for Recording Academy members and artists to give as well as receive. This thought is evident at GRAMMY Camp — Basic Training, a GRAMMY Foundation GRAMMY in the Schools program that this year brought 800 high school students from across Los Angeles to the USC campus for, as the name indicates, a crash course in all aspects of the music industry.

A jam-packed five-hour day that featured early and late panels before wrapping up with a performance by the GRAMMY Camp — Jazz Session, Basic Training included educational panels such as "The New Record Label," "Singer/Songwriter," "Music Production," "New Media," and "Licensing And Music Publishing."

Similar to the music industry itself, Basic Training offered a wealth of surprises, whether it was four students being brought onstage during the "Music Production" panel to audition, or panelist and the "American Idol" finalist Allison Iraheta belting out a stunning piano-accompanied ballad at 10 a.m. during the "Music Director, Producer And More" panel.

The impromptu performances proved memorable moments, but the foundation of the day, now well into its second decade, remains the imparting of knowledge from experienced professionals.

The diverse array of panelists, including current GRAMMY nominee Elle Varner, regular Basic Training participant and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" musical director Rickey Minor and GRAMMY Camp alumnus Stacey Ferreira offered several nuggets of wisdom during the "New Media" panel.

Varner, who was part of the "Singer/Songwriter" panel, recalled transitioning from being a student at New York University to a signed artist with RCA to her present state as a GRAMMY nominee. She also encouraged the many women in the audience to stay true to themselves and not compromise their values for studio time or quick inroads to the industry.

Current GRAMMY nominee Lecrae and GRAMMY-winning artist Tony Rich, also on the "Singer/Songwriter" panel, used their own stories to echoed Varner's while agreeing the most important consideration is integrity.

For Minor, the big lesson was the transformative power of music. Following Iraheta's mesmerizing performance, he correctly noted, "You could feel every single word. That's what music does, it changes you."

Minor also shared the power of optimism. After Iraheta quipped that it was a "sad song," he responded, "Nothing about life is sad, if you're living it's good."

That was especially the case for Iraheta, who has been a singer since age 5. She told the students that her first performance was at a furniture store for 500 people.

"So we learned if you love doing something, try it," Minor said.

Arguably the sagest advice came from Rich, who spoke about receiving his first GRAMMY at age 25.

"If you want to go into this business, listen more than you speak," he said.

For those who followed that creed today, they got all they needed to learn how to break into the music industry. 

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