While hundreds of emerging artists have temporarily emigrated to Austin, Texas, to showcase their talents at South by Southwest here this week, there were three artists The Recording Academy spotlighted during an event on March 14 at the Gibson Showroom: Jessica Faith, Bonavox and Eyango.
These three young artists were the 2014 winners of The Academy's Amplifier Center Stage: A GRAMMY U Initiative, which unites emerging and aspiring artists with established artists to mentor their careers. As a reward, each artist performed a brief set and was given one of three prizes that will help them launch their music careers.
First up was Arkansas singer/songwriter and GRAMMY U member Jessica Faith, who won the opportunity to create a music video with a noted producer/director. Though on the cusp of launching her career, Faith showed a stage presence that was well beyond her very youthful appearance. Perched behind the keyboard, Faith performed three songs, including the track that earned her the prize, "If I Told You." In an interview earlier in the day, Faith commented that she wasn't nervous, just thirsty, and that confidence was evident, most notably when she sang about choosing to "stand out" over "fitting in" with the crowd.
Next was the Los Angeles-based quintet Bonavox, who met at the Los Angeles College of Music but boast an international lineup from countries such as Switzerland, Germany and Brazil. Comprising Sandro Cavazza (vocals), Till Richter (drummer/pianist), Gio Reinaldo (bass), Le Dib (lead guitar), and Marcos Zeeba (guitar/vocals), Bonavox, in an interview prior to their performance, described how the Amplifier Center Stage program has already helped their careers.
"The whole competition has been opening doors for us," said Cavazza. "On our own we have more confidence when we speak to people. … We [also] get better offers to play live now."
The band later took the stage for four songs that were reminiscent of artists such as James Blake and Coldplay. They ended with their winning song "Fallen Angels," saying, "This song is the reason we're here tonight." As part of their prize, Bonavox will be given a key live performance slot on a major tour and/or festival.
The final Amplifier artist of the evening was vocalist Eyango, whose song "Precious Love" earned him the prize. The France-born Eyango, whose winnings included a recording session and professionally produced track with a leading GRAMMY-winning producer, ended his set with a song called "Remember Me" because, as the singer noted, "I hope you will remember me after tonight."
But the show wasn't over. KCRW-FM radio host Anne Litt took the stage to introduce the next two performers, Aloe Blacc and Allen Stone. The show marked Blacc's 15th show at SXSW, but his first-ever with Stone, though the pair fit perfectly together. Between Stone's soulful cries and Blacc's warm tone, the pair had the audience hooked to a selection of covers of GRAMMY-winning songs, including a slow-burn version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and the Mamas And The Papas' "California Dreamin'." But they didn't just leave the crowd with fantastic music — they left them with the urge to move their bodies. And they did, as a "Soul Train" dance line was soon fashioned in the middle of the floor.
Earlier in the day a series of panels and performances was live streamed by The Academy. Panelists included author/artist Austin Kleon, who earlier in the week served as the keynote speaker for the interactive portion of South by Southwest. Kleon, whose books include The New York Times best-seller Steal Like An Artist, discussed how artists can better "show" their work, stating, "Stop thinking about self-promotion and start thinking about sharing."
The second panel featured Eric Sheinkop, co-founder and president of Music Dealers, discussing the tight connection between music and brands. "Brands are becoming patrons of the arts," said Sheinkop, who went on to illustrate how people are discovering new music through big brands such as McDonald's. For the 2014 Winter Olympics, McDonald's featured a song by local band the Wanted, after which their YouTube views skyrocketed and comments from fans were positive. "I can't believe McDonald's help[ed] me discover this band," one fan wrote.
The final panel was moderated by Lindsay Gabler, Senior Manager of Marketing and Social Media for The Recording Academy, who invited a panel of social media and content experts to offer tips for artists on staying active online.
"You need to be where people are engaging with the content you're creating," said Lyndsey Parker, managing editor for Yahoo Music.
The panels were sandwiched between a series of performances by Royal Teeth, David Nail and Wild Feathers, all of whom nearly brought down the house at an amplified level.