meta-script:NEXT With Sierra Lever: The Rising Music Marketer Talks Artist Storytelling, Kendrick Lamar & More | GRAMMY.com

Sierra Lever

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:NEXT With Sierra Lever: The Rising Music Marketer Talks Artist Storytelling, Kendrick Lamar & More

The future industry leader and Associate Marketing Director at Columbia Records opens up about how 'Good Kid, M.A.A.D City' inspired her to champion artists' stories and pursue a career in music

GRAMMYs/Nov 12, 2019 - 02:31 am

Meet Sierra Lever, a young music professional primed to make waves in the industry. As Associate Marketing Director at Columbia Records, she already has worked on such major releases as Tyga, Polo G, Chloe X Halle, Chase B, and previously at Motown Records on Migos, Stefflon Don, Zaytoven, and more. She's also featured in the latest episode of :NEXT, the Recording Academy’s new digital short-run series featuring the future of the music industry.

Her journey began back home in Portland, where she put on parties to showcase local talent. She began booking more artists, big artists, such as Too $hort and Big Krit on her college campus. Her DIY spirit and interest in the behind-the-scenes workings of the music business led to her joining GRAMMY U and eventually taking an internship in the Recording Academy, where she worked in the Awards department and the Executive Office.

This wide range of experience helped illuminate Sierra's path into marketing, where she could learn how to tell artists' stories in a way that helps spread the word about their music. And while going to a Spice Girls concert as a little girl that lit the initial spark of Sierra's interest in music, it was a seminal hip-hop album that showed her the way to a career in the industry.

"Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was the album that really inspired me to enter into the music industry," she said. "[It] really tells his story. And it connected to me, and it connected to so many, It really represented the pressures of our environment that we live in… the minute I listened to it, it was on repeat. There's really no skips for this album. It's very thematic. It has all these different themes from the Bible to street violence to love and lust, all those different elements."

Sierra felt she was part of something when she listened to that album. Not content to be just a fan, she wanted to share that sense of belonging. She drew inspiration from the artists she loved and channeled those storytelling concepts into her own career on the business side of music.

"You have to be a student of the game," she said. "That is what really shows. You see these artists and you see how them studying the game really translates to their evolution over time, and I feel like that's the same for me working as a professional in music, [finding my] individuality [and] really taking risks."

Sierra first heard about :NEXT as an intern at the Academy. As her eligibility for GRAMMY U was coming to a close, Lever thought it'd be the perfect segue into a professional career. She was right.

"The best part about being a 'Nexter' is really being able to connect with your peers and see your peers evolve. That is a big thing for me, to be able to support each other, to know that you do have a support system," she said, adding, "We have panels, we have these industry vets that we get to have that face time with and connection with."

Sierra also talks fondly of her mentor, Recording Academy Washington D.C. Chapter Executive Director Jeriel Johnson. "He is someone who is really connected in the urban [music] space, someone who is a leader within it. I identified with him in the sense of, this is where I want to go and where I want to grow," she said.

"The most valuable lesson I learned from him is to always try," Sierra said. "Always go with your foot forward in the sense of, 'I'm learning and I'm going to be successful.'"

Now, Lever is striving to pursue her dreams in the music industry, and being a part of :NEXT has helped her stay on course. She compares the support she's received—and given to her fellow young music professionals—to that of a family.

"I will say this: The GRAMMYs, they are a family to me. There are so many people who have seen me evolve over time," Sierra says.

Her long-term vision is to continue to tell artists' stories, and she's off to a great start. She puts it best when asked what else she's learned from Johnson,  her :NEXT mentor, about being successful in music:

"When you strive for success, you never fail, you just learn."

:NEXT With Scott Michael Smith: The Innovative Producer/Mixer On Taking Risks, Steve Reich & More

Remi Wolf press photo
Remi Wolf

Photo: Ragan Henderson

interview

On New Album 'Big Ideas,' Remi Wolf Delivers Musical Poetry In Motion

Alt-pop favorite Remi Wolf took inventory of her psychological state while on "back-to-back-to-back" tours, and the result is a winning second album: 'Big Ideas.'

GRAMMYs/Jul 16, 2024 - 02:04 pm

How can you write a song, when you have nothing to sing about? One trusty well to return to is life on the road;  the musical canon is filled with odes to whizzing highway dividers, beds in strange places and, on occasion, a deteriorating home life.

The buzzy and prolific singer/songwriter Remi Wolf just folded these experiences into Big Ideas — her second full-length album, and one born of perpetual travel, transit and transition. (And, it should be said: her Carmen Sandiego traversals led her to NYC’s 2024 GRAMMY U Conference.)

"Well into my 20s, it was like a second puberty, because essentially, I was reborn as this touring musician," the thoughtful and loquacious indie-popper tells GRAMMY.com, over Zoom from her rehearsal space. (Even then, she's in motion, ducking from room to room to evade clamorous comings and goings.)

She evokes her breakout 2021 debut album: "I'd never toured like that before. My whole entire life felt so new after Juno was released."

This led to a white-hot writing streak. Big Ideas' highlights, like advance singles "Toro" and "Alone in Miami," directly address change and upheaval. Goes the former: "Dancing around and spilling wine/ You look good in my hotel robe." Goes the latter: "Met up with Maine, bought cocaine/ Clothes in the lobby waiting for me."

"There's no frills in that s—," Wolf says. "They're quite literally about real life." Read on for a full interview with Wolf about Big Ideas — a locus of that life, in all its nuances and dimensions.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

I love how funky and rhythmic 'Big Ideas' is. Which rhythms from the musical canon got you going? Are you a Purdie head? A Dan head? 

Oh, all of the above. I love a Purdie shuffle. The Purdie shuffle is a pretty legendary groove. I'm a huge fan of Steely Dan. I went to music college; I feel like as a music school student, you kind of have to love Steely Dan. Well, some of the kids choose to hate them, but I chose to love them. 

But yeah, I love a funky groove, a funky beat. I also like simple s—, but we love syncopation in this household. 

What'd you grow up listening to on that front? 

Honestly, not much. I feel like as a young kid, I would just listen to what my parents were listening to, and my dad listened to a lot of '80s classic rock, and my mom really liked Prince 

And then, also, my first album I ever owned was Speak Now by Lindsay Lohan, which is a completely different direction, and I was about eight when I got that album. 

I didn't know she made music. 
 
She had a music career. It was brief, but it was mighty, truly. She had all the best songwriters in the industry at the time working on this album. So honestly, even though it wasn't the pinnacle of musicianship, the writing was really good. Great songs. 

I just flashed back to Hilary Duff jewel cases in grade school. 

Oh, yeah, that's another classic, but I was a little bit more alternative than that. Lindsay Lohan was kind of on more of a pop-punk, like emo front-facing type of songwriting and energy. A little bit more like Alanis Morissette vibes. 

If I ever encounter a Lohan song in the wild, I'll remember your recommendation. 

When I was a high schooler, that's kind of when I started really listening to a bunch of staff that wasn't playing in my house. And that's when I got into Stevie Wonder and the Beatles and Cake. 

I ride for Cake. Great band. 

I ride for Cake, too. Honestly, they're one of my favorite bands of all time. I don't know, I feel super similar to them sometimes. Their lyrics are so wacky and sad, kind of — and bizarre, but they're so funky, and the songs are just great, but they're weird.

Take the readers through the span of time between your first album, 'Juno,' up to this sophomore album. What seed was planted? 

I released Juno at the end of 2021, and I guess the seed that was birthed after that was that I've essentially been on tour ever since. 

This new album, Big Ideas, is kind of the product of: I would go out on tour and come home for a week at a time, because I was on back-to-back-to-back tours. I went on 10 tours in one year; I was only home for about six weeks of all of 2022. And then, going into 2023, I kept touring, and kept doing the same thing. 

Watch: GRAMMY Museum Spotlight: Remi Wolf 

This album is a collection of all these moments and memories, and getting really focused, short amounts of time with me getting home and kind of exploding songwriting-wise — then, going back on tour and building up s— to talk about, and then exploding once again. 

There were about five concentrated week-and-a-half to two-week-long periods of writing that became this album. 

Do you get a charge out of touring? I couldn't imagine doing it again. 

Yeah. I think that there is an adrenaline that I like about it. I like traveling. I like seeing different cities, even if it's for a couple hours. I really like that. 

I like the communal aspect of it. I like getting really close to people and having a routine, to be honest. It's the most routine time of my life. Other than that, when I'm home, I'm just all over the place and doing a bunch of s—, which also has its perks. 

But I don't know, there's something about waking up and doing the same thing every day that kind of is nice for me. And it's cool to be able to just focus on one thing, getting to the next city and playing the show and making people happy. 

What about your life disappearing temporarily? Leaving a partner, your houseplants… 

No, that's really difficult. I luckily don't have a partner right now, but I think that tour is really capable of ruining a lot of relationships, unless you've got a really strong one where they understand the lifestyle and everything. But I've had many houseplants die. It's actually really sad. 

Your life just kind of is on pause. It's like a time machine, or a time capsule. Especially living in L.A. where the weather's the same every single day, you come home, and it's exactly the same as when you left the city. 

Once the emotional and conceptual pieces were on the floor, how did you assemble 'Big Ideas?' 

There are so many iterations of what it could have been. Because like I said, I had five two-week long sections of writing a f— ton of songs. And I'm not kidding, I wrote full albums within those weeks. I would be hunkered. 

I had one week in L.A. where it was five days, and we wrote 10 songs. And then I had another week in L.A. We wrote seven songs. And I had another week in New York, and we wrote nine songs. And then another week in New York, and we wrote 12 songs. And then another week finally back in L.A., and we wrote four songs that time. 

But essentially, I was kind of just doing what felt right. Until I felt like we had an entire album that was cohesive but expansive in its palette, I kept writing. And then finally, at a certain point, I was like, OK, I feel like we have the record. 

But there were moments where I was like, oh, I just wrote an album. I don't have to do anything else. And then a month would go by and I'd be like, I need to do more. 

In terms of choosing the songs, I think I was drawn to the songs that felt the most real to me — that continued to feel the most exciting and real to me. 

Define "real" in this context. 

That is a very difficult question to answer, and I think it is such a gut thing. It's beyond language. I don't know how to describe that. I don't know. If I feel invested. There are certain songs that you write and you like them, but you don't have that same feeling of investment in them. 

Does this really need to be heard? Does anybody need this? 

Yeah. Or: Do I need this? Honestly, it's so inexplicable. 

Do you ever try to work the songwriting muscle of making something specific, universal? Is that part of your calculus? 

Typically, it's not, but there's one song that I tried to do it on very intentionally: "Soup." 

[I had] the intention of making it a song that was built for an arena in terms of the sonics and the expansiveness of the drums and the four-on-the-floor. In my head, I was like, OK, I want this song to play, and then you see the arena with the people pumping their fists and feet. 

I think I'd recently seen Coldplay at Wembley Stadium, and I was like, Holy s—, this is so wild. Their stuff is so arena, stadium-bound. I was inspired by essentially the four-on-the-floor feel — hearing the reverb in the rafters of an arena like that. 

Going into writing that song, I was like, this is the song where it would make sense for me to be blunt and universal with my lyrics. And I think it was a cool experiment and honestly quite vulnerable for me, because I think sometimes I shy away from that type of lyric writing, whether it be out of just wanting to be a little bit more artsy. 

Sometimes I think it's fear-based, in the sense of: I want to hide, I want to be able to be the only one to really know what I'm talking about sometimes. And I think with "Soup," I kind of just let it fly and let that universality shine through a little bit more. 

You don't need to know what songs mean all the time. You mentioned the Beatles: John sang, "Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog's eye." 

Yeah. It's syllables, and imagery. This s— can be anything you want to be, and I always try to remember that. 

What's coming up in your musical life? 

I'm going on tour in the fall; today is our first day of rehearsals. We're starting to put together a big show. More travel, more motion. I never stop moving, essentially. Hopefully I'll be writing more soon.

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grammy u monthly member playlist updated look

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Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: Sunscreen & Suntans Monthly Member Playlist

The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from our talented members. This summer playlist is a vibrant mix of bubblegum pop and soulful tunes that will have you bopping as you soak up the sun.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 01:38 pm

Did you know that among all GRAMMY U members, songwriting and performance are some of the most sought after fields of study? This playlist dedicates a space to hear what these members are creating today!

The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that members are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.

Each month, we accept submissions and feature 15 to 25 songs that match each month’s theme. This summer playlist is vibrant mix of bubblegum pop and soulful tunes that will have you bopping and singing as you soak up the sun. So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music.

Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our next playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify, Apple Music and/or Amazon Music link to the song. Artists must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.

About GRAMMY U:

GRAMMY U is a program that connects aspiring professionals and creatives ages 18-29 with the music industry's brightest and most talented minds. We provide a community for emerging professionals and creatives in addition to various opportunities and tools necessary to start a career in music. Throughout the program year, events and initiatives touch on all facets of the industry, including business, technology, and the creative process.

As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.

Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.

Former GRAMMY U Reps Heather Howard, Sophie Griffiths and Samantha Kopec contributed to this article.

15 Must-Hear Albums In May 2024: Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Sia, Zayn & More

Photo of Steve Lane and Zayna JeBailey at the 5th Annual Florida Songwriters Association Workshop at Full Sail University.
Steve Lane and Zayna JeBailey at the 5th Annual Florida Songwriters Association Workshop

Photo courtesy of Steve Lane and Zayna JeBailey

interview

6 Standout Stories From The 2023-24 GRAMMY U Mentorship Program

The GRAMMY U mentorship program pairs members and experienced music industry personnel. Read on for stories from six successful mentors and mentees from the 2023-24 program year.

GRAMMYs/May 31, 2024 - 11:22 pm

With the newly expanded eligibility for GRAMMY U membership, the GRAMMY U mentorship program has also shifted significantly this year. For the very first time, the mentorship program timeline lasted for an entire year, rather than being split into two semesters. The longer timeframe allowed the mentorship pairs to meet more frequently, take on bigger projects, and develop deeper connections.  

Through the program, GRAMMY U members from around the world receive one-on-one guidance from seasoned music industry professionals. Mentors and mentees have the flexibility to select their specific track within the music business, including performance, songwriting/composing, marketing, or the general music industry. Pairs are aligned as closely as possible, and match mentees with mentors in roles that reflect their interests. 

With over 600 pairings across the 12 Recording Academy Chapters, hundreds of members had the chance to work on amazing projects or participate in once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, all thanks to their mentors. Read on to hear about six outstanding pairs from the 2023-24 GRAMMY U Mentorship Program. 

Andre Gibson | Mentor | Chicago Chapter 

Lylajean Bariso | Mentee | Chicago Chapter 

Lylajean and Andre GRAMMY U Mentorship 2023-24

Andre Gibson and Lylajean Bariso were paired to focus on songwriting and vocal performance. Gibson is currently the President and Owner of Chiat Records, while Bariso majors in creative writing at Northwestern University. 

During this year’s mentorship program, Bariso had the unique opportunity to advance her music career. Under Gibson’s guidance, she participated in her first professional studio recording session and registered with a performing rights organization, enabling her to copyright her music. 

Although Bariso is not enrolled in her school’s music program, music is one of her most passionate hobbies. After participating in this year's mentorship program with Gibson, her perspective has shifted. 

"I've felt discouraged from pursuing music as a full-time career for most of my life, even though it's definitely a dream that's out there and high up for me," Bariso says. "However, I really appreciated that Andre took me seriously as a musical artist and supported the idea of me doing this as a career and following the same practices as professionals in the industry."

Steve Lane | Mentor | Florida Chapter 

Zayna JeBailey | Mentee | Florida Chapter

Steve and Jayna GRAMMY U Mentorship 2023-24

Zayna JeBailey, a music business and entertainment industries graduate from the University of Miami, was paired with Steve Lane, Executive Director of the Florida Songwriters Association. At the start of the program, JeBailey hoped to gain a deeper understanding about the industry through hands-on experience; with Lane as a mentor, she accomplished that goal. 

Over the past few months, JeBailey has worked on the Florida Songwriters Association podcast, assisting with everything from setting up equipment to filming. Additionally, she helped organize the 5th Annual Florida Songwriters Association Workshop, hosted at Full Sail University. The workshop offered networking opportunities and featured  panels with multiple industry professionals. 

"Graduating with my bachelor's back in December left me feeling a bit lost about where to go next," says JeBailey, who will continue to work for the Florida Songwriters Association on projects for youth and young adults in Central Florida. She'll also continue to work on the organization's podcast and next year's workshop. "My mentor's advice and guidance this year, and the connections I have made while working with him, have provided a space for me to discover my next endeavors."

Rachel Levy | Mentor | Los Angeles Chapter 

Joshya Gupta | Mentee | Los Angeles Chapter 

Joshua Gupta GRAMMY U Mentorship 2023-24

Joshya Gupta, a music industry major at the University of California, Los Angeles, was paired with Rachel Levy, the Executive Vice President of Film Music at Universal Pictures. Acknowledging the significant impact mentors have on shaping young minds, Levy reflects on how mentorship shaped her own early experiences in the industry. 

"I was also lucky enough to have a few mentors when I started out in this business that really had an effect on me," Levy says. “So, it’s been great to be able to do that regularly for the college students I have been connected with."

During the mentorship program, Gupta visited Levy's office at NBCUniversal and shadowed her during her day-to-day routines. During this experience, Gupta gained valuable insights into the world of film music and the various responsibilities associated with the role. Through Levy's guidance, Gupta successfully secured her dream internship at NBCUniversal. 

"My goal is to work in film music and my mentor has been instrumental in propelling me towards that aspiration," says Gupta. "Beyond mentorship, she has facilitated opportunities for me to connect with her colleagues, broadening my network and deepening my understanding of the field."

Corynne Burrows | Mentor | Los Angeles Chapter 

Jaida Brown | Mentee | Los Angeles Chapter  

Hoping to sharpen her skills as a confident content creator, Jaida Brown, a music business student at The Los Angeles Film School, was paired with Corynne Burrows, the founder & CEO of Midas Touch Management.  

"I have learned how important it is to surround yourself with people who have a constant desire to grow and to have fresh perspectives from others to be able to help you see all sides of situations," Burrows says.

During the mentorship program, Burrows and Brown focused on taking Brown’s career as a performing artist to the next level. Creating her press kit and logo were among the projects the pair tackled throughout the year, ultimately transforming Brown’s brand as an artist. 

 Ben Raznick | Mentor | San Francisco Chapter 

Jack Bunch | Mentee | San Francisco Chapter 

Ben and Jack GRAMMY U Mentorship 2023-24

Over in the San Francisco Chapter, Jack Bunch, a rising sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, Bunch was matched with Ben Raznick, a Governor for the San Francisco Chapter Board of the Recording Academy. With the help of Raznick, Bunch was able to realize that his aspirations within the industry are far more attainable than he originally believed. 

"Ben helped me realize the realities I look up to aren’t so far away. I listen to dozens of self-produced, prodigious, and seemingly thriving musicians, and I’ve felt far removed from them in the past,"  Bunch reflects. "Now that I’ve begun taking the time to develop skills, set goals, and take tangible steps, I know I can become the artist I want to be."

Raznick also gleaned insight from his mentee during the program. Upon listening to Bunch’s EP, Raznick learned about music tools that he had "never heard of before," which opened his eyes to some of the latest trends and techniques within the fast-paced industry. 

"I felt inspired by Jack’s engagement in our meetings," says Raznick. "It was rewarding to spend time with a young artist that reminded me of myself when I began exploring music as a career." 

Jake Roggenbuck | Mentor | Nashville Chapter 

Anisa Utilla | Mentee | Nashville Chapter 

Anisa Utilla, a human and organizational development major at Vanderbilt University, joined the GRAMMY U mentorship program to gain hands-on insight into the music business, which her formal education lacked. She was paired with Jake Roggenbuck, the Senior Manager of Production at Universal Music Group in Nashville. 

"Music acts as a universal language, bridging people together. I knew I wanted to be a part of that with more of a business lens," says Utilla. "I have a dream to become a record label executive, but through my classes and internet research, it was hard to understand what the day-to-day work in a label is actually like. Jake showed me that. Through his mentorship, I learned things I couldn't learn in a classroom setting." 

Roggenbuck has been actively involved in the GRAMMY U Mentorship program since 2022. He notes that serving as a mentor is a reciprocal experience, as he gains valuable knowledge from his mentees as well. 

"I have learned so many lessons from my mentees and can honestly say I get as much out of the program as I give," says Roggenbuck. The biggest takeaway for me is the enthusiasm and passion that my mentees have. It brings me back to a time when I dreamt of working in the music industry and is a reminder of how lucky I am to have a career I’m passionate about." 

The GRAMMY U mentorship program allows members to gain invaluable guidance from an experienced music industry professional from multiple tracks within the industry. Results from the program include expanded networks, newfound industry advice, career opportunities, and more. If you are interested in becoming a mentee or mentor for the 2024-25 GRAMMY U mentorship program, be sure to keep an eye out for applications opening in Fall 2024. 

Meet 5 GRAMMY Nominees Who Started At GRAMMY U: From Boygenius Engineer Sarah Tudzin To Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying 

Tori Kelly
Tori Kelly

Photo: Sarah Morris/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Tori Kelly Gets “Unwrapped” For 'TORI' At GRAMMY U Event Showcasing Production & Recording Techniques From Her New Album

The singer stepped out for GRAMMY U's first "Unwrapped" event to give fans a look deep inside her new record, TORI. Joined by producer and collaborator Tenroc, the pair walked guests through the making of several tracks including "missin u" and "oceans."

GRAMMYs/May 21, 2024 - 10:11 pm

GRAMMY U members got a special treat from Tori Kelly when the singer (and Sing-er) took the stage for the first ever GRAMMY U "Unwrapped" event on May 15. Held at The Novo in downtown Los Angeles, the event brought together fans, music industry professionals, and students for a night that dove deep into the creative process behind Kelly’s brand new record, TORI. Amazon Music and Mastercard were participating sponsors for this event. 

Joined on stage by producer and collaborator Tenroc, Kelly took fans through a journey of several tracks from her new record, from inception to completion. Kelly discussed each track, aided by a video presentation and using stems to highlight special production techniques, musical intricacies, and cool little Easter eggs. The showcase was followed by a round of live questions from the audience, where Kelly dished about everything from her voiceover work to her pre-studio rituals, before grabbing a guitar and performing two new tracks: "High Water" and "Oceans." 

Here’s a glimpse into all the songs Kelly and Tenroc featured, from "Missin' U" to "Spruce."

"thing u do”

When it came time to make Tori, Kelly told the audience that she wanted to focus on "songs that make [you] wanna dance," and "songs that [anyone] can belt out in the car." Mainly collaborating just with Tenroc, Bellion, Clyde Lawrence, and Jordan Cohen, Kelly put together a record that's strongly influenced by late '90s and early '00s pop, with references to chirping Sidekick phones and plenty of nostalgic vocal effects. 

"missin u" in particular is interesting, not just because it was inspired by Craig David and the U.K. Garage sound — with Kelly taking special care to pronounce "garage" in true British fashion at the live event — but also because it was released in both its original form and as an R&B edit. The latter version is the one Kelly and Tenroc highlighted at the event, going through Kelly's vocal tracks, and really digging in on the remix's bridge, which Kelly wrote just for that track and recorded in her home studio.

Getting to see Tenroc's Logic Pro work on the big screen seemed to mesmerize everyone in attendance, with most marveling at the ease he seemed to have flicking through the dozens of stems, layers, and plug-ins. 

"missin u"

When it came time to make TORI, Kelly told the audience that she wanted to focus on "songs that make [you] wanna dance," and "songs that [anyone] can belt out in the car." Mainly collaborating just with Tenroc, Bellion, Clyde Lawrence, and Jordan Cohen, Kelly put together a record that's strongly influenced by late '90s and early '00s pop, with references to chirping Sidekick phones and plenty of nostalgic vocal effects.

In particular, "missin u" is interesting, not just because it was inspired by Craig David and the U.K. Garage sound — with Kelly taking special care to pronounce "garage" in true British fashion at the live event — but also because it was released in both its original form and as an R&B edit. The latter version is the one Kelly and Tenroc highlighted at the event, going through Kelly's vocal tracks, and really digging in on the remix's bridge, which Kelly wrote just for that track and recorded in her home studio.

Getting to see Tenroc's Logic Pro work on the big screen seemed to mesmerize everyone in attendance, with most marveling at the ease he seemed to have flicking through the dozens of stems, layers, and plug-ins. 

"shelter"

Talking about "shelter," Kelly described a sort of shorthand she'd developed with Tenroc, after working closely together over the past few years. She said they're at the point where they can communicate with "sounds" and "telepathy," a benefit she attributes to not switching producers throughout the making of her record.

Tenroc and Kelly used "shelter" to talk about the comping process, or the act of combining the best parts of different takes into a single track. Kelly said she typically does about five takes of a vocal track, all in different personas: one normal, one shyer, one wild, one with a lot of vocal runs, and one that's sort of a wild card. She can keep each take separate in her mind that way, remembering how she recorded a vowel slightly better in one take or gave a line a little grittier vocal texture in another. It's not something everyone can do, though, and Tenroc said it's truly amazing to witness in person — a fact the live audience could attest to. 

For Kelly, a lot of making TORI, was about exploring different tones and textures of her voice, she said. She'd sometimes start by doing an impression of a singer like Rihanna and Willow in one run, and then blend the inspired version with her own, stretching herself vocally. She demonstrated that kind of thing live at the show, doing off-the-cuff runs of bits of "Shelter" to talk about how they changed the way the word "plate" in the chorus. 

Tenroc also showed off how he used the Little Alterboy plug-in to alter Kelly's voice, turning the rap in "shelter," as well as the "you, you, you, you, you" bit into what sounds like a deep masculine voice, even though those lines were originally laid down by Kelly herself. 

"spruce"

When "spruce" was first being envisioned by Kelly and co-writer Casey Smith, it was a song called "truce" about making up with your loved one before going out on the town. Kelly had been wanting to make a "getting ready, girly song," though, and Bellion came into the studio one day with the idea of merging the two ideas in what became "spruce." 

Written over a loop made by Tenroc, "spruce" — featuring Kim Chaewon of K-Pop group LE SSERAFIM — is emblematic, Kelly said, of her effort to let go, change, and try new things in the studio. The production was inspired by Jai Paul and uses sidechain compression, which is when the level of one instrument or sound triggers a compressor to control the level of another sound. The crowd clearly seemed taken with the sound when Tenroc played examples of how it was used in the track, which he said he made in part with the Serum plugin. Kelly said the result feels fully "3-D," like you're "inside" the track rather than just listening along.

"same girl"

The last — and most personal —song on the record, "same girl," was mostly written by Kelly while she was on a plane. She wanted something that felt like it could close the record, and she recorded it live with Tenroc in her studio, where he also played piano. 

Kelly said the song was inspired by her love of various music styles and genres. She explained, "Coming up as an artist, I always felt a little insecure about trying to stay in one lane and be in one box. I love so many different genres. I'm inspired by so many different things." She continued, "And so finding my sound I always thought that was a bad thing... But I'm grateful for all these different genres I've been able to dabble in. This song was me being overwhelmed by people's opinions and letting it get to me a little bit while thinking of my career as a whole."

Kelly said that while she worried when she was writing that the lyrics would be too personal and too specific, she's had great feedback about the track, something that reminds her that, "Anytime you write about your own experience, someone else out there is going to be able to relate to it." 

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