Top Row: Tracy Marie - Credit Tracy Marie, Brandon Kazen-Maddox and Shelly Guy - credit: Lincoln Center, Namel Norris - Credit: Joe Papeo, 2022 Danny Awards, Gaelynn Lea - Credit: Bartek Buczkowski. Bottom Row: Precious Perez - Credit - Alina Nadolu, Stephen Letnes - Photo credit: Gary Stefanski, Shelby Lock - Credit Shelby Lock, Lachi - Photo Credit: VOYA Inc, Clearwater Florida, 2021
5 Ways The Music Industry Can Support Recording Artists And Music Professionals With Disabilities
In honor of Disability Pride Month, here are some tips on how the music industry can support creators and creative professionals who live with disabilities.
As Disability Pride Month — which takes place every July — draws to a close, it's incumbent on the music community to continue elevating and celebrating music professionals with disabilities of all kinds. Below is a helpful, pragmatic guide to how we can do so — both in music-industry situations and in our everyday lives.
The following is a guest piece by Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD), a coalition of established creators with disabilities who work to promote equitable inclusion, visibility and accessibility in the music industry.
Having recently worked with the 64th GRAMMYs on a visible stage ramp, sign language on the red carpet, and live captioning and audio description for video content, RAMPD is on a mission to amplify Disability Culture in a massive way.
Read on as RAMPD members share key ways the music industry can support creators and creative professionals with disabilities on a year-round basis and in a meaningful manner.
1. Listen To The Disability Community
Lachi. Photo courtesy of RAMPD.
Lachi (Founder/President, RAMPD):
First ask. Then listen.
With 26 percent of Americans having some form of disability, neurodiversity, chronic illness or communication difference, we are a vast and diverse community full of rich, untold stories and deeply moving and impactful experiences, yet are untapped by popular culture.
The disability community has strong perspectives on how we wish to be viewed and portrayed, but seldom have the opportunity to voice them. Thus many decisions are made about us without us and are often harmful to the community.
When planning design, programming, recruitment strategies, or anything else — even if it has nothing to do with disability — a disabled person tapped into the community must be in the room.
"But Lachi," you might say, "I don't know anyone in the music industry with a disability." Here at RAMPD, we provide resources where folks can find, source or hire top disabled talent and professionals who are knowledgeable, approachable, and present to affect growth.
Wawa Snipe. Photo courtesy of RAMPD.
Aoede (RAMPD, Events Co-Chair):
Encourage promoters, agents and venues to listen to artists and musicians with disabilities regarding their needs.
More than two thirds of disabled artists don't disclose due to stigmas, and report risking their health to perform. One way to remove fear of artists disclosing their disabilities is to respect an artist with disabilities' rider.
DJ Pastor Rock (RAMPD, Partnerships):
It all starts with awareness; paying attention to who is and, more importantly, who isn't there. Awareness is an important entry point for building relationships with people too often excluded.
2. Recognize Disability As A Natural And Cultural Form Of Diversity
Disability culture is a celebration of people who identify as disabled, while acknowledging the vast diversity of the disability experience and each person's inherent and equal worth.
It is unapologetic, creative, innovative, adaptable, imaginative, and rooted in problem-solving.
It is based on the premise that disability needs to be seen, respected, included and celebrated. It includes our worldviews, our perspectives, our contributions, our art, our words, and our music.
Disability culture — at least in part — is a vibrant and thriving counter-response to the exclusion, marginalization and oppression historically and currently experienced by many disabled individuals.
Namel Norris. Photo: Joe Papeo, 2022 Danny Awards
Namel Norris (RAMPD, Partnerships):
One of the biggest ways the music industry can be more disability-inclusive is by getting more involved in our culture and the amazing art, performances and musical contributions we already have going on.
Zak Sandler (RAMPD, Pro Member):
We need to create an environment where disability is not hidden out of shame, but rather, celebrated out of pride. Record companies and agents must actively seek out disabled artists and ensure we represent a consistent percentage of their clients.
Shelby Lock. Photo courtesy of Shelby Lock.
Shelby Lock (RAMPD, Pro Member):
Evaluate people based on their skills and work ethic rather than their health status. There can be a culture of working non-stop in the music industry — especially in the studio world. Don't write us off, and we'll prove with our results that we deserve to be here too.
Leroy Moore Jr (RAMPD, Pro Member):
Let's also admit to the -isms that have locked out artists who become disabled/deaf during their career in the music industry.
Stephen Letnes. Photo courtesy of RAMPD.
Stephen Letnes (RAMPD, Treasurer):
Music affects and reflects what we value. Disability culture is not something new; it has always been here. The music industry can and should amplify such a powerful yet neglected part of our culture.
3. Intentional Visibility And Representation From The Stage To The Boardroom
Precious Perez (RAMPD, Memberships Chair):
Disability representation on screen is crucial. There is so much power in looking at the media and seeing yourself and your community represented.
Disability is the one diversity left out of every diversity conversation. The one minority that is not acknowledged. So many people do not understand disability — and moreover, do not see or experience disabled artists on an equal playing field.
It is for this reason that highlighting and booking disabled performers for prominent visibility opportunities is not only empowering, but deeply impactful for the general public and the industry as a whole.
Precious Perez. Photo: Alina Nadolu
Promote and implement accessibility measures at major events such as the following:
Visible ramps to the stage; visible ASL interpreter(s) and self-description; and on-stage and below-the-line representation of artists and professionals with disabilities.
Publicly announcing accessibility measures through press releases, on websites and social media is a highly encouraged way to include the disability community — while getting non-disabled viewers excited or interested in these measures.
Invest in the artists who are already making a massive impact purposefully amplifying Disability Culture all over the world.
There are also accomplished entertainment professionals who can sit on your boards to ensure disability is part of the conversation at the board level.
It's not about giving us a handout; it's about giving us a hand up. An equitable fair inclusive seat at the table in the music industry.
Brandon Kazen-Maddox. Credit: Lincoln Center
Brandon Kazen-Maddox (ASL Performer):
Incorporate artists from the deaf and signing community to not only translate musical events into ASL, but to work hand-in-hand with musical artists to create accessible work from the ground up.
4. Inclusive Hiring — From Behind-The-Scenes To Contractor To Executive
Andrea Jennings (RAMPD, Secretary):
Let's level the playing field for music executives, music creatives behind the scenes, musicians, and music administrators with disabilities.
We are talented professionals at every level. We are opinion leaders and want to contribute our perspective to society; however, we are often met with accessibility and pay gap barriers.
To achieve success, we need equitable solutions like accessible outreach programs, inclusive employment opportunities, paid on-the-job training, and intentional accommodation support.
Let's create work, event and office environments conducive to disabled people, including the over 70% with non-visible disabilities. The last thing we want is to find out that someone feared self-advocating or requesting work accommodations… in their exit interview!
5. Intentional Event And Venue Accessibility For Artists and Patrons
Hybrid events are a great opportunity for high-visibility events to promote inclusion and accessibility.
As a disabled artist living with chronic illness, I look entirely to virtual events to engage and connect with others in my music community.
These events allow people like me, who are unable to attend physical events (due to health risks, travel or other concerns) access to participate and be included virtually.
Tracy Marie. Photo courtesy of RAMPD.
Tracy Marie (RAMPD, Events):
Venues can better implement inclusive practices by simply providing a direct line on their website to a designated staff member who intakes accommodation requests.
That goes for a patron, an artist or even those interested in seeking employment. An open line of communication helps those with accessibility and accommodation needs feel welcomed.
Gaelynn Lea. Photo: Bartek Buczkowski
Gaelynn Lea (RAMPD, VP):
A major way the music industry can be more inclusive is by hiring accessibility coordinators on their full-time staff to ensure operations, technology, press, and policies are both inclusive and supportive of disability and that access needs are being met for both employees and customers.
Folks hired for these positions should identify as disabled themselves so that they have a personal relationship with the reality of disability, and so that they can seek input and resources from their own community when faced with an unfamiliar issue.
All too often, access is seen as a secondary concern or a bonus, when it should really be built in from the ground up.
There is a deep pool of disabled talent that could be tapped for this important work. Now, it's up to the music industry to create these positions in their organizations.
Photo: Marcelo Cantu
With 'Dolls,' Bella Poarch Is Speaking Up: "It's My Story And It's Me Expressing Myself"
On her debut EP, Bella Poarch transforms from viral TikTok star to dark-pop queen — and most importantly, she finally gets to speak her truth.
When the world was first introduced to Bella Poarch in 2020, she was a viral TikToker without anyone hearing her voice. Poarch's lip-syncing videos (and undeniable charisma) rapidly garnered a following that exceeds 90 million, making her TikTok's third most-followed star and the top Asian American influencer in the world.
Now, Poarch is ready to take her success beyond TikTok — and let her voice be heard.
The young Filipina star ushers in a new persona as a dark-pop singer with her first EP, Dolls. The six-song project — which features her empowering debut single "Build a B—" — explores a spectrum of raw emotions as Bella continues to reveal her true self to fans.
As Poarch explained to GRAMMY.com, Dolls is a look into the ups and downs of her life. On songs like "Living Hell," she divulges the hardships she endured growing up; on others like the fierce title track, she showcases her creativity while also flexing her strength. It's clear that Poarch has a unique vision that resonates with many, and a goal to create an outlet for young women who may see themselves in her story.
In a candid conversation over Zoom, Poarch got real about her journey to stardom, the inspiration behind her first project, and why she wants to provide much-needed representation for fellow Filipinas.
Before you were a TikTok star, you served in the military, and you've been open about having a difficult childhood. So you've sort of lived a ton of lives, right? Do you think you've reinvented yourself at all? And how has your past impacted the music that you make now?
Growing up in the Philippines and switching to a whole different country taught me a lot. And also pushing myself to join the military taught me a lot. I did live different lives. But I was still the same when it comes to being hopeful and just like, manifesting good things in my life.
It also taught me to be less anxious, because I was very anxious as a kid. I wasn't really talking. My parents were not allowing me to speak whenever I wanted to. Now that I'm able to create music and be vocal about my feelings, I'm glad to be able to share my thoughts and express myself — and to be able to help other people — with my music.
This is your first EP, and a lot of your singles are largely about confidence. Is this a theme that's important to you?
Yes, because I myself struggle with confidence. I am a very shy person sometimes. And I guess it all depends on what I'm wearing and what I look like in a day. Like, you know, if I had my pigtails on, I'm 100 percent more confident than if I had just my hair down.
How did you get into that hairstyle?
Hatsune Miku. She's a Vocaloid. She's anime. I got a lot of inspiration from anime.
That's cool. So is it kind of like an alter ego?
Yeah, pretty much.
"Build A B—" had a pretty huge debut. Did you feel a sort of pressure after that, and how did its success affect you?
I was just really shocked that people were like, loving it. And I was like, "Wow, I'm very proud of myself." Because it was really hard to figure out what first song I wanted to release. And it was very important to me. I was like, "Uh, do I really want [to release a song called] 'Build A B—?'" Like…yes. [Laughs.]
There was a lot of going back and forth. I was just really happy that my fans love it.
What's the story behind "Living Hell" and its music video?
The music video takes a lot of inspiration from my childhood room and how I'm struggling to escape it. And now I'm struggling to escape my childhood trauma.
I've been very open about it with social media and it has helped me a lot. It's hard for me to express my feelings. But it also helped other people that are struggling with expressing themselves.
The room in the music video is yellow — everything's yellow. It's because I grew up in a yellow bedroom with yellow curtains and yellow tiled floors. And I was basically forced into that color. My parents were like, "You're gonna love this color. This is your room color." And I feel like that's them showing me that they had the power.
Over time, growing up in that room, I learned to love it because it's a happy color. Sorry, I'm getting emotional.
There is a lot of symbolism in the music video. I think I will be explaining what it means later on. But when people see it at first, they're probably confused, because they don't really know the inspiration from it — me escaping from my childhood trauma. When you see that music video without that context, you're just like, "Wow, this is art!" But when you really see the full meaning of it, it takes you to a different perspective.
What was your inspiration for making this whole EP? Obviously there's songs that are a little bit emotional, but there are also songs that are more upbeat. How does it all come together?
I think what inspired me the most and to do this is speaking up. Even [in] my journey with TikTok, I wasn't speaking for a whole year — nobody knew what I sounded like. And so they were all just like, "Whoa" when I started talking. They were like, "Wait, she talks?"
Me releasing music and releasing this EP is me coming out and saying, "I have a voice, and the messages of my songs are very important to me because it's my story and it's me expressing myself."
What does it mean to you to be a Filipina American talent right now? I know traditionally there hasn't been a lot of representation, at least in the U.S.
I'm just so proud that I myself can represent the Philippines. And, you know, like, Olivia Rodrigo — I love her.
I'm so happy whenever I hear that someone's Filipino, because I'm like, "Wow, family!" [Laughs.] Because back when I was in the Philippines, living there for 14 years of my life, I didn't really have anybody to look up to in the music side of things — when it comes to things like being a singer and being an artist. There was not a lot of Filipino representation there. Except for Lea Salonga. She sang "Reflection" in the movie Mulan, the very first one. And so she was really the only one that I looked up to.
I know you're invested in uplifting the AAPI community, and you were named to the 2022 Gold House A100 list. Are there any actions that you're taking to support the community? Or is it simply you being yourself and being Filipina that's making a difference?
Yeah, I think just embracing the community — being me, and just doing my best in everything that I do.
Do you have any new goals or anything that you haven't accomplished yet that you're working towards right now?
Performing live. I haven't performed live yet.
Is there a tour in the works, or is it just something that you want to do eventually?
I think we're thinking about doing a tour.
Anything else coming up?
I'm going back to the Philippines soon.
Yeah — it's been 10 years [since I've] seen my country.
Do you have anything fun planned, or are you just gonna go with the flow?
I'm gonna go everywhere!
Photo: Amber Patrick
Machine Gun Kelly Returns Home: 7 Highlights From His Biggest Cleveland Show Yet
Relive Machine Gun Kelly's epic homecoming that featured blood, sweat and tears — oh, and a $10 million life insurance policy.
The "Mainstream Sellout" was a hometown sellout on Aug. 13 when Machine Gun Kelly (MGK) performed to more than 41,000 fans at a packed FirstEnergy Stadium in his native Cleveland.
Exactly 15 years after a teenage Colson Baker — now better known as MGK — first dreamed of hip-hop stardom, his unlikely journey from regional up-and-comer to emerging superstar was completed on the final show and first stadium date of his summer touring leg.
Machine Gun Kelly's homecoming was special from start to finish, with the Cleveland mayor officially dubbing Aug. 13 "Machine Gun Kelly Day" and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opening an MGK exhibit before he took the stage at FirstEnergy Stadium. But as soon as the show began — with openers Trippie Redd, Avril Lavigne, Willow and 44phantom warming up the raucous audience — it was clear MGK's hometown fans were dying to welcome home one of their own.
What transpired was a game-changing two-and-a-half-hour set (built heavily around his latest albums Tickets to My Downfall and Mainstream Sellout) that literally included blood, sweat and tears.
Below, check out seven highlights from MGK's debut as a stadium headliner — and hometown hero.
He Took Down The Internet
The theme throughout the night was destroying the evil internet, which was physically represented with a massive inflatable "Stranger Things"-like creature — complete with a computer screen head — that emerged in the back of the stage, declaring, "I am the internet. You are what I say you are."
Often a paparazzi and social media target, MGK made sure to call out his online haters throughout the show. But more importantly, he encouraged his audience to believe in themselves and not to give power to anonymous trolls.
Spoiler alert: By the end of the show, MGK (along with a little pyrotechnical help from a pink helicopter) successfully destroyed the internet, freeing both himself and his fans from the chains of social media hell — at least for the night.
He Zip-Lined Against All Odds
After a brief video montage of a young rapping MGK rising up through different Northeast Ohio venues, the MC appeared at the back of the stadium dressed in a Cleveland Browns jersey with "XX" for numbers.
Remembering his hip-hop roots for fans there at the beginning, MGK delivered a few lines of early tracks "Cleveland," "Alpha Omega" and "Chip Off the Block" — a special trio of songs he hasn't sung at other stops on the tour — before zip-lining the entire distance of the stadium to the stage. He then delivered an adrenaline-fueled performance of his platinum 2015 track "Till I Die."
"I had a dream three days ago," MGK told the audience afterward. "I said, 'Can you bring me into the stadium in a real helicopter?' They said, 'No.' I said, 'Alright, I want to zip-line from the top of the stadium.'
"They said, 'No.' So I called the mayor and said, 'Let's make this happen. I want to give them some Michael Jackson s— and make them remember.'"
After raising enough money to cover a $10 million life insurance policy, MGK received the green light just before the show.
"We made it happen," MGK said. "This is a special night for a kid who used to hand out CDs and now got 50,000 people together."
He Proved His Pop-Punk Prowess
Confirming his transformation from rapid-fire rapper to pop-punk purveyor, MGK proved his frenetic bona fides by bringing out songwriting partner and producer Travis Barker.
Despite a doctor's orders against performing with a broken thumb, the blink-182 drummer (with wife Kourtney Kardashian in tow) joined MGK for a six-song stretch that featuredTickets To My Downfall tracks "title track," "kiss kiss," "concert for aliens," "all i know" and "bloody valentine" and finished with blink-182's "All the Small Things."
His Emotions Ran High
A trip to the B-stage turned into an emotional moment when MGK talked about wishing his deceased father and aunt could have witnessed his triumphant homecoming. "I wish so much my father and my aunt could be here," he told the crowd. "But I've got you all — the only family I have left."
Featuring a string section from Cleveland's Contemporary Youth Orchestra, the singer delivered raw performances of "Glass House" and "lonely."
Draped in blue light, MGK added, "I'm sorry to be emotional" to the crowd with many fans equally teary during the heartfelt moment.
He Didn't Want The Party To End
Similar to MGK's late 2021 show at Cleveland's Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse — where he refused to leave the stage, forcing the venue to cut the power — the FirstEnergy Stadium show ran more than 30 minutes longer than posted set times.
Late into the concert, MGK said he was being told in his earpiece that he was getting fined $70,000 every 10 minutes for running late. He then downed a glass of wine.
"You know what I say about that, we aren't stopping this concert yet," MGK said. "I'm rich, b—."
Just like he's done previously on the current tour, MGK smashed the glass on his head, which caused him to bleed WWE-style from his face. "Should we stop the show or spend the $70,000?" he asked, which prompted chants of "MGK."
With blood now clearly dripping down his face, the singer talked about all of the small club Cleveland venues he played. "I always wanted shows to feel intimate," he added. Mission accomplished.
Photo: Amber Patrick
He Served Up Death-Defying Antics
With the aforementioned life insurance policy in mind, a bloodied and unharnessed MGK climbed 30 feet up the stage rigging — young Eddie Vedder style — to finish "my ex's best friend."
He then proceeded to jam his legs into the rig and hang upside down, smiling and singing without missing a beat as tomato-shaped confetti reigned down around the stadium. The surreal moment epitomized the entire evening: a fearless artist truly wanting to give his hometown crowd a show they'll never forget.
He Soaked Up Every Last Moment
Even 30 minutes (and apparently $210,000) overdue, Machine Gun Kelly clearly didn't want to leave the stage. Nearly awkward moments of silence were mixed with sincere ramblings toward the end, as MGK was obviously still processing the enormity of the evening.
He recalled a phone call with fiancée Megan Fox from earlier in the day, when she told him that he doesn't have to prove anything on stage and that the audience is there to see him.
"We did it," MGK said. "We did sell out a stadium in our hometown. I love you all. I'll see you many times in this lifetime, I'm sure."
After performing the set finale, the anthemic "twin flame," MGK fell to his knees and cried with his head held low. As the appropriately titled "9 lives" played over the PA, MGK hugged his band members and looked out to the crowd — taking in the last moments of a dream come true.
Photo: Dane Clark
It Goes to 11: Noah Reid's Favorite Instrument Is A Custom-Made Wedding Gift With A Family Connection
Noah Reid shares the story behind his one-of-a-kind acoustic guitar, which was made expressly with him in mind.
Musician and actor Noah Reid's favorite instrument is an acoustic guitar that was custom-built by renowned luthier Linda Manzer, who's worked on guitars for the likes of Carlos Santana, Pat Metheny and Paul Simon. But the instrument's pedigree isn't the biggest thing that makes it special — it's also an important part of Reid's family history.
In this episode of It Goes to 11, Reid shares the deeply personal story behind his guitar, which was a wedding gift from his parents. Every detail behind the instrument was crafted with him in mind, beginning with the fact that it was made in 1987 — the year he was born.
"It's personalized on the headstock with a drawing by my dad," Reid explains, adding that Manzer also worked on the instrument with him and his playing style in mind. "She included a letter that said, 'I've heard you play in person, and I've tuned this, and the action is such that I think it will suit your playing style."
Reid's parents gave him the guitar as a gift the night before his wedding ceremony in 2020, along with a detailed case for the instrument. Having it before the wedding itself allowed the musician to make a special memory with his new guitar right away: performing for his new wife in front of their loved ones.
"Playing this guitar on my wedding day was just a crazy confluence of music and emotion and belonging and family," the singer — who Schitt's Creek fans may remember from his heart-melting performances as Patrick — says. "It was really everything. There's a sense of belonging with this instrument that feels unique and special. It's not just for an everyday occasion."
Press play on the video above to get to know Reid's special acoustic guitar for yourself, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of It Goes to 11.
How Youth-Run Label Syryn Records Supports Up-And-Coming Artists, Music Industry Hopefuls
Born out of the pandemic, Syryn Records offers young future music professionals real-world experience in the industry — and what they've done with it is impressive.
The COVID-19 lockdown forced many people to get creative with how they connected with each other and interacted with the world. The leaders of Girls Rock Santa Barbara were no different, but they also had a pressing decision to make: Skip their annual sleep-away summer camp for school-aged girls and gender expansive kids, or adapt their programming for the newly all-remote world.
This is how Syryn Records — a youth-run record label dedicated to supporting young female-identifying and gender expansive artists as they grow their careers in music — was born.
The label's teen interns built Syryn from scratch, running the label's day-to-day operations while also collaborating on the development of branding, website and social media.
While the first cohort of Syryn interns released singles from seven artists and contributed to creative assets for those releases, second session interns are signing artists. Twenty-one-year-old Heaven Lee is Syryn's first signed artist, and will release her debut single on the label later this year. The Syryn squad also kept busy creating an online publication called GRL Mag, and doing TikTok reports from concerts.
Now firmly on the other side of lockdown, the spring 2022 cohort of 39 interns hosted the first IRL Syryn event in April: a showcase concert featuring Heaven and other young up-and-coming artists at The Rattle in Los Angeles. The next cohort is to continue to support Heaven, sign another artist or two, and release another compilation album to support even more young artists.
In addition to supporting young artists, Syryn nurtures its interns — some of whom are aspiring artists themselves, while others are into visual art or see themselves on the business side of the industry. The internship offers them real world experience, as well as industry connections through weekly mentorship meetings with female musicians and music industry professionals. The 24 mentors for the spring session included Kate Nash, Megan Mitchell, LATASHÁ and myself, representing music journalism.
GRAMMY.com spoke with three interns — one who is graduating high school, a college student, and a recent college grad — and one adult leader. They share the impact of their experience at Syryn, their visions for themselves as young women in music, and how their hard work has helped the label evolve.
To start, it'd be great if everyone could introduce themselves and tell me your role at Syryn, and why you signed up to be a part of it.
Blaire Michael: I'm the program mentor and lead at Syryn Records. I help run all of the departments and manage the program, and make sure that everybody feels like they're getting the most out of it… and also just feels seen, and understood and supported.
Marissa McShepard: I am in the art department, and I've really been enjoying working with the team of artists. I chose to apply because I'm a visual artist and I'm into music as well. And I felt "Why not try to get some experience in that field?" since all I've been doing is my major in college, which is business and I don't really enjoy it that much.
Isabella Diaz: I joined Syryn because it's actually what led me to Girls Rock about two years ago. I saw it on Instagram and I was like, "Oh my God, that's so cool." I guess I didn't have the confidence to put in an application. So this year, I was like, "No, I'm going to do it." It's great because it's kind of an entry into the music industry. I'm going into college and will be majoring in entertainment management. I'm on the marketing team.
Sasha-Courtney Hofisi: I am an intern in the art department and I get to work alongside Marisa and some other really dope artists on the art and the aesthetic behind Syryn Records. We're working closely with some of the artists on their upcoming projects, which is dope. I saw [Syryn] on Instagram and am a music industry major and a multidisciplinary artist, primarily a musician. I really wanted the opportunity to explore my job options after college; I think that being in the program has given me a better idea of what my career options can be.
I would love to hear more about how Syryn came together in summer 2020, and the journey from there.
Michael: The last session started in 2020 and it was a pivot, because COVID was happening and everyone was trying to figure out how to stay engaged and supported and part of the community. And so [the staff at Girls Rock Santa Barbara] came up with a couple of different programs, one focused on journalism and another focused on promoting young artists and giving young folks an opportunity to explore the different things you can do to support an artist as a music professional.
The label is now formalized this year, but previously, it was a lot of artists that were just part of the Girls Rock community that brought in a single and the interns came together to help do the art for it and to help with some of the publicity. They created a Syryn Instagram and website.
We loved how it went and we were like, "Why don't we actually sign artists?" We have all of our interns supporting actual signed artists to the Syryn Record label, and we're exploring a lot of different ways that we can keep building it out.
How do you decide what music to release on the label?
Michael: We had a ton of artist applications. We had to narrow it down to those we felt were self-sufficient enough in that they knew how to produce, they knew a little bit about engineering, they already had written some songs and the songs had a really good structure to them. [Essentially], we felt like they were ready to push their music out, so they were at the right part in their journey to link with Syryn Records.
The whole team at Girls Rock Santa Barbara talked about every single intern and every single artist, and chose the folks that we wanted to join us. We have two artists that we're working with right now. We're super excited to work with them.
What does Syryn offer in support of its artists?
Michael: We have four departments: A&R, publicity, marketing and the art department. And they're all kind of working together but separately, building the different pieces. Marketing is talking to the artists about getting an aesthetic together and the brand guidelines, so when they're posting there's consistency. The art department is making art, helping with covers, canvases, all those kinds of things, and also has been helping with our website. The publicity department is putting together press releases, getting ready for when we launch and also reaching out and talking to people about our artists and our program.
McShepard: The art department first started with, again, the aesthetic of Syryn… but we also moved on to looking at the aesthetics of the artists, starting with Heaven and then on to Zoey. [We worked] with other departments, making sure that our collaboration is smooth. We just finished working with the marketing department to make a good cover for Heaven's single, which was really fun.
Hofisi: We actually got the chance to be put into pairs to collaborate on Heaven's single covers. We've been able to combine our two departments' skills together to be able to create a cohesive project and pitch for the signed artist, so they can have options for their covers and such.
Another really cool feature that all the interns get is that we have a guest mentor come speak to us on Mondays. It's a great way to make connections, but also it's been the easiest way for me to be able to ask as many questions as I want about different careers, and see people across a plethora of… fields within the industry.
Diaz: Like Sasha and Marissa mentioned, we just finished a collaboration between the two departments. I really liked how every single group had a totally different perspective on it, and the ideas that were thrown out there were really cool.
In marketing, we've also been working on getting our social media going. I've been doing a lot of TikToks, like concerts of the week, record of the week, guest mentor of the week, a lot of weekly stuff. We're trying to continue our posting schedule. We were working on some color palettes as well. We want to get a cohesive idea for the artists for when we do start all the releases, so everything can be ready and looking pretty.
I really like Syryn's collage / DIY-style art! Who makes the decisions around the visual elements of the label?
Michael: The art department really does represent the artists interests, but we've had meetings where Heaven comes in. Heaven's met with the marketing department and talked about color schemes and the fonts we're choosing, and we handed those over to the art department. They made so many different versions because then we get to all present them to Heaven.
I think the important part of our record label… has always been that the artist has a ton of creative control. And we want to make sure that we're supporting their vision.
McShepard: Outside of artists' work and artists' aesthetic, we all have some say in what's finalized. For example, we still have to vote on a banner for the website. I think that's great that we all get to have a say because we all put in the work and we all help each idea come to fruition.
Diaz: In marketing, we have these mood boards going and we all get to add to them and see our perspective on it, and then as we keep doing that it becomes more cohesive. When we get the artists in, then we get more ideas and that's [when] we finalize everything. It's a team effort and we really value everyone's opinion. I really like that.
What can you tell me about the label's aesthetic, and how you came to that decision?
Hofisi: At least for our banner and our website upgrade, a huge thing that we talked about is trying to kind of play with, in an age-appropriate way, the Syryn Records title and the mythology and association with siren. So, we wanted to play into a mystical vibe. We were thinking about fairies, and flying cats and a very foresty vibe, like mushrooms and plants, to liven it up and add a little bit more of a magical vibe to it.
We also really wanted to play into the gender expansiveness as well of Syryn Records — not only the fact that it is focused on women empowerment, but also gender inclusion as well. So we have a lot of androgynous mystical creatures like fairies, or elves, stuff like that. That will be included in this next phase of the Syryn Records brand.
McShepard: The only other thing that she didn't mention was just the color palette, again, making sure those colors are inspiring and supporting the vibe that we're going for. And making sure that it is age-appropriate and all-inclusive when it comes to our females and gender expansive folks. We wanted to have some kind of cohesion on that front while still promoting diversity.
Michael: Yeah, we never wanted anyone to look at our brand and feel like they're not included if they are part of our outreach. So trans, non-binary, racial diversity, gender. We wanted to make sure you look at something from us and say, "Oh, I belong here." So how you build your art, how you build your brand can really signal to people "I belong here" or "I don't belong here." So that's important.
Can you tell me about the Syryn artist showcase that happened recently?
Hofisi: I was very, very, very blessed with the showcase. I met one of my best friends, actually, in this internship, in the art department. Basically, we had the idea of wanting to do a show and get the chance to meet each other for the first time. Her birthday was coming up as well, so the timing was really great. We asked Blaire if she had any ideas for venues and she was generous enough to offer to try to help us collaborate with the record label.
The showcase was really, really great. We got to have Heavenheadline the event. We really wanted the event to highlight dope women that are doing amazing things in music, and wanted to showcase their talents. We had a very intimate acoustic vibe to it. It was Venusian themed, and we wanted to bring the outdoors inside, so we had a little grass patch and flowers. There were five acts. It was very, very exciting.
Michael: It's really cool because it was two interns coming together and producing an event for Syryn Records, which is kind of crazy. And we got to keep it fully in-house, Devin [Davis, the Syryn A&R Mentor Lead] and I did the sound for the event. One of our guest mentors is the director of The Rattle, which is a creative space [in Los Feliz in Los Angeles]. It kind of came full circle and was really, really sick. And we had two interns performing and the two artists signed to our label.
So it's a beautiful example of when you bring all these elements together the synergy that can happen and how it can sort of organically uplift your message or your mission without you having to do too much besides putting the right people in the right rooms together.
At this point in time, what does everyone's "dream job" look and feel like? Are you interested in working in the music industry?
Diaz: For me personally, it feels like a pinball; it just bounces around all the time and is never fully set. But now, working anywhere in management or [as] an agent will be cool. Working with a label and working with a group of people has made me realize that I really do like the collaborative aspect, so working for a label — whether it's one of the big corporate names or one of the smaller local ones — seems to be really, really cool.
I would love to be able to work in something that lets me experience my favorite things, which are concerts and music, on a more intimate level and bring those experiences to people. I grew up on these things, and would love to show it to the next generation to be like look at this great world and eventually they can take over.
McShepard: This is a very real question for me right now as I'm about to graduate from college in a week. And I'm hating it because it keeps changing…. I'm thinking I need to be in this corporate job, like I said, I'm [majoring] in business, specifically my focus is in consulting. I do interviews like this with people all the time, and I always love to connect with people and talk to people and that's my favorite part.
I grew up in the theater, I was a scene artist painting-wise, and I also was a dancer and singer. So at this point it is just like, Marissa, what do you want to do with your life? [Chuckles] I've got all these options. Honestly, at this point, my end goal, sooner rather than later, would be to have an art gallery and art therapy brick and mortar kind of place. Because I would love to still be able to connect with people in that way and also get my bag doing my art.