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GRAMMY Camp With Silversun Pickups: 4 Things We Learned About Making It As Independent Artists
L-R: Brian Aubert, Nikki Monninger, Joe Lester and Christopher Guanlao of Silversun Pickups on stage at 2022 GRAMMY Camp in L.A.

Photo: Courtesy of the Recording Academy™️/ Rebecca Sapp, Getty Images© 2022.

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GRAMMY Camp With Silversun Pickups: 4 Things We Learned About Making It As Independent Artists

Angelino alt-rockers Silversun Pickups recently spoke to a captive GRAMMY Camp student audience about their 20 years together, creativity and more.

GRAMMYs/Aug 9, 2022 - 02:52 pm

On day three of 2022 GRAMMY Camp at University of Southern California — the first in-person session since 2019 — Los Angeles alt-rock band Silversun Pickups visited the students to offer insight from their 22 years in the music industry.

They discussed the ebbs and flows of their journey, took questions from the students, and played an acoustic set. The questions were thoughtful and wide-ranging, asking about how they've stayed friends while working together and how L.A. influenced their career.

Read on for four things we learned about and from the "Lazy Eye" band.

You Don't Need It All Figured Out To Start

The band revealed they had no idea what they were doing in the beginning — all they knew was that they wanted to make music and play shows. They got their first gig at a festival run by a New York college radio station after bassist Nikki Monninger sent in a very lo-fi tape she recorded at one of their practice sessions. They ran into an East Los Angeles venue booker there, who offered them their second gig, beginning a run of several years playing the time slots no one else wanted to — joking that they'd play bars when they weren't even open. They were eager to play, even though they were still figuring out their sound and their identity as a band.

Monninger affirms that these early shows really helped them find cohesion as a band, which made them feel prepared for the bigger opportunities that would come later. As they began to grow a local following, they realized people were passing around bootlegs of their sets, because they didn't have anything to sell themselves — so maybe it was time to record some music and make a band tee to sell at shows. "We were just thinking about the music first," Monninger said.

Once they found themselves in a recording studio, it took them time to figure out how to translate the emotion and energy of their live sets to a record. The first of many great questions from the audience, one student asked if their transition into the studio as a live act was weird. "Yes!" frontman Brian Aubert exclaimed. "It took a lot to make the recording sound like how we felt when we play."

Similarly to their journey to sound good live, the recording process also took a lot of learning and trying and failing and trying again. An essential part of the equation was finding producers who really knew their craft, to help them learn the tricks of the trade as well. For their last album, 2019's Widow's Weeds, they linked up with legendary Nirvana and Garbage producer, GRAMMY winner Butch Vig, which they felt really brought their sound to the next level.

If You Need To Make Art, Make It — Whether Or Not It Makes You Money

Aubert recommended that if you're a creative person "that needs to get this stuff out of you," to find a way to act on your creativity — without having to depend on it to support you at first. He said it helps to compartmentalize your art and how you make money, so there isn't intense pressure to make art that is financially successful, as that can be very creatively stifling.

"We thought we were successful when it didn't cost us anything to be in a band. It just kinda happened," he said. Monninger added, "Try to create your life where you don't have debt. We weren't living large, we were just trying to be in a band and make music."

Silversun Pickups with GRAMMY Museum execs 2022

L-R: Julie Mutnansky (Senior Manager of Education, GRAMMY Museum), Silversun Pickups, David Sears (VP of Education, GRAMMY Museum) Photo: Courtesy of the Recording Academy™️/ Rebecca Sapp, Getty Images© 2022

It Pays Off To Work With People You Really Like

Another student asked about how they were able to stay friends once they began working together. Drummer Christopher Guanlao, who joined the band two years into their journey, said it was because they were friends before, and were always hanging out — to the point that, by the time he replaced their first drummer, he knew all the songs.

Aubert added that they only worked with people that they liked, and that it's very important to really support each as a collective unit. Letting egos get in the way and blaming issues on one bandmate and threatening to fire them will only wreak havoc. As a band, you're in it together. "You're supposed to be together there to help each other," the frontman said.

Not only has the band maintained a strong bond among its four longtime members, but they've built a strong and tight creative circle around them as well — stemming from their early days, when Silver Lake was more affordable and had a rich creative community. Aubert joked they're like a tumbleweed, picking up people they really like and trust to work with them along the way.

Above All, Follow Your Heart — As Cliché As It May Sound

To close out the GRAMMY Camp guest artist session, Aubert and Monninger delivered a captivating acoustic set. But before the band could pick up and leave, there were a few more great questions — this time from Ally Matheson, a student on the music journalism GRAMMY Camp track.

During their on-camera interview, Matheson asked the band to share more about how L.A. has influenced their sound and career (They wouldn't be the band they are today without the rich early aughts L.A. creative scene, as they suggested.) She also asked them for their advice for young musicians.

With a smile, Aubert said that the best advice is to not take others' advice. He explained that even if people don't seem to understand or connect with your music — but you are making something that really moves you and is coming from your heart — you will find others who also connect with it as you do. If you believe in your work and stick with it, the people who also believe in it, and find meaning in it, will find you.

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take Over The GRAMMY Museum
Ryan Lewis, Zach Quillen and Macklemore

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage.com

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take Over The GRAMMY Museum

Hip-hop duo discuss their career beginnings and creating their GRAMMY-nominated album The Heist

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Current seven-time GRAMMY nominees Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, along with their manager Zach Quillen, recently participated in an installment of the GRAMMY Museum's A Conversation With series. Before an intimate audience at the Museum's Clive Davis Theater, the hip-hop duo and Quillen discussed the beginning of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' career, having creative control over their work and recording their GRAMMY-nominated Album Of The Year, The Heist.

"I met somebody [who] had the same dedication as me, [who] put everything into the music, everything into the craft," said Ben Haggerty (aka Macklemore) regarding meeting Lewis. "I wanted a career and Ryan was somebody [who] had the same discipline and sacrificed everything."

"I think it took a little while before it became clear to me who [Macklemore] was going to be," said Lewis. "I think the first indication of that was with the song 'Otherside' from the VS. Redux EP]. … That song … embodied so much. It was a story nobody was telling. … It was just somebody who was dying to be on the mike and to say something."

Seattle-based rapper Macklemore and DJ/producer Lewis have been making music fans take notice since they released their debut EP, 2009's The VS. EP. They followed with VS. Redux, which reached No. 7 on the iTunes Hip-Hop chart. The duo made waves in 2011 with the release of their hit single "Can't Hold Us" featuring Ray Dalton. The next year Macklemore was featured on the cover of XXL Magazine's coveted freshman class issue, and Rolling Stone dubbed the duo an "indie rags-to-riches" success story.

Released in 2012, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' debut studio album, The Heist, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200, propelled by the No. 1 hits "Can't Hold Us" and "Thrift Shop," the latter of which reached multi-platinum status and remained on top of the charts for six weeks. The album garnered a nomination for Album Of The Year and Best Rap Album at the 56th GRAMMY Awards, while "Thrift Shop" earned a nod for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. The duo's Top 20 hit "Same Love" featuring Mary Lambert earned a nomination for Song Of The Year and has been adopted by some as a pro-equality anthem. The duo garnered additional nominations for Best New Artist and Best Music Video for "Can't Hold Us."

Upcoming GRAMMY Museum events include Icons Of The Music Industry: Ken Ehrlich (Jan. 14) and A Conversation With Peter Guralnick (Jan. 15).

Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The Ventures

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Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The exhibit, opening Dec. 7, will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run" and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2019 - 01:44 am

Influential instrumental rock band The Ventures are getting their own exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles that will showcase the band's impact on pop culture since the release of their massive hit "Walk, Don't Run" 60 years ago. 

The Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Billboard chart-toppers have become especially iconic in the surf-rock world, known for its reverb-loaded guitar sound, for songs like "Wipeout," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Walk, Don't Run." The Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures exhibit opening Dec. 7 will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run," a Fender Limited Edition Ventures Signature guitars, rare photos and other items from their career spanning six decades and 250 albums. 

“It’s such an honor to have an exhibit dedicated to The Ventures at the GRAMMY Museum and be recognized for our impact on music history,” said Don Wilson, a founding member of the band, in a statement. "I like to think that, because we ‘Venturized’ the music we recorded and played, we made it instantly recognizable as being The Ventures. We continue to do that, even today."

Don Wilson, Gerry McGee, Bob Spalding, and Leon Taylor are current band members. On Jan. 9, Taylor's widow and former Fiona Taylor, Ventures associated musician Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and others will be in conversation with GRAMMY Museum Artistic Director Scott Goldman about the band's journey into becoming the most successful instrumental rock band in history at the Clive Davis Theater. 

"The Ventures have inspired generations of musicians during their storied six-decade career, motivating many artists to follow in their footsteps and start their own projects," said Michael Sticka, GRAMMY Museum President. "As a music museum, we aim to shine a light on music education, and we applaud the Ventures for earning their honorary title of 'the band that launched a thousand bands.' Many thanks to the Ventures and their families for letting us feature items from this important era in music history."

The exhibit will run Dec. 7–Aug. 3, 2020 at the GRAMMY Museum

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Julia Michaels Deconstructs "Issues," Writing Songs | "Required Listening" Podcast

Scott Goldman and Julia Michaels

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage.com

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Julia Michaels Deconstructs "Issues," Writing Songs | "Required Listening" Podcast

Go inside the bright mind of one of pop's most promising singer/songwriters and learn about her songwriting process, her transition to the spotlight and the three female artists she admires

GRAMMYs/Feb 8, 2018 - 11:57 pm

Julia Michaels' career has soared within the past year. Already a talented songwriter with writing credits such as Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran, and Fifth Harmony to her name, Michaels took a leap of faith with the release of her third solo EP, 2017's Nervous System.

Listen Now: "Required Listening," Episode 3 With Julia Michaels

Though Michaels has admitted to being nervous about moving to the forefront as an artist in her own right, the gamble paid off. The single "Issues" went gangbusters all the way to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and her EP cracked the Top 50. Plus, the Davenport, Iowa, native scored two nominations for the 60th GRAMMY Awards: Song Of The Year for "Issues" and Best New Artist.

What makes Michaels tick musically, how did she overcome her trepidation and why does she rely on feelings to guide her songwriting?

You'll learn the answers and so much more on the latest episode of "Required Listening," the new music podcast by HowStuffWorks and the GRAMMY Museum in partnership with the Recording Academy.

"It depends on the person. A lot of the times I'll just talk to them [first]," said Michaels regarding collaborating with other artists. "I mean we're all human. We all cry the same. We all bleed the same. So I try to make people feel as comfortable as possible to be able to tell me things, even if the artist that I'm with doesn't write, just having them talk is lyrics in itself. You know, them explaining their day or expressing how they feel. It's like, "That's amazing ... if that's how you're feeling we should write that.'"

As a matter of fact, Michaels told the host of "Required Listening," GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Scott Goldman, that she lets her feelings pilot her songwriting instead of traditional conventions — a process that has yielded gems such as "Issues."

"I'm not that calculated when I write," said Michaels. "I'm all heart when I write so I don't think about the algorithm of a song or the mathematics of a song. I just think, 'This feels good to me,' and just kind of go with that."

When peppered by Goldman with a question about coming into the limelight as a recording artist, Michaels was quick to point out that she has benefitted from plenty of help and encouragement.

"I think a lot of people have helped me get there," said Michaels. "My manager, Beka Tischker, she's been with me for six years. She's always believed in me. … And this year a lot of people have come into my life. I mean even my band — Dan Kanter, who's my guitar player … he's been with me since the beginning of the artist transition. I can't even do it without him at this point. ... There's a lot of people in my life, especially this year, that have made me feel comfortable and confident."

Speaking of confidence, Michaels has taken cues from plenty of her self-assured peers. She cited three artists, in particular, who have inspired her career path.

"I'm not that calculated when I write. I'm all heart." — Julia Michaels

"[Pink is] a bad*," said Michaels. "I love Fiona Apple. I love a lot of artists that are not afraid to say what they want to say. I love artists that write their own music. Laura Marling — she's very much from her point of view, very much whatever she wants to do. And plus her voice is so haunting and beautiful."

"Required Listening" launched on GRAMMY Sunday, Jan. 28, with the first episode featuring an in-depth conversation with GRAMMY winners Imagine Dragons and the second detailing "The Defiant Ones" with Allen Hughes and Jimmy Iovine.

Future guests will include Sean "Diddy" Combs, Dan Auerbach, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, and Lindsey Buckingham and Christie McVie of Fleetwood Mac, among others.

Attention Music Fans: Take The GRAMMY Challenge Now On Kik And Facebook Messenger

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GRAMMY Museum To Launch Cheap Trick: I Want You To Want Me! Sept. 12

Exhibit to feature artifacts from the private collection of the iconic power-pop band

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Sept. 12 the GRAMMY Museum will launch Cheap Trick: I Want You To Want Me! — a one-of-a-kind exhibit offering visitors an in-depth look at the more than 35-year career of power-pop progenitors Cheap Trick.

Located in the Museum's Mike Curb Gallery on the fourth floor, artifacts on display will include guitars played by Rick Nielsen, including his 1952 Fender Telecaster used during a performance at Budokan in Tokyo; costumes worn on the album cover of 1979's Dream Police; and original lyrics, photographs, and tour ephemera, among other items.

In conjunction with the launch of the exhibit, on Sept. 12 Cheap Trick will visit the GRAMMY Museum's Clive Davis Theater to participate in a question-and-answer session and perform a brief set as part of the Museum's An Evening With series.

Cheap Trick: I Want You To Want Me! will be on display through June 2014.