Alvontae Dillard-Turner didn’t have to travel far to be a part of the Grammys.
The Grammys came to him— in the form of Grammy Camp.
For the first time, the California-based Grammy Foundation, which has held camps in Los Angeles, Nashville and New York, brought its intensive nine-day program to the Twin Cities. At McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, 31 high school students from around the country made it through the fiercely competitive application process, including four students from the Twin Cities.
Dillard-Turner was one of them.
The junior at Patrick Henry High School in north Minneapolis was at the YMCA’s Beats and Rhymes after-school program (the same group behind the 2012 hit “Hot Cheetos and Takis”) when J.T. Evans, program director, received a call from the Grammy Foundation asking if there were students interested in a music career.
“I was excited,” Dillard-Turner said. “I didn’t even know what that [Grammy Camp] meant,” “I asked [Evans] if we won a Grammy, and he just told me about the camp and how it’s more advanced than what he could teach me.”
Evans helped Dillard-Turner, an aspiring rapper, submit a video essay as part of the camp application. Out of 600 students who applied for the four camps, Dillard-Turner was one of 170 who were accepted.
While the students apply for specific areas of interest (such as songwriting, music production or audio engineering), they also receive a crash course on how the music industry works.
That’s the point, said David Sears, executive education director, who said the camp is not a music camp, but rather a music business camp.
“It is equally important, if not more so, to walk away with a better understanding on how the business works,” Sears said. “And so [the students] can begin to develop a strategy for how they can give themselves the best chance in being successful.”
Within the first few days of the St. Paul camp, Dillard-Turner (who applied for the music production program) had already operated a soundboard and learned shorthand for music production software. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., students are learning as well as creating. In addition to taking classes and attending panels and guest lectures, they’re also writing music and lyrics, recording tracks and shooting video.
Grammy Camp, which wraps up Saturday, was a place where Abijah Archer could hone his skills and develop new ones.
Archer, a junior at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, learned how to play guitar in the third grade. Since then, he’s picked up other instruments, some rapping and even started producing music on the side. Archer was studying audio engineering at the camp, but ultimately wants to be “100 percent self-sufficient” by rapping on the tracks he produces.
“I want to mix-and-mash my own stuff,” Archer said. “I want to do all my music on my own.”
Sean McPherson, songwriting instructor at the camp, said the Twin Cities has a musical appeal. The area is a “very important national hub” for recording and booking agencies, much like Nashville. McPherson said with the Grammy Camp in St. Paul, students can understand the value of “decentralizing the music industry.”
“It might not be as flashy as the infrastructure inside of Los Angeles, it’s certainly not as large as the infrastructure inside New York,” McPherson said. “But what you are seeing is that [the Twin Cities] is not in the middle of nowhere.”