Recording Academy combats lost studio time with virtual, collaboration-fostering ‘Pass The Aux’ initiative
Under normal circumstances, musicians in the Recording Academy‘s Chicago and Philadelphia Chapters would have convened to share snippets of their nascent songs face-to-face, when the question would have been where to meet, not what platform to use to facilitate said meeting. But, as each news outlet, social media site, and visually-supported or socially-distanced conversation seems to echo these days, these, of course, are not normal circumstances, and inter-artist collaboration, like most exchanges, must adapt to the anomalous obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the course of the coronavirus public health emergency, the English proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” has been verbally recast as “crisis is the mother of invention.” It’s not untrue, or absent from the Recording Academy’s ethos during these unprecedented times. For decades, the Recording Academy has been a shepard of the artistic voice across all professional sectors of the music industry in its unceasing effort to “ensure the recording arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage.” Even as most aspects of life change amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this facet of the music advocacy organization’s central aim has not, and the Recording Academy’s ability to visualize “crisis” as the catalyst for “invention” has culminated in a unique opportunity for Recording Academy Chapter members: Pass The Aux.
For artists, there is perhaps no equivalent for studio time, which often catalyzes the serendipitous encounters that yield productions that might not otherwise have come to be, but Pass The Aux is a formidable stand-in. A no-frills, laid-back convening of the Academy’s creatives that serves as a digital conversion of what would typically transpire in person, Pass The Aux virtually unites musicians from various city-specific Chapters on Zoom for two meetings. During the first, participating members are asked to share a work-in-progress for which they would like to receive feedback; during the second, they are invited to play a track that “showcases a distinct transformation” from what they initially presented.
Speaking on the event series, Sarah Jansen, Senior Executive Director, Chicago, said,
“We’ve hosted in-person programs like this in studios here in Chicago, and we found that when people leave the room, physical or virtual, they feel this sense of education, like they’ve learned something new from a peer, like, ‘I never would’ve thought to do it that way.’
What we would really love to see come out of the two sessions is people learning something and being able to immediately take it back to the work that they’re doing and create something just a little bit different than they normally would have because they got an idea from a peer of theirs who they would not have met without this program. This could really be the production changing element for a lot of different people involved.”
For the Recording Academy, Pass The Aux represents an opportunity for the Academy to “show [members] that being part of the Recording Academy is so much more than just the Grammy Awards process,” said Ash Sheehan, Senior Project and Production Manager. “The Grammy Awards is music’s biggest night and we’re really proud of that, but the Recording Academy is a community and these are the things that happen the other 364 days of the year.”
At the Recording Academy’s invite, Dancing Astronaut attended the August 13 and August 20 Pass The Aux sessions, geared toward the Academy’s new member class and led by the Chicago Chapter’s Vice President, Dani Deahl, and the Philadelphia Chapter Governor, Dan “Dilemma” Thomas. In July, the Recording Academy extended membership invitations to more than 2,300 established music professionals from wide-ranging backgrounds, genres and disciplines. Academy members are associated with the Chapter closest to their home city, but also have full access to the services and support of all 12 Chapters.
Both iterations of Pass The Aux, prefaced by an August 6 Recording Academy members-only kick off that canvassed the creative process, songwriting, and collaboration in the studio, commenced with a vivacity that stemmed in part from beats spun by Dilemma himself. As bright, multicolored lights flashed and music poured from Dilemma’s panel on the Zoom meeting screen, Chicago and Philadelphia Chapter members could be found with implacable smiles on their faces, their enthusiasm a commonality across the webcam-checkered pane.
The goal of the Recording Academy’s Pass The Aux-hosting team, comprising Jansen, Sheehan, Maurice Kalous, Mark Schulz, Ashley Thomas, and Kristin Klimas? To “create a space where creatives [felt] comfortable sharing and collaborating and uplifting and inspiring each other,” Dilemma said.
Across the first and final meetings, the 12 artists, split into two separate “breakout groups,” previewed originals that spanned genres; hip-hop, R&B, singer-songwriter, and dance, among others. On the second encounter, these groups were shuffled, to provide participants exposure to other artists and sounds that they’d not heard prior. Across the track demonstrations, the section leads and attending artists traded dialogue on what they liked about the given production and what might be fruitfully added to it.
By the finale of the second session, some participants could be heard making tentative plans to collaborate independently of Pass The Aux, marking the Chicago and Philadelphia installment of the two-part recurring event series a success, as the Recording Academy concurrently set a forward thinking, socially-conscious example of how to surmount logistical obstacles to foster creativity during a period when inventive outlets for creative expression and collaboration have likely never been needed more.
Featured image: Recording Academy