USA Music Study Trip 2018

From left to right: Tiana Florea, Jordan Huxley, Gabrielle Kerr, Mark Moffatt (famed Australian producer and APRA Nashville rep), Tiahn Berg and Kaitlyn Martin.

Over a month ago, five Popular Music students were gifted the trip of a lifetime - a two week music study tour in Los Angeles and Nashville in the United States of America!

During the trip they got to go to the TAXI Music Conference in Los Angeles, write multiple songs with professional songwriters, record at the legendary Ocean Way Studios and learn from a wide range of industry heavyweights.

For video highlights from the trip, make sure you check out our story highlights on the @seedgriffith Instagram page. Otherwise, read on to hear directly from the students about their favourite moments from the trip and biggest takeaways.

If you had to narrow it down, what would you say your overall highlight was from the trip?

GABRIELLE: That’s impossible since the whole trip was the highlight; but Nashville is always going to be so dear to me and so close to my heart. That place settled in my soul and felt like home in a way that I’d never really felt before. It wasn’t necessarily the place or the people, but the energy, the vibe: the spirit of the place. It’s what Nashville meant to me that made it special. I plan to return one day, soon.

JORDAN: The highlight of the trip was seeing my own music being transformed into top quality songs when recording at Ocean Way Studios. The session musicians were very professional and humble. A personal highlight was having a boogie with the drummer as we listened to Kaitlyn's song.

TIAHN: The people is what made this trip. Our little group soon became a family with too many inside jokes to comprehend and so much support and love for each other. The people we met in the states were also fantastic from the life advice to the music tips and tricks to the tequila shots, I can safely say I formed a strong bond with a lot of new people.

This photo was taken after a full day of recording and 5 amazing songs down with this legendary team of session musicians led by ace producer Scott Gerow at Ocean Way Studios.

This photo was taken after a full day of recording and 5 amazing songs down with this legendary team of session musicians led by ace producer Scott Gerow at Ocean Way Studios.

KAITLYN: I think my favourite part of the trip was recording at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville! The atmosphere was amazing and getting to watch the incredible session musicians put our songs together was a dream come true. I still can’t get over how quickly they learned the songs and transformed them from simple, acoustic tunes into fully-realised tracks. It was eye-opening being in such a professionally run studio session and such an enjoyable experience at the same time.

TIANA: This trip was full of insanely beautiful and inspiring moments. On our first night in Nashville, we went straight to this venue that was almost like a pub/concert hall for lack of a better description. It was the biggest stage I’d ever seen for what felt like such a casual and comfortable environment – nothing like I’ve seen in Australia. There, we were privileged enough to see some of the most talented musicians I’d ever seen! (This included the guest appearance of Vince Gill, just casually!)

I also got to try fired pickles for the first time that night which was, in itself, the best food experience aha.

But for real, I just remember looking around at our group, enjoying music in awe with the greatest joy and purity and it was magical. It was so inspiring to witness greatness presented so humbly. To share that moment with friends that hold similar hopes and aspirations was amazing.

I still can’t get over how quickly they learned the songs and transformed them from simple, acoustic tunes into fully-realised tracks.
— Kaitlyn Martin, on recording at Ocean Way Studios
Group dinner during the TAXI Music Conference including Bachelor of Popular Music alum Leah (Evol Walks) and Jess.

Group dinner during the TAXI Music Conference including Bachelor of Popular Music alum Leah (Evol Walks) and Jess.

Your first stop was in Los Angeles at the TAXI Music Conference. What was the best piece of advice you learnt there?

TIAHN: To be in this industry you have to have the hunger to never stop. That means if something doesn’t go to plan or even if you have a big win, you need to keep working.

GABRIELLE: Networking isn’t handing out business cards; it’s making connections. Real, genuine, authentic connections. We all knew why we were there; everyone has goals and dreams, but music is such a community and people based industry: people in this industry need each other.

Publishers need writers, producers need artists etc… this is how it works and everyone just wants to work with and be around good people that make their jobs and lives enjoyable. So make sure that you be yourself, and make a good impression first before you even start talking about music. Also, secondly, follow up! Send emails to everyone whose business card you were given.

TIANA: The TAXI conference taught me so much; not only through the classes there but also by the people we interacted with. The best advice I received – and the most frequent point of similarity between advices I received from most people – was the importance of building relationships. The music industry (from what I witnessed and learned in LA) is about your connections and how well you’re able to sustain friendships with the people you work with. No one wants to work with an asshole with an ego issue. Who you are matters as much, if not more, than your talent.

No one wants to work with an asshole with an ego issue. Who you are matters as much, if not more, than your talent.
— Tiana Florea, on her biggest takeaway from the TAXI Music Conference

Road trippin’ fun…

How did the songwriting sessions go with the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) students and the other songwriters you worked with?

KAITLYN: They all went great! I wrote with Chloe Kimes at MTSU. She’s mainly an Americana artist, so my folk-pop songwriting mixed with her genre really well. Our song “Thank God You’re Mine” was one of the ones chosen to be recorded at Ocean Way!  I also got to song write with a couple Nashville songwriters, Trey Bruce and Taylor Goyette. It was incredible writing with Trey since he’s been in the business for so long, and Taylor had so much energy and was so much fun to write with.

GABRIELLE: The session went really well, it was so much fun and the students and co-writers we worked with were amazing and very talented people. One thing that I found really interesting about the MTSU students was their focus on writing hooks and commercially viable songs, regardless of genre. There was this culture of making music that would appeal to a wide audience over writing purely for the sake of writing, art or just to create something. ‘Useful music’ is a good way to describe a lot of what is created in America.

A really interesting thing, that seems like it’s a common sense but something I’ve never really thought of too much is when one of our co-writers asked, “who are we writing for?” and not necessarily meaning any of us in the room, but considering big artists. For example we ended up writing a song for Rhianna.

JORDAN: The songwriting session went well. It took a little time to get going as it was important to get to know them first. Demetrius (the MTSU music student) brought many creative ideas that I never would have thought of. Really enjoyed it!

‘Useful music’ is a good way to describe a lot of what is created in America.
— Gabrielle Kerr, on songwriting in Nashville
Group photo with Middle Tennessee State University Songwriting students

Group photo with Middle Tennessee State University Songwriting students

Tiana and Jordan with MTSU Songwriting student Demetrius.


Did you discover any new music/bands while you were over there?

JORDAN: I discovered my new favourite artist in Nashville at the grand Ol Opry. Josh Turner was an incredible Christian/Country artist with an amazing voice. I really connected to his songs and was inspired to experiment more with my own music.

GABRIELLE: The Time Jumpers, they were probably my favourite act of the whole trip, their level of musicianship was phenomenal and their show inspired me beyond what words could describe. Also, we saw Home Free at the Oprey. Who would think a-cappella, beatboxing and country would work so well!

KAITLYN: I didn’t really discover any new bands while I was over there, but I rediscovered my love for The Civil Wars. They were on our Clarksdale Road-Trip Playlist, and I had forgotten how much love I have for them and how talented both John Paul White and Joy Williams are. I still haven’t gotten over their break-up as a band.

How was your experience visiting the ‘home of the blues’?

TIANA: Clarksdale was really different to what I expected but knowing and learning the history behind everything we saw was beautiful and really opened my eyes as to why blues music came out of that place. It was so broken but also so artsy, like nothing I’ve seen.

GABRIELLE: The blues is a huge part of what inspires and influences my music, so to go to the home it was humbling and inspiring. It made me realise just how deep the roots go and how countless genres can be harked back to the blues in some way or another. This genre comes from a lot of pain: of blood, sweat and tears. I stood in awe of being on such hallowed ground, to be in a place where so much history both musical and anthropologic has happened.

What would you say the biggest difference is between Australia and America?

JORDAN: The biggest difference between the states and Australia would be 2 things. The work ethic of musicians in the states is insane, hence why the industry is continually booming with talented musicians. Something Australian musicians can aspire to. Also, all the food in America is so fatty, particularly the burgers. I missed the freshness of Australian food.

I think just the pure size of everything. I’m originally from the US, so it wasn’t too surprising for me, but I’d forgotten just how big the meal portion sizes are, the cars, the cities; just everything.

America was just so much bigger than Australia in every way; the cars; the roads; the people; the industry; everything! Everyone we met in the industry was also so friendly and willing to help and that was really refreshing. Even major “big guys” in the industry were willing to give us their time and help which was amazing. Nashville especially; it was amazing to see songwriting so respected there.

Post-songwriting sessions with seasoned professionals Trey Bruce, Taylor Goyette and Kimber Cleveland.

Tiana mid-songwriting session with Kimber Cleveland.

What advice would you give to people who are thinking of visiting America?

GABRIELLE: I would recommend you to just GO. Just do it! Experiencing another culture is always going to build you as a person. As a musician learning about the industry over there really is eye opening, it’s huge and that’s so encouraging and inspiring. There’s so much opportunity.

TIAHN: The first thing I would say to bring is your elasticised pants because the sizes of each meal are huge and you’re guaranteed to have to undo your top button on your jeans. I would say go to Nashville and just feel the creativity in the air and see as many live acts as you can fit in because music is everywhere! GO AND SEE THE TIME JUMPERS!

JORDAN: Make sure you bring business cards if you're a musician and want to network/collaborate. Nashville is certainly the highlight for any musician. It's beautiful and full of rich music culture. The grand Ol Opry is such a great spectacle filled with talented performers. American burritos are where it's at. Very filling and tasty!

KAITLYN: If you’re going in the winter, BRING A HEAVY COAT. It’s going to be colder than you think it will be, and it’s much better to be prepared than not. My coat was definitely not heavy enough and I was freezing. Also, make sure you get a good, classic American breakfast at some point. Whenever someone asks me what I miss most about the US, one of the main things is crispy American bacon.

Go to as many venues as possible! We went to so many incredible and quirky places and there was so much we didn’t even see! Also, just engage with the people there – especially the creatives!

Make sure you bring business cards if you’re a musician and want to network/collaborate.
— Jordan Huxley, on advice for musicians visiting the USA

Tiahn ready to record vocals!

As Kaitlyn says, if you’re visiting in the cooler months make sure you bring a warm coat. Bonus points if it’s faux leopard print!

Anything else?

TIANA: Going to another country and exploring and learning about an industry that you’re studying is actually life changing. It really opened my eyes to so much and inspired me to think about my career and my own personal life changes on a much larger scale. We even wrote a song there called “Open Eyes” because we were so connected to that feeling. Seeing people living their dreams was amazing and has really motivated me to keep at it.

JORDAN: I recommend contacting people to meet up with over in the US if you're planning on doing a music trip. It's super helpful in making the most of your time over there. Industry professionals and musicians in the states are usually more than happy to meet up if you plan ahead and are organised.

KAITLYN: I just want to say how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to go on this trip. I learned so much in such a short amount of time, and I now have a better understanding about what I want to do in the future. Also shout-out to Donna, Garry, and the rest of the group for making it such a fun experience. I couldn’t have asked for better travel companions. YEE-HAW.

GABRIELLE: Some random words of wisdom:

•The floor is an acceptable bed, especially in the airport.
•Nashville numbers should be learnt by everyone (especially if you want to be a session player)
•Everyone faces fear and anxiety and doubt no matter how successful they are, but they’re successful because they didn’t succumb to it
•Energy drinks are horrible and never a good idea
•Sweet tea is the best and I would highly recommend trying it

I got a Yeehaw tattoo?

Tiahn got a “Yee Haw” tattoo to commemorate the trip. Now THAT’S commitment.