What could an up-and-coming artists do if given the kind of resources that can transform a career? Five Detroit musicians are about to find out. The Jay-Z-owned music streaming service Tidal has teamed with West Coast philanthropists Robert Nelsen and Mark Lampert to launch Tidal Unplugged, a $1 million endowment program for blossoming musicians across a spectrum of genres. Each artist will be able to choose from resources like studio time with Los Angeles-based producers, voice training, guitar and piano lessons, social media marketing, and music video production. Each artist will also produce three songs released exclusively through Tidal. The company intends to roll out the grants in various cities across the country, but Detroit’s position as the program’s pilot city is a nod to the level of musical talent native to the area. Meet the inaugural recipients of Tidal Unplugged.
Laurie Love was introduced to singing in church. The 25-year-old from Detroit joined the Full Gospel Opendoor Assembly church choir at age 11. But at home, Love listened to late-’90s and early-’00s R&B and soul. “The spark of me wanting to do music really came from being inspired by Aaliyah,” she says of the late Detroit songstress.
Love released her first mixtape, Heavy Rotation, on Soundcloud in 2015. The collection of nine feel-good R&B tracks, sprinkled with rap, is a testament to the early ’00s sound that influenced her early on. After the album’s release, Love forced herself to overcome her fear of performing live by competing in showcases at Bullfrog Bar and Grill, a now-shuttered pub in Redford. “It was a real low-key spot that a lot of artists [used to] go to,” Love says. Each showcase contestant had just 10 minutes to perform original music, and the winner of the $500 cash prize was chosen based on the crowd’s audible reaction. Love won twice.
As she readies for the release of her Tidal tracks, Love is grateful she’s able to maintain her creative freedom. “They are not trying to control how I sound, how I look. It’s just really about what I want to do and they’re here to listen to that and make it happen.”
Performing in front of a live audience is the name of the game for singer-songwriter Olivia Millerschin. The 24-year-old Rochester native has been touring consistently since age 19. “Performing is like working out,” she says. “When I don’t do it, I feel very, very out of shape.”
Millerschin started by cold-calling musicians and asking if she could open for them. When the call to pop and rock star Howie Day was successful, things started falling into place. By 2015 she had opened for him several times. Such connections took Millerschin to the U.K., where she toured as an opening act.
Millerschin’s original music has been featured in such MTV series as Finding Carter, Are You the One?, and The Real World, and in the Netflix film A Girl Like Her. She most recently wrote a song for an upcoming documentary about Detroit.
As a child, Millerschin was exposed to music by her grandmother and mother, who would sing opera around the house. It became second nature to her, and she started to join in. Although her original music fits into the indie folk genre, opera really opened the doors to her musical passion. She’s now enrolled in classes to hone her operatic range.
On top of those lessons, Millerschin’s grant will allow her to shift focus from the road to the studio. “I’m extremely thankful that it’s given me time to really get this music right and think about the production — not just put all my thought into the live shows.”
Hour covered Millerschin as she was just getting started in 2016.
“Having Tidal’s support makes me realize that it doesn’t have to be a starving artist thing and I can have both happiness and success.”
A 17-year-old high school senior from Mt. Clemens, Emma Guzman is the youngest musician to be awarded a Tidal Unplugged grant. Guzman attended a songwriting workshop at age 10, which resulted in writing her first original song, inspired by her perception of the city of Detroit. “Going to Detroit,” Guzman says, is about “seeing all of the poverty and brokenness of the city and wanting to make a difference.” She’s since released two albums.
“Journalism and music really go hand-in-hand, and as much as I love songwriting, I love all other types of writing as well,” Guzman says. With help from Tidal, Guzman is looking forward to taking her musical career to the next level by networking with industry executives, attending workshops on the music business, and upgrading her live-show equipment.
Sam Austins, hailing from Detroit’s west side, is
influenced by trendsetting hip-hop artists such as Kanye West and Kid Cudi. The 23-year-old visionary says his overall art is bigger than the music. “How do we bring people into a new world?” Austins asks. Pairing his songs with both emotionally driven music videos and candid live videos is his response. “I want to be a taste-maker. The music is just the vehicle to get where I’m going.”
In 2015, Austins began attending and performing at local hip-hop and rap shows at The Baltimore Gallery, Electric Studio, and the apartment of muralist and musician Sheefy McFly, who hosted weekly art and music events out of his Hamtramck home.
Austins moved around Detroit that year, and soon the career opportunities started flooding in. He was receiving offers to open concerts at various Detroit institutions, including the Shelter and St. Andrew’s Hall, and in 2018, he sold out El Club for his debut headline appearance.
With a loyal Detroit following now in his corner, Austins is mostly focused on growing his audience and letting the rest of the world in on the authenticity of Detroit art and its creators. “The next year for me is about putting my foot down as a Detroit artist in different stomping grounds,” he says.
Singer-songwriter Raye Williams, 30, relocated from Belleville to Nashville at 17 with the lofty goal of becoming a solo performer. Partly raised by her grandparents, who are originally from Tennessee and Kentucky, Williams grew up listening to beloved Southern singer-songwriters like Loretta Lynn and George Jones. She spent 10 years in Nashville — eight years as a full-time studio musician and the last two years waiting tables to compensate for a lost songwriting deal.
Upon moving back to Michigan in 2017, Williams was driving for Lyft and picked up gigs singing backup for male-fronted bands. “I was genuinely just the ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ girl, shaking a tambourine,” Williams says, openly acknowledging that she wasn’t living up to her full potential. In 2018, she made the commitment to honor her dream of producing and performing original music full-time.
Last April, Lyft issued a call for drivers with musical talents to submit their work for a chance to qualify for free recording time at Detroit’s MusicTown Detroit studio. Williams submitted some of her work and was one of the artists granted access to MusicTown. Her first single, “Sing Me Home,” was released in September 2018.
Williams describes her forthcoming Tidal-exclusive material as power-diva pop. She plans to put her grant resources toward music video production, marketing, and PR. “I was doing my own social media, which is exhausting,” she says.“So I wanted help building content and posting more professional photos and video diaries.”