Dig through the website copy and promotional blurbs, and the mission of the 1500 Sound Academy is pretty simply: the more you know about the music industry, the better chance you have to succeed. That seems like a no-brainer, like stating the obvious. But it’s often the case that people within the music industry find their niche and then stick to it, honing very specific skills. The folks at the 1500 Sound Academy insist that, by looking outside of your own circle of knowledge, you’re simplifying your own life, and career.
The academy was founded by singer, songwriter and producer James Fauntleroy and Grammy Award winning producer Larrance Dopson about four years ago, and the pair was soon joined by entrepreneur Twila True.
“We had been thinking about it for many years before we started the school,” says Fauntleroy. “It started off just as a bad experience in the music business. Then it turned into us wanting to help people have a better experience than we had. The people that we worked with, some of the new artists, some of the collaborators. Whoever wanted to listen – we just wanted to share as much wisdom as possible, which is not a popular activity, at least it wasn’t when we started – sharing information in the business, because it’s such a competitive business. After that, we were having a couple of middle school students come by.”
Fauntleroy started working on a textbook about creativity, inspired by talks by Monty Python man John Cleese, as well as David Byrne’s excellent How Music Works book. That turned into a seminar, which saw Fauntleroy and Dopson write and produce a song from scratch in front of an audience.
“Before the performance I would talk about brain activity,” says Fauntleroy. “Some of the technical and scientific things about creativity, and then we make a song live. I’d ask the audience for a topic – it was always something ridiculous. We’d make a song. That was our initial goal, just to get the information out as much as possible. Then, while we were in the process of doing that, around that time, the building next to our studio became available. So we went from having one room to having this unnecessarily huge studio. That was part of the vision – getting this facility and having all this space to have people come through, collaborate and work.”
The team saw what was happening at the Blackbird Academy in Nashville – a school next to a studio opened by sound engineer John McBride, wife of country artist Martina McBride.
“He got a school next to the studio because he wanted to teach the people he was hiring,” Fauntleroy says. “I loved that idea so much. We put all these things together with Twila, and that’s how 1500 Sound Academy was born. A nearly 20,000 square foot building in Inglewood, eight minutes from LAX, across the street from Snoop Dogg. He has a huge facility across from ours, and he told us he got the idea from our facility. We stole that shit back. The rest is history. The support we’ve gotten from the community and the city of Los Angeles and Inglewood has been above and beyond. It’s been a hard journey.”
Dopson says that they have an advantage over other similar institutions because they both bring “everything” to the table.
“The whole point of us is that everybody could do everything, individually,” Dopson says. “When we come together, it’s the Power Rangers. That we taught each other everything, and we learned all the rules to break them, now it’s easier for us to teach.”
Still, there was a learning curve. The team had to transfer their knowledge of the entertainment industry to education. Fauntleroy says that church helped.
“We’re always going to be looking to do things better,” he says. “Each class, each graduation cycle, we learned new things to implement. Pre-school, we were already thinking about online curriculum. The pandemic really has given us a new level of learning curve. Teaching is something that I think comes naturally to me and Larrance, and so many musicians, especially musicians who come up through the church system.”
Now they offer courses in music production, engineering, songwriting, the music business, mixing and artist branding. It all comes back to the original message – everyone needs to learn everything.
“We all do so much, and we’ve all seen the impact that multiple skills have on your career. That’s the premise of what we want you to learn,” says Fauntleroy. “If you come in and you’re a producer, it behooves you to also learn about what a songwriter is thinking about, what an artist is doing, what the engineer is doing. For one thing, you may need to do or facilitate some of these things. But also, you can learn to speak the language of the other people. If you know how to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, that means you won’t have to get someone to do that. If you learn how to engineer and you’re an artist, you can record yourself. If you’re a producer, you can record the artist.”
It’s working. Now partnered with Roland, graduates of the academy have been hired to engineer for artists as prestigious as Young Thug. The team is working with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Roc Nation. None of this is just promo lip service – the results are tangible.
“That’s the goal – jobs, money and being able to support yourself while pursuing your dreams,” Fauntleroy says. “We hope to have more. We have clients coming up with internship pipelines. We’re trying to come up with an even clearer pipeline. We have a constant flow of active, real-world practitioners coming in and talking to the students on a regular basis.”
While 2021 will see us remain locked down for a while, 1500 Sound Academy are striding forward thanks to their online classes. Meanwhile, they’re looking to build a new studio.
“In the future, we’re building what’s probably going to be the most advanced studio in Los Angeles,” says Fauntleroy. “The premise is proximity and the value of exposure. That’s what I took from Blackbird, and will turn this into even more of a valuable experience. We’ll be able to take them from the classroom to actually be around the business. Nipsey Hussle was a good friend of ours – he promoted the school at the beginning, he had an idea that we’re putting to this studio side, for an observation studio. For celebrities to be able to have premium experiences with their fans, they can come and look at them while they’re in their elements. They can see what’s really going on in the studio, without disturbing the process. That’s what’s coming next.”
Visit 1500sound.academy for all information.