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Local musician, Kevin Brown, shares his experiences and thoughts on trying to make it in the music industry

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Kevin Brown, 22, practicing guitar at home.

By Lucas Southwell

Kevin Brown, 22, has spent his free time over the last several years honing his skills as a musician and is now set to release new music this month that he hopes will connect with a large audience through captivating, emotional story-telling. 

Brown has spent a little over a year now focused on making music, while at the same time also working as a barback at Grand Rapids Brewing company. While Brown enjoys the job, likes the people he works with, and needs the money it provides to support himself, he ultimately sees it as a stepping stone on his path to a career in music.

Brown recently released a single entitled “Dreams” that is off of his upcoming project entitled Relationships, a culmination of the work he has put in over the last year. The project’s tracklist contains five songs and consists of “Dreams”, “Girl Like You”, “Can’t Say”, “A Little Too Tall” and “Letters”, which all focus, as you probably guessed by the title, on the concept of relationships. The project’s release had been delayed but was released Friday on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Apple Music. You can also listen to Brown’s other single “80 years” on these platforms.

It’s a fitting name and concept for the musician’s first major project considering how his career got started.

Brown released his first single, “Dreams,” at the end of September, and his album was released on Friday Oct. 11. Lucas Southwell

Brown took piano lessons for a number of years as a child from second to seventh grade and has always enjoyed listening to music. However, it wasn’t until after a breakup during his junior year of high school that he started to take the artform more seriously and got interested in writing and creating music himself.

“As I think is typical, I was just pretty down,” he said. “And I was listening to music to help, and I just remember kind of feeling like these words and these lyrics are really close to what I’m feeling and really close to hitting the nail on the head, (but) I feel like I could just tailor them a little bit to make it more helpful to what my specific situation was and so I just rewrote a couple lyrics to a couple songs and it really helped, it helped a lot, and I was like man, maybe I should do this more often.” 

“It started there,” Brown said. “Then the more I did it and the more I was making original stuff the more I was just like, ‘Ok, I really enjoy this.’”

At the time Brown said he wasn’t “taking to any subjects” in school and wasn’t enjoying any classes, and so he saw the possibility of making a career with the music he loved to be an opportunity too good to pass up. So, while he did continue with his education, he also continued to pursue music, including teaching himself how to play guitar. After eventually receiving an associate’s degree from Aquinas College, which included Spanish classes at Grand Rapids Community College, he began focusing solely on music and getting his career off the ground. 

“I’ve learned a ton in the past year,” Brown said, “I’ve moved out of my house, and learned a lot about recording music and all of what that takes.” 

Brown hasn’t just spent this past year locked away working on music in his home though.

Mayan Buzz Cafe located at 208 Grandville Ave SW, Grand Rapids Lucas Southwell

“I try to get to as many open mics as I can,” Brown said, “I started out at the Mayan Buzz Cafe on Grandville (Avenue) across from Founders. I started doing that like two or three years ago, and that one is great. Usually it’s really small (crowds), and so that was good in the beginning (when) I didn’t want a lot of eyes on me, and over the years of doing that I’ve just kind of picked up different habits of performing to make a better performance and just grow in my confidence, cause it’s smaller but it’s a very receptive crowd. It’s not like Founders which I’ve started going to, which is really big and they have (a) really official set up, but not everybody is there specifically just to watch the performers. It’s interesting, every open mic around town is a totally different atmosphere, different set of challenges,  different crowds. It’s fun to hop around and face all of them and just kind of share my music.”

Founders Brewing Company located at 235 Grandville Ave SW, Grand Rapids Lucas Southwell

Mayan Buzz Cafe is located at 208 Grandville Ave and hosts an open mic every Thursday night from 8-11 p.m.  and anyone is welcome to come in and “share original music and poetry.” Founders is located at 235 Grandville Ave. and hosts an open mic for musicians every Tuesday night from 8 p.m. to closing at midnight., “Sign-up starts at 7:30.” After 9 p.m. Founders is 21 and up only.

Brown talked about what it’s like to get up on stage to perform in front of a crowd.

“The first time I went up… there definitely was stage fright,” said Brown, “I’ve always been comfortable in front of crowds, like giving speeches in school, I can do it. But when you’re up there sharing a song, that’s a very vulnerable moment. Taking something that I wrote in the dark depths of my basement in a time when I just needed to process through some feelings, then taking that in front of a crowd of people, it’s definitely a different type of stage fright then just like giving a speech in speech class was, but the more I do it the easier it gets.” 

Brown said he’s slowly learned over the years to do little things to help his performance go smoothly, from bringing a glass of water up on stage to making sure he bends his knees slightly and isn’t as rigid when he performs. However, he says it’s still always scary, especially when it’s a new song or a new crowd.

“The one thing I always kind of come back to is the moment before I go on stage I do not want to at all,” said Brown. “But the second I get off, I always wanna go back up, and so while I’m up there I try to just be in the moment and try to connect with the audience.”

After finally having new music and a new project to show off after a year of hard work Brown seemed energized to put even more focus on his music.

 “Besides working and you know, making money,” he said. “I’m trying to pretty much just do music.”

Brown said his current career goal is to get signed to a record label.

Though his songs are primarily accompanied by his playing of an acoustic guitar, Brown also incorporates some of his piano playing on “Relationships.” Lucas Southwell

“I know there’s kind of a stigma around that these days,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of people that want to be independent and want to do it all themselves, (but) my goal for right now is to sign to a label for a few reasons. One, just for steady income… and two, there’s so much more that factors into this music career that you have to be on top of and I just want to write and make music… Managing, promoting, scheduling,  I would love to have some other people to help me with that who are experienced and know what they’re doing. Because that’s another thing a label brings to the table, is just experience that I don’t have… I just want as many people to hear (my music) as possible. I just feel like I have something to say and I just want people to hear it, and I feel like the best way to reach the most people is with the help of a major label.”

Brown also said that he has given thought to moving to a bigger city to try and reach more people with his music.

“I think you can make it from anywhere these days with how much of this is centered around the internet and streaming services,” Brown said. “I think you can never leave your basement and become one of the worlds biggest artists… but I think, especially for myself, being like a singer-songwriter type… I think it’ll just be beneficial for me to be in a bigger city, to be able to play to as many people as I can on any given night.”

Brown says he doesn’t think he’s “pushing any boundaries” when it comes to his style and genre of music, but hopes his focus on quality lyricism and storytelling within his music will help him stand out. 

“I’m hoping the quality of the music, and the quality of the lyrics is what people will see as new and refreshing,” said Brown.

Brown writes his lyrics with a focus on emotions and the stories behind the emotions. He says his lyrics are inspired by his own experiences in his day to day life.

“Writing is how I process what happens to me and my emotions,” said Brown.

Brown has also received help with his music career, especially from his Uncle Andy Holtgreive. Holtgreive was a member of the band Domestic Problems, a self described rock band from Grand Rapids. Brown said his Uncle introduced him to a producer who he was then able to work with to record some of his songs and Holtgreive even helped him out when he was learning how to play the guitar. Brown said having a close family member who was a professional musician helped him realize that it could be a viable career path and not just a crazy dream.

Holtgreive is very excited about his nephews decision to pursue music.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Holtgrieve.

Holtgreive is a big fan of his nephew’s work, though he admits that he is obviously biased.

“I love it,” said Holtgreive of Brown’s music. Holtgrieve emphasized the passion Brown has for music and the meaning he puts into his songs.

“He has something to say, and what he has to say is important,” said Holtgreive. 

Holtgreive said Brown’s songs are “not just a song for songs sake”, but come from a “very real” and “deep” place.

Brown said he is thankful for all of the support and help he’s received as he pursues a music career. 

“Just the support I receive from family and friends is awesome,” Brown said. “Because it’s definitely a crazy dream, and it’s not the smartest path to try and go down with my life and my career… and just having that support from the people I care about is such a relief in the times  where I’m uncertain… I have this support and I know that I can always fall back on that no matter what goes wrong, and having that foundation is just a great place to launch anything off of, and I’ve chosen to launch into music.”

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