Project: Aloft Star Part 4 – Panel Judge Q&A

Aloft Long Island City, NY

Written by Tristan Olav Torgersen
Editor in Chief – Originally posted on IndieEntertainmentMagazine.com

There are three music buffs sitting a room, and the fourth is stuck in traffic. While this sounds like the beginning of some bad joke, it was in fact the scene of our final interview from the Project: Aloft Star competition.

There were over 1200 submissions to the competition at the start. From there, five semi-finalists were selected. Then, the general public was able to view and vote on during a ten-day period to choose the two artists that would perform at the finale. Those two finalists performed for these four judges.

As music industry executives, each had their own interesting story and expertise.

There was Mitch Mills, Vice President, Adult Formats Atlantic/Roadrunner Records.

Joining him was Danny Buch, Senior Vice President of Promotion at RED.

Then Michael Solomon, co-founder of Brick Wall Management and co-founder of Musicians On Call.

The judges were rounded out with Darrell Brown, world-renowned songwriter, arranger, manager and record producer.

Winners The Bergamot received a songwriting and recording session in a professional studio with judge and producer Darrell Brown. He previously worked with artists including LeAnn Rimes, Neil Young and Keith Urban.

Before the performances and judging took place though, I had the chance to sit down with Mitch, Michael, and Darrell. Now, it was an interview by name only. These men took my simple questions and led the conversation from there. They drew from experiences, opinions, and ideas they had, and I tried my best to get it all down for you to read.


Q: Thank you again for sitting down with us, and I know time is short so I’ll get right to it. How did you first get involved with Project: Aloft Star?

Darrell: You know I actually stay at Aloft Hotels when I travel. I didn’t even know about the Live at Aloft Hotels series for some time. It was when I walked into the Aloft in Nashville one night that I happened upon someone playing live music.

There was such a better atmosphere and focal than most hotels out there. When they reached out about the Project: Aloft Star Finale, I graciously accepted their invite and I’m glad to be here.

Mitch: Bobby reached out to me, and after our call I knew I wanted to come on board. My hot take on the Live at Aloft Hotels program is that it gives artists a chance to take a stage and showcase their talent in an interactive sort of way. It exposes that talent to a wider audience and people who are looking for that sort of ambition.

Michael: Like Mitch, Bobby and Denise reached out to me about the opportunity and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. At the same time, Gavin DeGraw has supported my organization, Musicians on Call. Once I heard he was a part of this event as well, I knew it was something special.

Q: Tonight, what are you looking for in the contestants? What key factors make them a winner?

Mitch: First off, we’re not promotional people. We are here to be wowed! I want to see stage presence. I want to see that X-Factor, that stardom. I want someone who can sing.

Michael: Two words. Gravitas and Presence.

Darrell: Really, just those two?

Michael: You’ve opened Pandora’s Box now Darrell, good job. There’s much more than that when you get down to it. On stage a performance is artist-driven, and when the artist knows what they’re doing it’s magical and electric, something you can feel. I’ll stop there, I need to make sure everyone gets a turn.

Darrell: For me, I am looking for Honesty and Hooks. When an artist isn’t afraid of who they are, there’s honesty on stage. The ‘Wow-Factor’ steps up.

Michael: Ok, your answer helped me find the word I was looking for. Authenticity. You know, I learned a lot from Bruce Springsteen when he joined me for Musicians on Call. He talked about being profoundly in the moment. When he is on stage and at the mic, there is nothing else in the world in that moment.

That is what I would look for tonight, and in any artist. Can you take on the role? Can you tell the authentic story? Can you try on someone else’s skin? That is what takes an artist from playing small clubs and venues to connecting with people.

Darrell: I agree with Michael, when people connect with themselves and then with others, that is the secret sauce.

Q:I like what you’ve all mentioned. Authenticity, honesty, presence. I don’t think that’s at the forefront of artist’s minds when they think about success.

I know you must get this question all the time, but do you think it is more or less difficult to make it today as a musician?

Darrell: Oh boy, not this one. We do get asked this ALL the time.

Mitch: True, but Darrell, it’s a fair question, is it not?

Darrell: I suppose so.

Mitch: I will answer first. The opportunities are there, but then there are amore people to push ahead of. You think about artists from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and there were less opportunities out there but they were also competing with a smaller group of artists for the spotlight and that success.

Michael: Honestly, I believe it is split. It is easier today because no one can stop you if you’re wildly talented. At the same time, it is harder because there is so much more noise, more artists, and more hoops to jump through.

Mitch: On that same page, there are often too many songwriters who are trying to play and sing. If they can’t perform and don’t have presence, they should stick to writing and leave room for those who have the whole package.

Mitch: Building off of what Michael is saying, there is certain sense of urgency to the music industry today. We all want to know the big question: ‘Are they the real deal?’ There’s a real sifting process to see who will drop one hit and who has talent enough for longevity.

Darrell: These guys are covering the major bases, so I will pivot to hone in on why we’re here. The Live at Aloft Hotels program and Project: Aloft Star competition are really something special. To find a partner around the world is incredible. We’re talking about hotels across the globe inviting artists to come perform and compete for notoriety and the resources to further their talents, that shows how much Aloft cares about the musicians.

Mitch: I’m right with you Darrell. Aloft is a sincere and real platform. They don’t just have an artist every once in a while, I hear that many Aloft hotels have artists playing multiple nights a week.

Michael: They are really stepping up to fill a dire need in the music world. Let’s talk about live performances. People upload things to YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and from the safety and security of their recordings they’re able to put out music online. Playing in front of a webcam and in front of an audience are two strangely different worlds.

Places like Aloft allow artists to play and work out their performance. Think of The Beatles playing in Hamburg, Germany clubs for nearly two years. They played all the time, they honed their craft, and they turned from players to musicians. I see that disparity in the music world today, you take a kid playing covers and a few songs from YouTube and put them in a venue with 200 people, they’re not going to be ready.

So much of it is like social media. People want and seek reactions. A ‘like’ or a ‘thumbs up’ tells them they’re doing a good job. That isn’t real, and they don’t get real feedback or experience. People are found and signed before they reach their 10,000 hours.

Darrell: Like I said, Aloft Hotels really provides that experiential learning. It’s special, and I think I speak for all of us when I say I’m just excited to be a part of it.

Gavin DeGraw on stage 11/7/2017.
Gavin DeGraw, we’re not over you.

Hope you enjoyed the Q&A, gleaned something from it, and now you know!

Aloft Hotels is where the music stays.

Check out our other articles from the Finale:

Part 1 – Project: Aloft Star Part 1 – Winning Press Release

Part 2 – Project: Aloft Star Winners: The Bergamot

Part 3 – Project: Aloft Star Runner Up: Gigi Rich

About Aloft Hotels

With more than 125 hotels now open in nearly 20 countries and territories around the world, Aloft Hotels, part of Marriott International, Inc., delivers a fresh approach to the traditional staid hotel landscape.

For the ‘always on’ next generation of traveler, the Aloft brand offers a tech-forward, vibrant experience and a modern style that is different by design.