If you ask a room full of kids what they want to be when they grow up, you’re guaranteed to get a variety of answers. You’ll hear the typical doctors, teachers and lawyers, but then there are those kids who say, “I want to be a famous singer!” Or “I want to be a professional baseball player!”
People are attracted to the idea of being famous. It looks glamorous and exhilarating.
Famous people seem to have it all.
But there are a lot of negative aspects to fame that the camera does not show.
Francesca Harvey, Jordann Luce, Leah Santiago and Gabi Hartman, a team of writers and musicians from Live! Starring…You!, a media organization that pairs teen journalists and writers with professionals to publish an online sports and entertainment magazine, books and music, are trying to give people an inside look at exactly what it is that the camera keeps hidden.
They created a full-length, professionally recorded CD called “Edge of the Spotlight” about the ups and downs of living life in the spotlight.
Francesca is a recent graduate of Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore. In the fall, she will be attending the University at Buffalo, where she plans to study theater performance and communications, with a concentration in media studies.
Jordann, also a recent grad of Mount St. Mary, will attend SUNY Fredonia State, where she will study music industry.
Leah will be a junior at UB next semester. She is studying business administration and music. She plans to have a career in the music industry after graduation, as does Gabi, a Buffalo native whose father, Mike Hartman, played for the Buffalo Sabres. She is a junior studying music at New York University.
“Edge of the Spotlight” is based off a book of the same name written by Live! Starring...You! founder and children’s author Tim O’Shei. The book is an inside look at the realities of fame, told through the eyes of a teen pop star.
What sets the story apart is the voice: It is told in the second person so that the reader is the main character. The reader will be able to experience what it’s like to be a teen celebrity dealing with nosy media, jealous rivals and maintaining relationships while riding the roller coaster that is fame.
“The book ‘Edge of the Spotlight’ is a story with a lot of musical references in it, and I thought it would be cool to bring that music to life,” O’Shei said.
At first, “Edge of the Spotlight” started out with only a few songs performed by Francesca, who was handpicked to perform them by Grammy-nominated producer Anthony Casuccio. But the project expanded as O’Shei added singer/songwriters Leah and Gabi, along with producer and writer Jordann and professional sound engineer Brad Lauchert. The CD was recorded at GCR Audio, which is owned by Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls, and Cassucio’s studio, Xtreme Audio.
“It was really nice to work with these girls who were very eager to hear what I had to say and really embrace my ideas,” said Casuccio. “With these young musicians, it was amazing because we could talk about things and they didn’t hesitate. They tried it. I think it was empowering on their part as well because we came out with some really good tracks.”
Each of the three singers recorded music that represents a character from the book. Francesca’s songs are the ones that belong to the teen pop star and main character. Leah’s songs belong to Hailey, the main character’s former best friend back home and a standout musician herself. Rival pop star Sofi’s songs were written and recorded by Gabi.
All of the singers and writers have at least one original song on the CD that they either wrote or co-wrote. Although the songs go along with the situations described in the book, the girls wrote the songs based on personal experiences.
While grateful for the opportunity to record their songs in a professional recording studio with professional musicians and producers, at times it was intimidating for the girls who were putting their emotions out there for the world to hear.
“It’s like everybody reading your journal,” Leah said. “It’s scary because you don’t want people to not like what you have to say. You want them to like your music, but it’s just weird having them hear exactly what you felt at a certain time in life.”
Jordann agreed. “It’s weird writing lyrics that everyone is going to hear. You want to know how they’re going to react to it and you want to know if they’re going to like it,” she said.
Putting together a full-length CD is not a simple task. The production of the CD spanned a half-dozen recording sessions and hours of experimentation with vocals, guitar, bass, piano and percussion to get the sounds just right. Some songs took up to eight rounds of revisions to get every detail in tune.
“It was a really long process,” Leah recalled. “We went back a couple of times because we really wanted to make these songs good. We had fun. Every single time we went in there it was so much fun.”
“Working with professionals like Anthony, Brad and the rest of the team at GCR was a real learning experience for Leah, Francesca, Jordann and Gabi,” O’Shei said. “It helped them grow from talented young performers into talented and more knowledgeable performers. A lot of learning happened; that was a big goal of mine with this project.”
Being in the studio is very much a collaborative process between the musicians, engineers and producers.
“Sometimes you have to be really open to other ideas because those ideas may be better than the ones you came up with,” Casuccio said.
“It’s good to feed off of each other,” Francesca added.
Their hard work paid off when they got to hear the final mixes of their songs for the first time.
“To hear my music come to life for the first time was a really cool thing,” Francesca said.
“It was really cool to hear how far the songs have come. The original live versions were a little rough,” Jordann said.
One of the most memorable moments in the studio was when Takac popped in during one of Leah’s sessions and told her that he had been hearing her songs and he really liked them.
“I tried not to freak out,” she said. “To have a Goo Goo Doll come in and say that he already heard your stuff and that he actually likes the way it sounds is amazing because he’s such an accomplished musician already and his band is so successful. To hear that from him made me feel like I was going in the right direction.”
In addition to the eight original songs on the CD, the team also decided to include instrumental tracks to each of the songs so that listeners can sing along and make the music come to life. There is also an interview track, conducted by Mount St. Mary Academy senior and Live! Starring…You! sports editor Hailey Rose Gattuso, called “Where the Red Carpet Ends” that gives listeners an inside scoop on what Francesca, Jordann, Leah, Gabi and O’Shei have learned about fame.
Natalie Brophy is a senior at Mount St. Mary Academy.