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Paired Across Genres During The Pandemic, These Kansas City Musicians Wrote Songs Without Ever Meeting

Julie Denesha
Bryan Nicholas (at left) is a laid-back musician in his 50s from Peculiar, Missouri. AY Young is a rapper and hip hop artist from Kansas City. They've never met in person, but together they created a song they call 'Got Something,' a part of Heartland Song Network's COVID Collaborations.

When local musicians faced canceled gigs and concerts this year, a newly-founded non-profit stepped up to help and get their creative juices flowing.

The Heartland Song Network is a nonprofit dedicated to help connect musicians and build the music industry in Kansas City. It began with Diana Ennis and her partner Danny Powell. They’re both big fans of local music, and Ennis hosts a music show and podcast, Tasty Brew Music on KKFI.

Back in February, they launched the Heartland Song Network to bring songwriters together and help kickstart the music industry in the Midwest. “We just want to have our very talented people that are right here in Kansas City, to create and feel like they have a home here and that they have a base of support here so that they'll keep creating,” says Ennis.

They had big plans for house concerts and open-mic nights. But when the coronavirus hit and shut down live music everywhere, the young organization had to pivot pretty hard. Powell says they had to find a way to keep people connected while everyone was stuck at home.

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Julie Denesha
Danny Powell and his partner Diana Ennis started The Heartland Song Network, a nonprofit dedicated to help connect musicians and build the music industry in Kansas City.

“Some were scared because it totally changed everything and they didn't know what to do." says Powell. "They were unsure whether they were going to make a living or pay their bills, lose their homes or whatever. And so we sat down and said, what can we do to mitigate some of that?"

First they teamed up with the Midwest Music Foundation to hold a fundraiser for local musicians. Their next step was to get musicians working again, so they devised some song-writing match-making.

They called the project COVID Collaborations. About thirty musicians signed up. Paired across genres, they had to hammer out their tunes remotely, on Skype and Zoom. Many of the songs have a folk music feel. Like “See You On Down The Road” by Kristin Hamilton and Jill Westra.

See You on Down The Road.mp4

Bryan Nicholas is a laid-back musician in his 50s from Peculiar, Missouri. He’s a traditional singer-songwriter who likes a good rock groove. He says creating a song over the internet poses some challenges. In more normal times, explains Nicholas, "we get in this room and it's a vibe. And it doesn't always translate over Zoom or Facetime. Takes a little more time and effort. But, you know, we're adapting.”

Nicholas was paired with AY Young, a rapper and hip-hop artist in his 20s from Kansas City. He's known for his Battery Tour, a series of concerts promoting renewable technology and solutions to people in need around the world.

Working online came naturally to him. He had Nicholas send him a few tracks and they got to work, writing a song they call “Got Something.”

“We flow good," says AY. "I was like, yeah, we can work with that and then boom — we took it. We ran with it.”

Listen to 'Got Something' by AY and Brian Nicholas
Listen to 'Got Something' by AY and Brian Nicholas

For AY and Nicholas it all began with a guitar riff.

“In music, sometimes all you need is four good bars," explains AY. "That's it. Then you repeat and then you can layer it and build it. Once I got that right, then I just clicked play and started to hum stuff, put the song together in like an hour, like all the vocals, all the writing. For me, it just flows. So that was done in like an hour and sent out over to him. He was like, ‘Oh my god. This is so crazy!’”

Nicholas says he hopes this new normal is only temporary. But he knows one thing, he can’t wait to work with AY again.

“The silver lining of this whole pandemic and isolation thing, is that you're learning a whole lot of new things about yourself and meeting people through ways that you never thought you would," says Nicholas. "And if you look for a positive, there's always a positive somewhere hiding in there.”

Canceled gigs and concerts was a hard way to start the year but things are looking up.

"It's been rough right?' AY says. "COVID and the protests. Everything's closed. No one's working. But this has been beautiful."

Danny Powell says he hopes that the bridges they’ve built during this difficult time may lead to lasting relationships.

“The response has been great," Powell. "And everybody that has submitted was just like, man, this was just such a great experience. When are you gonna do it again?"

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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