Near the microphones in a Gilbert recording studio, two Arizona teens tested out different guitars as they prepared for their individual recording sessions – a prize won for their entries in a songwriting contest held by the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences.
The Gilbert campus of CRAS hosted Sam Mortimer, 18, and Brittany Tews, 17, on June 3 after notifying them that they’d won the first-ever “BE HEARD” contest in May.
“The goal, ultimately, was to give a high schooler the opportunity that most musicians would’ve killed for in their high school life,” said CRAS director of admissions Ghery Fimbres.
Arizona high school students had two weeks to submit an original song to the contest, which focused on the quality of the songwriting rather than marketability or production value. Choosing only one winner out of the 20 submissions proved too difficult, Fimbres said, so CRAS selected both Mortimer and Tews as the first winners of the contest.
Mortimer, a 2017 graduate of Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe, initially wrote his song entry for a solo in his high school choir. The song, “Amazing People Do,” says that loving someone can hurt but that it can also make a person feel “amazing,” Mortimer said.
Although he had never written a song before, Mortimer decided to prepare an original song to audition for the choir solo because “no one had ever done that before,” he said, adding, “Well, to my knowledge.”
Mortimer’s teacher told him about the “BE HEARD” contest after he auditioned for the solo. Hours before the deadline, Mortimer and his brother recorded “Amazing People Do” in what they call “the studio,” a downstairs room in their house with recording gear, the brothers say.
The room belonged to their father, who was interested in sound recording and once taught at CRAS, Mortimer said, adding that the family has always been involved in music.
“I’ve been trying to get (Sam) to write songs for a long time,” said his brother, Ben.
The experience showed Mortimer that he could do more with his love of music, he said. He intends to put “Amazing People Do” on Soundcloud after potentially returning to CRAS to re-record it, which the conservatory offered to let him do for free, Mortimer said.
“Music’s pretty much all I do in my spare time,” he said.
A lifelong passion for music is something both winners share.
“This is me; it’s what I do,” said Tews, who now plays multiple instruments after starting with the trumpet in sixth grade. She also sings and writes songs, which she said she has done her whole life.
As a child, Tews kept a piece of paper in her back pocket to write parts of songs, she said. She wrote her first full song at age 14 and performed it in a school talent show. Since then, she has written so many songs that she has lost track, Tews said. She draws inspiration from experiences and, sometimes, from words themselves.
“I was doing this thing for a little bit where I would just find a random word and write a song off of it,” Tews said. One day, she heard the word “middle” and explored what she could do with it. The result was her song entry: “Meet in the Middle.”
The song is about two people bonding – despite their differences – after finding common ground, Tews said.
“It’s so exciting to see that she’s achieving some of the dreams that she has and the things that she’s most excited about in life,” said her father, Rich Tews.
Brittany is a rising senior at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, but she dreams of a career on Music Row in Nashville, she said.
“It’s a huge dream, and there’s a lot of room for doubt,” but winning the contest gives her validation and helps relieve some of that doubt, Tews said.
“You never really know that you’re actually decent at the thing you enjoy until something like this happens,” she explains.
“Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that we need talent on the other side of our science,” Fimbres said, explaining the need for CRAS to help develop new talent. Because of this need and the first contest’s success, Fimbres said he hopes to continue the contest every semester.