A golden op­por­tu­nity to meet top per­form­ers

Waikato Times - - NEWS - MIKE MATHER

It’s the mu­si­cal equiv­a­lent of earn­ing one of Willy Wonka’s golden tick­ets.

Anna Sax­ton, who per­forms and records un­der the stage name Saxi, is fly­ing to Los An­ge­les next month to em­bark on a six-week, all-ex­penses-paid mu­si­cal schol­ar­ship pro­gramme.

While there, she will take part in a men­tor­ing pro­gramme with Ken­neth ‘‘Baby­face’’ Ed­monds, a 10-time Grammy Award-win­ning com­poser, pro­ducer, song­writer and vo­cal­ist who has worked with the world’s top per­form­ers, in­clud­ing Bey­once´, Ce­line Dion, Mariah Carey, Ari­ana Grande, Madonna, Michael Jack­son and Whitney Hous­ton.

The Isina men­tor­ship pro­gramme is a kind of tal­ent in­cu­ba­tor in which bud­ding mu­si­cians are domi­ciled in a lav­ish Bev­erly Hills man­sion while they un­dergo an in­ten­sive train­ing course un­der the guid­ance of some of the in­dus­try’s elite.

As well as Baby­face, the par­tic­i­pants in­clude top DJ and pro­ducer Paul Oak­en­fold, and vir­tu­oso sax­o­phon­ist Kenny G, who holds the lofty ti­tle of ‘‘head of the de­part­ment of in­stru­ments’’.

How did a bub­bly 23-year-old barista from Cam­bridge earn her place among such pres­ti­gious com­pany? It def­i­nitely wasn’t a case of sheer luck.

Un­like many younger pop/rock per­form­ers, she has self-man­aged her ca­reer, dili­gently train­ing ev­ery week­end with an Auck­land­based vo­cal coach, per­form­ing pub gigs and at cor­po­rate func­tions, and gen­er­ally seiz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties as they ma­te­ri­alise.

And her forth­com­ing trip is not the first visit to Los An­ge­les she has scored. In 2015 she was in­vited to at­tend a red car­pet event at the Los An­ge­les Mu­sic Awards on the back of en­ter­ing the pop artist and in­ter­na­tional artist of the year awards. It was while do­ing on­line re­search that she hap­pened upon the Isina web­site and thought it might prove an op­por­tu­nity to gain in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence and con­tacts.

‘‘I thought, this would be awe­some, and I ap­plied . . . I got an email in June ask­ing if I was still in­ter­ested in com­ing over.’’

To Sax­ton’s sur­prise, Baby­face him­self had lis­tened to her tracks and said he was im­pressed by her ‘‘pow­er­ful, soar­ing voice and emo­tive lyrics’’.

Those ap­ply­ing can sub­mit demo tracks to the site, which are then ap­praised by the pro­gramme’s fa­cil­i­ta­tors. Thirty ap­pli­cants are se­lected for each six-monthly in­take and the stu­dent deemed to have ex­celled the most earns a record­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion deal through Univer­sal Mu­sic.

There are ad­di­tional train­ing ses­sions in live per­for­mance, and even lessons in how to get the most out of photo shoots. Sax­ton is so far the only New Zealan­der se­lected for the course, along­side young mu­si­cians from Aus­tralia, In­dia, the UK, Rus­sia and the US. It’s a high­light on what is al­ready prov­ing a mem­o­rable ca­reer. Sax­ton be­gan to write songs when she was 13, ini­tially with a cousin she per­formed gigs with.

‘‘There’s been quite a lot of mu­sic in my life, al­though all the way through school at Cam­bridge High, I was mostly a sporty per­son.

‘‘It was only in year 13 that I re­ally got into mu­sic again.’’

For 15 months, she was the lead singer of a Cam­bridge-based band called Con­trast The­ory.

How­ever, it was in 2011 that her brother, in a stun­ning show of sib­ling largesse, shouted her some record­ing and pro­duc­tion time in York Street Stu­dios in Auck­land that she was ‘‘bit­ten by the in­dus­try bug’’ and things be­gan to take off.

The re­sult of those ses­sions was a track ti­tled Voodoo Doll, which was en­tered into and got as far as the semi­fi­nals of the UK Song­writ­ing Com­pe­ti­tion in 2012.

De­ter­mined for her suc­cess not to be just a flash in the prover­bial pan, more record­ing ses­sions at York St fol­lowed. She also signed up for vo­cal coach­ing with Auck­land-based singing tu­tor Stu­art Clarke, with whom she has been train­ing ev­ery week­end for the past two years.

‘‘I’ve spent thou­sands on my voice, but ev­ery cent has been worth it,’’ she says with a laugh. ‘‘I started out quite rocky – I wanted to be a real rock mu­si­cian at first. It was as I got older that I found my­self be­com­ing more of a pop singer. I have def­i­nitely more of a pop-elec­tron­ica sound now.’’

Her ses­sions with Clarke led to an op­por­tu­nity to get vo­cal and de­vel­op­ment men­tor­ing with Amer­i­can vo­cal coach Dave Stroud and English-Kiwi singer and X-Fac­tor judge Daniel Bed­ing­field. She re­cently at­tended a vo­cal work­shop with an­other world-renowned vo­cal coach and vo­cal sci­en­tist John Hennny, who has worked with Katy Perry and the Glee cast.

In 2015 she re­ceived a $6000 grant from New Zealand on Air to film a video for her sin­gle Lip­stick. The video, di­rected by Shae Ster­ling, re­ceived air­time on NZ mu­sic chan­nels and has racked up al­most 43,000 views on YouTube.

In the mean­time, she has been work­ing in her cafe barista job and has stud­ied mu­sic at Win­tec.

‘‘I’m not much of a the­ory per­son and I found a lot of the study at Win­tec quite hard,’’ she ad­mits.

While the aca­demic side of song­writ­ing is not to her taste, Sax­ton has mas­tered the art of hard graft to fur­ther her ca­reer – par­tic­u­larly when it comes to mak­ing the most of her grow­ing list of in­dus­try con­tacts. While she is in Los An­ge­les she has al­ready ar­ranged to work with former Amer­i­can Idol fi­nal­ist Jesse Lyons on an orig­i­nal col­lab­o­ra­tion, out­side of her time at the man­sion.

‘‘Even if I don’t come out on top in the Isina pro­gramme, it will still be an amaz­ing and valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence for me. I’ll def­i­nitely be mix­ing and min­gling with the right peo­ple. If the main thing I get out of it is some in­dus­try con­tacts, it will have been to­tally worth­while. But I’m sure I am go­ing to get a lot more out of it than that.’’

PHOTO: TOM LEE/STUFF PHOTO: TOM LEE/ STUFF

Anna Sax­ton will soon be swap­ping the small-town vibe of Cam­bridge for the glitz and glam­our of a Bev­erly Hills man­sion.

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