To say that the last few years in the music industry have been tumultuous would be an understatement. From the pandemic’s disruption of album release schedules and a near-complete shutdown of live music, followed by a highly competitive comeback of concerts in 2022, artists who are just beginning their careers face more challenges than ever.
At WYEP, we’re proud to provide tools and resources to give young artists a chance to express themselves through music. We’re also proud to say that with every passing year, the Reimagination Project expands to include a wider variety of artists and genres. And for the first time since March of 2020, we’ve been able to bring Reimagination artists back to the stage, giving them more opportunities to build fanbases and advance their skills. We can’t wait to see what this year’s participants do with everything they’ve learned in the future. Please enjoy the 9th edition of Reimagination, and thank you for your support of emerging artists in music.
-Liz Felix, WYEP Program Director
When 412Shxm was 11, his summer camp group had to write a song about their field trip to Sandcastle and Kennywood, then perform it in front of the whole camp. Years later, with newfound maturity, he throws out great vibes on “Vacation Dreams” a joyful and playful flow about something a little farther — a getaway with his girlfriend.
412Shxm cut his teeth on his mom’s favorite music: Stevie Wonder, gospel, Christian rock, and soulful love songs. In his middle school years, he and his friends got into Juice WRLD and XXXtentacion before he discovered battle rapping and the music of Polo G. He developed his own talent singing in his church choir and Homewood’s African American Music Institute Boys Choir, later dabbling in autotune and making his own music. He’s settled now with a unique sound born out of rhythm and blues.
“This isn’t my first time working in the Lighthouse Studio. However, it is my first time working with Shoe,” 412Shxm says. “My experience with him was awesome. He is very open, always listening for new ideas, and is very creative. It was nice co-creating this song with him from start to finish.”
Produced and Recorded by DJ Shoe; Mixed by Big Jerm-YMCA Lighthouse Studio, (Homewood) Pittsburgh, PA.
Listening to “Can’t Stop” you would never guess that Ajonia is shy, especially since she calls the song “delicate but saucy.” Yet she’s at home in the Lighthouse booth with producer INEZ, her songwriting partner, who helped her find just the right vibe. Ajonia pulled threads of confidence and empowerment from “Hurricane,” by The Weeknd, Kanye, and Lil Baby, coupled with a love of R & B from Summer Walker, Jhene Aiko, Lucky Daye, and Kehlani. Yet this sound is all her own as she invites: “Hop straight in my bag, straighten out my crown.”
The “saucy” moniker fits her perfectly as she is just as happy working on her culinary skills in the kitchen as she is singing. “Be on the lookout for me as I record more,” she teases. “I’m really enjoying this.
Produced, Recorded, and Mixed by INEZ-YMCA Lighthouse Studio, (Homewood) Pittsburgh, PA. Ajonia: Vocals; Beat & Music Production: INEZ
Some of the best songs seem to come from thin air when the artists don’t even know how they appeared in their brains. A book? Maybe. Such is the case with “Home Free,” which started as a ukulele piece in Nina’s head at least five years ago. Since then, the whole band joined in on the arranging, including drummer Nate, who synced his sticks with the bridge vocals “Thum Thum Thump.”
“My only enemy is my own energy,” is the call. Behind it, influences from Paramore, The Wombats, and Sara Bareilles, who also has a theater pedigree.
Although this recording features Nina on bass and lead vocals, Nolan on acoustic guitar and vocals, Ellie on electric guitar, Graham on keys, and Nate on drums, each musician plays other instruments as well. Dana Cannone brought it home. “He was super helpful and understanding,” the band says.
When AndMore was looking for the perfect band name for its “theater music meets folk music meets rock music” sound, they saw a poster created for one of their shows, with a list of all the participants. At the bottom, it said: “AndMore.” How cool would it be to be on a poster that said “AndMore, and more!” And that, as they say, was that.
Produced, Recorded, and Mixed by Dana Cannone-The Church Recording Studio, (Overbrook) Pittsburgh, PA. Lead Vocals & Bass: Nina Cranor; Electric Guitar: Ellie Caliguiri; Acoustic Guitar: Nolan Jack; Drums: Nate Weinstein; Keyboards: Graham Whitacre
Power is nothing if you can’t control it. But vocalist Ashley Marina has both covered in “Cover Me With You,” a song that reminds us all that hope, love, and happiness can be ours when we find a higher power or person to push things in a positive direction.
Ashley’s no stranger to performing. She’s one of the most viral acts in “America’s Got Talent’s” history from when she was only 12. So, it’s no surprise she loves the legends: Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and Etta James. Yet you won’t find her trying to copy them: “I just try to be me.”
Producer Rick Witkowski’s guitar chords kicked off the songwriting effort, but it was his enthusiasm and love for music that made the connection with Ashley. “And whether I go this way, or that way, I know I never need to fear,” she sings. One thing’s for sure — she’s on a path to go far.
Produced, Recorded, and Mixed by Rick Witkowski-Studio L, Weirton, WV. Ashley Marina: Vocals; Rick Witkowski: Guitars, Bass, Drums, Keyboards, Snaps & Claps
Bad Judgement chose lead singer and rhythm guitarist Elena Bishop in the middle of the pandemic by making her sing Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” at the library. It seems the “Shusshing” did not work.
With a lineup that also includes Turing Zelsnack on lead guitar, David Weisfield on drums, and Xander Bier on bass and backing vocals, Bad Judgement has the good sense to understand how sad people can still find beauty in themselves and others. “Rain falls from your eyes, on the ground they’re fireflies,” they sing, noting the song is the perfect tune to hear during the credits of your favorite coming-of-age movie, as the beloved characters drive into the sunset.
Admirers of the Strokes, Stand Atlantic, and their family and friends, Bad Judgement enjoyed the emotional and musical power producer Sean McDonald brought to the song. The band is finding this all “quite the fun journey.”
Produced, Recorded and Mixed by Sean McDonald-Red Medicine Recording Studio, (Swissvale) Pittsburgh, PA. Xander Bier: Bass & Vocals; Elena Bishop: Vocals & Rhythm Guitar; David Weisfield: Drums; Turing Zelsnack: Lead Guitar & Vocals
If there’s one word to describe CJ Johnson, it’s “honest.” CJ, who is queer, mixes experience as part of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as struggles with anxiety and depression, with delightful pieces of pizzicato cello to pull together a unique style and feel. “I know that I am not alone in being treated like I’m ‘evil’ or just a bad person because of it. I wrote this piece because I wanted to speak out,” Johnson says, noting the song’s goal is to create a sense of empowerment and the ability to fight back. “My favorite part of the song is probably the final chorus. The way that everything comes together makes such a freeing sound. It is what I think it feels like to let go of the fear.”
Johnson paints a collage of sound inspired by the likes of Cody Fry, Ella Fitzgerald, jazz, and symphonic music. Vocalist Johnson also plays piano, organ, and synths on the song, accompanied by Danny Gochnour on guitar and Dave Hidek on drums.
And although they are first to jump into musical theater at school and has more than “40 pairs of dumb earrings” from cassette tapes to dinosaurs, the biggest influence is mom. “She always pushes me to be better and to follow my dreams in this industry.”
Produced, Recorded, and Mixed by Dana Cannone-The Church Recording Studio, (Overbrook) Pittsburgh, PA. CJ Johnson: Vocals; Piano, Organ, & Synth; Danny Gochnour: Electric Guitar; Dave Hidek: Drums
Working in the studio comes easily to Dallas Chapman, who knows how to get things done. His love song/chill song about a crush began with a freestyle over an instrumental loop from Splice. Then producer Amos Levy helped create an original beat and collaborated with Dallas to write the final lyrics. INEZ added guitar and vocalist Ajonia wrote and performed the second verse. “It wasn’t just a sit there and write and mix. It was about being like a family,” he says. “We sat there and talked and laughed while we got it done.”
As a child, Chapman surrounded himself with the music of Michael Jackson and other artists his family enjoyed, including the Commodores (there’s that “Easy” sensibility again) and the Statler Brothers. He’s mostly inspired by love songs. “I make songs for other people who are in a relationship saying it’s OK for them to think about their loved one or someone they like.”
Produced, Recorded, and Mixed by Amos Levy; Produced by Dallas Chapman-YMCA Lighthouse Studio, (Homewood) Pittsburgh, PA. Dallas Chapman: Vocals, Music Production; Ajonia: Vocals; Amos Levy: Keyboards, Music Production; INEZ: Electric Guitar
As if a pandemic weren’t bad enough, Elena Bishop had just recently moved to Pittsburgh from North Carolina, losing all her friends. Starting over was difficult and it was only natural that she romanticized her prior life. Such is the theme of “Hourglass Eyes” — the tendency to make the things in your rear-view mirror better than they really were.
“Hourglass half full eyes/fooled eyes/but a full life,” she sings with pop-punk delight, adding a twist of words. The lyrics, melody and guitar riff are hers, with fine tuning from producer Dana Cannone. “It was quite fun, and it taught me a lot,” she says of her studio time. “Seeing what they were doing when mixing in real time was very surreal … Being in an actual recording studio with recording studio-level equipment was wild. Everything anyone could ever think of was there and that was just crazy.
Bishop, who taught herself how to play guitar on a 60-year-old classical guitar her grandma bought at a yard sale in the ‘70s, draws music inspiration from Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo and her writing inspiration from Paramore. Yet it’s her family, friends and her band, Bad Judgement, that most influence her life.
Produced, Recorded, and Mixed by Dana Cannone-The Church Recording Studio, (Overbrook) Pittsburgh, PA. Elena Bishop: Vocals, Guitar, Bass, & Piano; Dave Hidek: Drums
If you listen closely to “Repeat,” you’ll hear it. “My dreamcatcher’s just about to fall, and it’s hanging by a thread, like me.” That last part’s quick, by design, Elliana insists. If you’re not listening closely, you might miss it, and that’s the point. Pay attention. The indie-pop song rises out of the ashes of the lockdown and a difficult 2020-21 school year awash in vulnerability.
“My producer, Jenn Wertz, was amazing to work with and helped me to achieve my first studio recording,” Elliana says, noting Jenn helped to enhance details that she hadn’t even realized were significant. “Dana Cannone helped the vision Jenn and I developed become a reality and I could not be more grateful.”
She hopes others listen to her music, which calls on topics from mental health to a love of summertime, and find common ground. “I create my music to try to give teens (or people of any age) who are going through the same things I am a way to relate and know that they are not alone.”
Produced by Jenn Wertz; Recorded and Mixed by Dana Cannone-The Church Recording Studio, (Overbrook) Pittsburgh, PA. Elliana: Vocals & Piano; Dana Cannone: Guitar, Bass; Dave Hidek: Drums; Jenn Wertz: Percussion
Two good friends were awash in feelings of self-hatred and Louisa C needed them to know how much she appreciated them. “They felt like no one would care if they were gone, and didn’t believe me when I told them it wasn’t true,” she said. On a path to prove otherwise, Louisa spilled her feelings into song, accompanying herself on cello, piano and guitar. The multi-faceted artist, who also counts high school choir, the school musical, the track team and swim team among her talents, says her music tends to resemble the sound of two of her inspirations: Taylor Swift and Anson Seabra.
You can also catch Louisa C on her YouTube channel, where she’s managed to rack up more than 30,000 views.
Of “I Won’t Lie to You,” she says, “Honestly, as cheesy as this sounds, I love the whole song. I put a lot of work into the lyrics and I’m really proud of what came of it.”
Produced, Recorded, and Mixed by Dana Cannone-The Church Recording Studio, (Overbrook) Pittsburgh, PA. Louisa C: Vocals, Piano, & Cello; Dana Cannone: Bass; Dave Hidek: Drums
Make no mistake, “I Am The Next Big Thing,” crows Marii 2x. “I’m very straightforward when it comes to my music and give the people what they wanna hear. Whatever I feel they are gonna like best is what goes towards my music.”
Marii 2x sends some brotherly love to the family in the song, written as a top-of-mind piece about going in and having fun. The self-described “unique, raw, versatile” artist with love for Lil Baby, Noodah05, and YoungBoy is ready for the big time. We’re ready to see it happen.
Recorded, Mixed, and Produced by Livefromthecity-YMCA Lighthouse Studio, (Homewood) Pittsburgh, PA. Marii 2x: Vocals; Livefromthecity: Beat & Music Production
The Glass Passenger
Donovan Smith says it’s as simple as this: We are all running from something. “Running from the past. Running from our mistakes and failures. Running from our future and our responsibilities. Running from ourselves. Running from the truth.” But so often lately, “I feel like I’ve been running in circles, looking for a way out of all of these things, trying to get away from the pain and loneliness I feel every day.” Heady stuff, that. “’The Resolution’ is all about climbing out of the circle and moving forward.”
Donovan, who also is in his school’s marching band and drama programs, played guitars, bass, piano/keys, and sang on this track. Dave Hidek played drums.
Borrowing elements from 2000s/2010s pop and rock, with influences from Switchfoot and The Dear Hunter to Andrew McMahon, Smith blends in alternative rock to create “a cinematic and atmospheric blend of synths and guitars.”
The face in the mirror plays a leading role in this particular conversation, all working toward, well, resolution. “It’s a reminder when it feels like you’ve tried everything, and that circle is all you’ll ever know, that maybe that’s not where the story ends. Maybe there’s still hope for the future, maybe your story is just waiting to begin.”
Produced, Recorded, and Mixed by Dana Cannone-The Church Recording Studio, (Overbrook) Pittsburgh, PA. Donovan Smith: Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Piano/Keyboards, Production; Dave Hidek: Drums
Executive Producer: Greg Joseph
Executive Music Producer: Dana Cannone
Vice President of Broadcasting: Mike Sauter
WYEP Program Director: Liz Felix
WYEP Producer, Live & Digital Audience Experiences: Nick Wright
Music Producers & Studios
The Church Recording Studio, (Overbrook) Pittsburgh, PA thechurchrecordingstudio.com
Red Medicine Recording Studio, (Swissvale) Pittsburgh, PA seanmcdonald.com
Studio L, Weirton, WV studiolrecording.com
YMCA Lighthouse Studio, (Homewood), Pittsburgh, PA ymcapgh.org/lighthouse-project
Musician/Producer, Pittsburgh, PA
Treelady Studios treelady.com
Reimagination Masterclass Series
#1-Take Your Songwriting To The Next Level
INEZ-Singer/Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist, Berklee College of Music, Producer
Shane McLaughlin-Singer/Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist, Instructor at University of Pittsburgh, Buffalo Rose
#2-Social Media and Promotion of Musicians
Melinda Colaizzi-Singer/Songwriter, Point Park University Professor, Founder and CEO of Women Who Rock, and Pitch Consulting
Johnathan Pushkar-Singer/Songwriter, Belmont University, Owner of Johnathan Pushkar Media, Nashville, TN
#3 Touring, Booking, and Production
Nick Guckert and Edward Angelo-Independent National Touring Musicians, The Living Street
Joanna Obuzor-Director of Operations at The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
#4-Radio Promotion, Distribution, and Labels
Kyle Smith-Music Director-91.3 WYEP
Christine Sanley-Director of AAA Radio Promotions at co-sign (Promotion, Marketing, Licensing)
Jordan Montgomery-Owner-Pittsburgh Based Record Label, Driving While Black Records
Funding for Reimagination comes from the generous donors of WYEP and:
Special Thanks to: The Grable Foundation, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the Board and Staff of WYEP, Presonus Audio Electronics, N Stuff Music, and the parents, guardians, and families of the 2022 Reimagination student artists, for supporting Pittsburgh’s musical future.