“Music is the universal language,” says Ayesha Mehta. “It surpasses cultural boundaries and social structures. It allows us to communicate who we are, and also learn who others are.”
Ayesha and her business partner Ariel Blum founded GRID Series back in 2013, in the back room of a pub in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. In attendance were a small group of emerging artists and creators, and a handful of mentors from various corners of the music industry: writers, producers, PR consultants, mixers, engineers and bookers.
These meetings served as an opportunity for artists to ask questions; to get information on things like studio equipment, production, publicity and content, and – ultimately – get the support needed to make the music they wanted to make.
GRID, which stands for Grass Roots Indie Development, works to connect emerging artists from the outer suburbs of Australia’s big cities – think Melbourne’s Deep West and Outer South East, Western Sydney, and South West Brisbane – with industry professionals. The geography of these areas means artists have limited access to venues and music’s inner circle, and they can struggle to make meaningful connections. In short, it’s difficult for musicians to get a fair start.
But the team at GRID are working to change that.
“We invert the model of mentorship, making it artist-led,” Ayesha explains. “We aim to free spaces for emerging artists and people working in the industry to come together and exchange information and answer questions.”
A lot has changed since those initial catch-ups eight years ago at the pub. Now, GRID runs nationwide programs in four cities, which includes a daylong workshop alongside a team of mentors, like Ngaiire, Ecca Vandal, Emily Wurramara and producer Joel Ma (Mojo Juju, Haiku Hands).
Each mentor works with the artists on creating new content, pairing them with world-class producers, and transmitting their stories via short documentaries that follow the artists through their time in the program and their communities.
After spending the day together, asking questions and gleaning as much information as they can from one another, each artist is assigned their own mentor, who follows them throughout the program. The mentors work as collaborators. GRID re-thinks mentorship by placing the artist and mentor on equal footing, and encouraging the entire team to match the level of input the artists put in to achieve their desired goals.
“The artists have a personal one-on-one day with their mentor, who will listen to what their needs are, respond to their specific needs, their specific desires, their specific style of music, their specific way of creating,” Ayesha says.
GRID facilitates the meeting and fosters a positive working dynamic, ensuring everyone feels safe and comfortable. After that, the mentor remains on hand to offer any advice or assistance that might be needed.
Along with mentoring, GRID provides a song development session, assistance in creating a fully produced track, doco and video content, and the opportunity to perform at a single launch showcase.
At its core, GRID is about community.
“Musicians and artists are just so ready to create,” Ayesha says. “And if they come up against a barrier, you innovate and come up with a different pathway and a different way to connect. Listening deeply and responding respectfully to this is what we believe part of our role is.”
Over the past few years, GRID graduates include artists like Franjapan, Manorism, Flewnt, Sarah EiDa and Gordon Koang, a blind musician from South Sudan who won the Levi’s Music Prize at 2019’s BigSound.
“One of our proudest achievements as a business is the personal feedback we get from artists,” Ayesha says. “That we’ve created opportunities, that they have felt we respected their autonomy and cultural identity, and enabled them to continue creating.”
Ayesha and Ariel moved GRID’s business bank account to Bank Australia only recently, making the switch due to their aligning values. “Primarily, for us, it was about refusing to put money into fossil fuels,” Ayesha explains. “We decided it was important to redirect our money and make sure that the collaborations we had were with organisations that are actually looking towards creating a more sustainable and equitable future for everyone.”
To find out more about GRID Series, head to their website.