Regional songwriters will soon have a chance to showcase their music for a worthy cause as SouthSounds Music & Arts Festival joins with the Mobile Police Department (MPD) Office of Strategic Initiatives’ Project THRIVE Songwriter Competition.
Starting March 1, songwriters will be invited to submit a song to be judged on lyrics, composition, melody and arrangement by “a panel of judges who are noted local industry professionals.” The winners from each category will be invited to perform their respective songs on the Hargrove Stage at this year’s SouthSounds festival, and the chosen songs will be included on a digitally distributed compilation album. Proceeds from the album will be reinvested into Project THRIVE.
From country to hip-hop to jazz, songwriters from all genres are welcome to submit songs to this competition. While there are no genre restrictions, the Project THRIVE Songwriter Competition does maintain lyrical requirements. Submitted compositions must contain lyrics that concentrate on “healing, resiliency and triumph in the wake of trauma.” These facets are the threefold foundation of Project THRIVE.
Project THRIVE (Trauma Healing and Resiliency in the Wake of Violent Events) is a collection of “partnering agencies, from therapists to educators,” that recognize trauma of all types can have a negative effect on citizens across the city. Project THRIVE provides resources and information to assist Mobilians affected by traumatic events, and this attracted the attention of Brandyn Ulmer, the competition’s mastermind.
“Sometimes, you don’t know where to look if you’re being bullied or pregnant and scared or homeless,” said Ulmer. “I feel like we live in a society where everything is so divided, but trauma is something that we have in common. Everybody goes through trauma in some capacity, and it affects us in one way or another, whether it’s how you’re going to pay the bills that month or how you’re going to bury a relative.”
Based on his background, Ulmer’s idea to spread awareness of Project THRIVE through music seems like a natural move. Before graduating high school, this talented guitarist made his presence known in the local scene. After high school, Ulmer lent his epic riffs and complex runs on the fretboard to Top of the Orange, who celebrated a reunion at last year’s Ten65 Music Festival. He also spent time as a member of the Azalea City supergroup Trick Foto. These days Ulmer is the founding principal/CEO of Atlas Industrial Outsourcing, LLC, which provides staffing for industrial cleaning needs. However, he still moonlights as the guitarist of the local rock outfit Even Still.
“For me, personally, no matter what I do, I’m going to be a guitar player,” said Ulmer. “If I try to separate myself from it for too long, opportunities pull me back in or I get the itch to go back and do it.”
Ulmer’s interest in Project THRIVE began with his introduction to Curtis Graves, commander of the MPD Office of Strategic Initiatives. Graves recruited Ulmer for the department’s SCORE (Second Chance or Else) program, which “provides nonviolent street-level drug dealers in prime hot spots an opportunity to rescue themselves from a lifetime of crime.” From there, Graves introduced Ulmer to Project THRIVE. After the first meeting, Project THRIVE’s mission kindled Ulmer’s desire to get involved with the organization.
“When I got plugged in and realized who all was involved, it helped me understand that Project THRIVE exists to try and turn Mobile into a trauma-informed community, but I didn’t know what that meant,” Ulmer said. “It’s basically educating the citizens of Mobile on the short-term and long-term effects of trauma and then educating them as to the resources available to help them.”
Eventually, Ulmer accepted a position on Project THRIVE’s Board of Directors. With each meeting, he noticed board members were brainstorming methods to raise awareness of the program and its resources through the city. Ulmer thought back to the days when Top of the Orange participated in the BayFest Scholarship Program, which provided financial backing to high school-age musicians who wanted to dedicate their lives to music. Ulmer decided he could apply some of those concepts to Project THRIVE. The Project THRIVE Songwriting Competition was the result.
“Besides trauma, the other thing that binds us together is music,” Ulmer said. “If you’re going through trauma, you’re probably going to throw on an album. Certain songs remind you of certain events. I know if I pick any event that was really heavy, I can imagine a song to listen to to get through it. When I buried my dad, it was that Ed Sheeran tune from the ‘I See Fire’ song. When I buried my daughter, it was ‘Little Wing.’ I think people write music about what they’re going through.”
Ulmer says he found Project THRIVE’s awareness goals to be on the same level as SouthSounds. Both entities use music to make the community aware of their respective missions. Ulmer says the SouthSounds organizers showed enthusiasm in the initial meetings and decided to add the competition to the mix. This collaboration will not only be a chance for local songwriters to showcase their talents, but it will also be a chance for Project THRIVE to showcase its services.
“We didn’t want to create a burden or work for SouthSounds,” said Ulmer. “So, we will provide backline. By doing it that way, we hope that the support for each artist will culminate into one area where we can educate people about THRIVE.”
Starting March 1, those interested will have a two-week window to submit a song. Submissions and information can be found through Project THRIVE’s website (mobilepd.org/projectthrive). After filling out an entry form, participants will then upload both their song and lyrics. To prevent any bias in the judging process, the only details associated with the submission will consist of its genre.
Those interested should visit the Project THRIVE website.
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