Wilmington’s Jason Ashby and Kennon Young just closed entries for their first original song contest on Sunday via their MicTurn app. With 59 entries (and the nonprofit 100 Men Who Care in Wilmington matching each $5 entry donation with $10), they raised $590 for Meals For Heroes. “Nothing crazy but it feels great to give back in any way,” Ashby says.
Submissions were open from April 20 to May 3 for the pilot contest, with entries coming from Florida, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Michigan. The majority of artists who recorded and submitted videos through MicTurn are from Wilmington, including well-known local acts like Jesse Stockton, Stray Local, Kyle Lindley and Emily Eleton. A panel of judges will determine the winners, with first place receiving $300 (as well as the choice to become a judge in an upcoming contest), while second place receives $150, and third, $50.
In an effort to connect musicians with industry professionals and leaders, MicTurn’s first panel of judges comprised Trent Harrison, owner of Wilmington’s Hourglass Studios, and his wife/co-owner of Live At Ted’s, Whitney Lanier; local musician Matthew Magne of Stationwagon; L.A. songwriter Aja Hashian; and singer-songwriter Merris Grant from Blowing Rock’s Handlebar Betty band.
Judging ends on May 10 at midnight, and winners will be announced on May 11 on MicTurn’s socials and, more importantly, on the app. “There are two options to find out who the winners are,” Young explains. “Users of the app can click into the contest and look for a button that says ‘Round 1 Results.’ The results screen provides a comprehensive list of performances and their ranking amongst the pack, based on the ‘average judge vote.’”
Young and Ashby have plans already cooking for upcoming contests, too. They’re working with Tim Litchfield of Piedmont One Mic Acoustic Convention Fiddle Festival in North Carolina (canceled due to COVID-19) for a fiddle contest. encore caught up with music lovers Ashby and Young to learn more about what’s to come from MicTurn.
encore (e): Who first came up with the concept for this app, and what kinds of iterations were there before landing on the current version of MicTurn?
Kennon Young (KY): Jason originally had the idea of an online live open-mic app where musicians could gather in a digital “venue” together and take turns performing a song; hence the name MicTurn. We worked together as software developers at Tek Mountain, and because of our shared love of music and building software, we decided to create MicTurn.
Jason Ashby (JA): We wanted to address the massive gap in the music world where independent artists are struggling to get their music heard, make money and get connected to music-industry professionals. We ultimately decided to focus on song contests, where we could hand out prizes and bring in industry professional judges to help discover awesome talent and build fruitful connections, while still keeping a live feel to the music.
e: Jason, you’re a musician, but are you both musically inclined. Tell us about each of your connections with music and Wilmington’s local music community.
JA: I’ve been playing music for about 20 years. I play guitar, banjo and keys, and have a few other instruments around the house I make noise with. When I lived in Maryland, I played and recorded with bands of various styles, ranging from Americana to funk to bluegrass.
When I attended ECU, I played guitar for the ECU jazz band and hooked up with some local cover bands. Music definitely got in the way of my computer science studies, but I eventually figured it all out.
As far as here in Wilmington, I play out solo, but having a full-time job and a family [means] I only get out to play a few gigs a year. I’ve played at Fermental, Live at Ted’s and Flytrap Brewing. The Penguin occasionally plays one of my songs called “Moonlight and Gin.”
KY: I am a subpar musician at best. However, I have always had a passion for music, and an admiration for the people who create it. I attend shows all around Wilmington. Some of my favorite venues are Greenfield Lake Amphitheater and Pier 33.
e: Any favorite entries so far for the spring contest?
KY: We’ve been absolutely blown away at the raw talent, passion and honesty in the original songs the songwriters have entered. You get chills watching some of the videos and they just move you. Videos are open to the public to view via MicTurn.
JA: Unfortunately, we can’t say what our favorites are, in order to keep the judges unbiased and fair for all entrants. Anyone can check out the leaderboard on the app to see what the judges have rated highest so far, including local Wilmington musicians Jesse Stockton, Stray Local, Kyle Lindley and Emily Eleton. You can also see a list of the judges involved and their bios.
e: People can apply to be a judge—who are you looking for? Can judges return or do you prefer a new batch for each contest?
JA: We look for any sort of music industry professional, like songwriters, producers, record execs, etc.—anyone who can offer constructive criticism to make the musician better at what they do, and potentially help them get their foot in the door. It’s also very important the judges align with our vision of helping the indie music community. For contest winners, we also offer the opportunity to be a judge in a future contest.
KY: We plan to stay in touch with all previous judges and will offer another judging opportunity if the contest is a good fit.
e: How do you envision the connections with industry professionals coming to fruition—studio time being offered? Are current judges taking note of performers to connect with? If so, how?
KY: In general, we do not make any promises on connections, but we encourage our judges to connect privately with anyone they’ve felt moved by. However, we will explicitly offer prizes in certain contests for studio time, performance slots at festivals/venues, co-writing a song with a professional songwriter, etc.
e: Are there performance parameters?
KY: Only parameters for the current contest: Entrant must be the author or co-author of the song and time limit is 5 minutes
JA: In the future, we may need to limit or categorize by experience, in order to have a more level playing field, like assigning experience points . . . but we are still understanding what people want and figuring out what will work.
e: Will there be another nonprofit beneficiary next go around?
JA: We would love to continue incorporating a charity as a beneficiary to our contests, whether that’s through a sponsor pledge or a cut of the proceeds.
e: While this was launched during a pandemic, how do you anticipate the use of the app changing—or not—once we get back to normal?
KY: We were working on MicTurn before the pandemic hit, but with musicians and music lovers quarantined at home and looking for a musical outlet it was (unfortunately) a good time to launch. We don’t anticipate things changing, other than continuing to grow and help many more artists get rewarded for their hard work.
e: Any long-term goals or visions you’d like to eventually roll out? Anything else you’d like to add?
KY: With the current contest, it’s a single round: people submit a video they record on their phone right from the MicTurn app and the judges vote on the winners. We are working on incorporating a live, interactive round two. So picture the top 10 finalists from round one all coming together on a given night to perform live, all from their home via MicTurn, in front of judges and broadcast live over the internet. It’s like an “American Idol” or “The Voice” that’s more convenient and accessible for both the performer and audience.
JA: We are also opening up MicTurn for others to host their own contests. We want to see more niche contests like beatboxing, spoken word poetry, specific artist cover song contests, e.g. Elton John covers, stand-up comedy, painting … you name it. There’s so much talent out there that deserves some attention and we hope to help make some dreams happen.