Successful with projects such as "Song Dock": Sebastian Henzl and Danny Fresh
Mannheim knows its music. In the UNESCO City of Music one can study music – and learn about how the business works. Popakademie alumni Danny Fresh and Sebastian Henzl explain why Mannheim is the place to not only dream about music, but to really live it. The guys also explain how they are currently aiming for the stars, with their start-ups and their project “Song-Dock”.
Danny, you were one of the first graduate students of the Popakademie. Correct?
Danny Fresh: I began my Bachelor program in 2003. It was the first year of the Popakademie in general. This three-year degree program was called “Pop Music Design”. In 2007, a year after graduating, I made my comeback as a guest lecturer. My course dealt with songwriting. Aside from that I give training seminars for music teachers, and seminars on starting up as a professional musician. In the end I switched sides once again, and completed my Masters as an “Educating Artist”. This suggested itself, as I was giving countless rap-workshops in schools and youth centers.
Sebastian, what is your Popakademie story?
Sebastian Henzl: Just like Danny I studied Pop Music Design. I started in 2009, majoring as a Keyboard player. After graduating I began touring and that is what I have been doing ever since.
You guys are residents over in the start-up center Musikpark, in the Jungbusch waterfront district. So you are immediate neighbors of the Popakademie. What are you working on at the moment?
Danny: Two years ago I decided to give up rapping. Once you hit 40, the likelihood of breaking through as a newcomer is just not that high anymore. I had to ask myself how I would continue my career in the music business. This question seemed like a great starting point for a lecture at the Popakademie – following the slogan “Wir waren mal Stars”, by German rapper Torch, which translates to: “We were once stars”.
So you reinvented yourself professionally via the start-up?
Indeed! The Musikpark start-up center offers ideal conditions to set up a production office. My firm “Raise Your Voice Productions” is active in several different fields. We do team-building events and incentives for businesses, as well as master-classes for professional vocalists, which I manage together with my wife Laura Bellon. Aside from that we also offer services for the consumer sector. This includes workshops for anyone interested in music production and rapping. This goes far beyond what is offered at any normal music school. You could say we provide music communication 2.0. Anyone interested in learning more can visit www.raiseyourvoice.de. The website is still being built, but should be up and running shortly. Another thing I am working on is the “news-rap” for bigFM radio. This is a political radio broadcast in form of rap, which is recorded once a week.
Sebastian, you are a professional musician and have also developed a new business model. Tell us more.
Sebastian: At the moment I play Keyboard for several different acts, including Frida Gold, Madeline Juno and Maite Kelly of the Kelly Family. In 2019 I will be playing a string of large gigs with Maite. If I’m not on the road touring, I spend my time songwriting and producing. I share a studio in the Musikpark with Steffen Baumann, who is the head of the Music Commission Mannheim. This is where I work on the “Song-Dock” project.
Tell us how “Song-Dock” works.
We invite an artist, three producers and up to twelve songwriters. Over the course of three days we will write and compose songs. The process is fascinating and the team is great. Danny Fresh is on board as well. We’ve worked with Laith Al-Deen and also Henning Wehland of H-Blockx. It’s a really colorful mix of genres, including artists from the world of German pop music. We’ve got some big names in the pipeline, but I won’t get into that until things are finalized. It’s really cool to see artists minds blown, when they leave here after three days, with tailormade songs. They can hardly believe that we can make this happen here in Mannheim.
Danny, what is your role in “Song-Dock”? Are you there to battle it out with the pop artists?
Danny: What I love about the project is leaving my comfort zone and really getting involved in other artists ways of working. It’s a real challenge to see oneself as more of a service provider. I will often start things by writing a few rhymes on the subject at hand. The dynamic is very unique, as we write these songs on the spot, to match a certain artists style. It’s a real treat to see Sebastian work with melodies. Some artists need a certain image in their mind to get going. Others might already have lyrics or a story prepared. In any case Sebastian will contribute just the right melody, regardless of what style or genre we are operating in. It’s this pool of creative energy that really excites me about the project.
You both live in Mannheim. What led you to live here?
Sebastian: I come from Würzburg. I grew up there and visited school there, with a focus on music. I come from the world of classical music, and am currently working on a project with the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, which is a cross-over story involving a band. Before I came to the Popakademie, I studied computer science in Erlangen for a year. After two semesters I knew it wasn’t for me. I took a shot in Mannheim, without any real expectations, and surprisingly it worked out right away.
Danny: I come from the Stuttgart area, the district of Böblingen, to be exact. After I was accepted to the Popakademie in 2003, I have lived in Mannheim. I have always wanted to become socially involved. Through my masters thesis on “language support and non-violent communication”, I have been able to make a real social contribution. The project has become very successful, and by now it is supported by the Sepp Herberger Foundation, as well as the Klangstiftung Mannheim.
How’s life in Mannheim?
Sebastian: Mannheim is often seen as a working-class city. I think this is quite on point, as people here really get work done. Things are happening here, things are in constant movement. When in Mannheim I always want to get to work and push my projects ahead. In Mannheim things get done, and the vibe is really unique: get into things and push them through! Musicians from other cities don’t know this kind of energy.
Danny: I love the network in Mannheim. People know each other and pursue projects together. You will constantly run into people you know, and who you know you can work well together. New interesting people are always arriving here, and there is always a cooperation waiting to happen. The close proximity of Musikpark and Popakademie is very beneficial. Through my lecturing activities I am always involved in the scene, and its development. The Popakademie is a musical seismometer. This is what makes Mannheim so interesting to me.
Sebastian: Being so close to the Popakademie is great for us. It allows us to recruit fresh talent for “Song-Dock”. If I have the time, I try to visit the “Work In Progress Club”. It is here that students meet up once a month, to get on stage and perform the songs they are working on. This window to their current creative process has offered me some great discoveries from time to time.
What are your plans for 2018? What’s cooking in the Musikpark?
Sebastian: I’m really excited to see where things go with the start-up “Edda Minor”, which I am developing together with Julia Kröhnert. She is a very talented and versatile singer and songwriter, who many may know as a duet partner of Roland Kaiser. We aim to offer completely unique customized songs for private individuals, for special occasions. The idea was to create the first professional song manufacturing business in Germany. Be it for birthdays, baby showers or weddings – we write the fitting songs, together with our clients, and record them professionally. If the client wishes we will also perform the music live with a band. The project is very rewarding for everyone involved.
Danny: I’m all about live streaming at the moment. Beginning in July, I will be streaming the creative process behind the bigFM news-rap, every Thursday, live from my studio in the Musikpark. This is nice, as it offers listeners a glimpse behind the scenes. In the summer I have planned a two-week songwriting camp, which will involve some exciting guest musicians, and will be streamed via Twitch. I am very excited to allow people from all over, to be part of the creative process. I am very interested to see where this might lead. Knowing Mannheim, I imagine things might become amazing!
Interview: Andreas Stanita / LA.MAG
Photos: Claus Morgenstern