Soulful R&B artist, songwriter and educator Jason Jet is adding a new occupation to his prodigious list of accomplishments: studio owner. GrindHaus Studios, Jet’s new recording facility that’s set to open on Jan. 23, has been described as a creative oasis for all, a concept inspired by the co-working spaces that have shot up around Charlotte.
“Grind together. Grind better,” reads the motto on the studio’s website. It’s an encapsulation of Jet’s concept of GrindHaus as a reasonably priced plug-and-play facility for musicians.
“When an artist or producer comes in, they’ll bring their laptop and we have everything else — microphones, headphones, speakers and a cool work space that’s not your living room,” says Jet.
He feels the GrindHaus experience can spark creative ideas for his target market, musicians who don’t have the optimal situation or the right gear to create at home, and who can’t afford to cut tracks at high-end Charlotte studios.
“[You can] spend $90 an hour to do a recording that you may or may not get to sound the way you want it to, because you couldn’t spend enough time,” Jet offers. In contrast, GrindHaus offers monthly memberships where artists can come in every week to work on their projects at affordable rates.
“Say you want 20 hours a month, that might look like $200 or $250 a month,” Jet says. “You can do the math in your head. That’s hella savings compared to going anywhere else.”
In addition to catering to artists’ recording needs, the multi-purpose facility will also host events like production classes and songwriting workshops. All of this will launch between Jan. 16-23.
“That’s opening week” Jet says. The first day will welcome family and friends, and the following days will host press and industry personnel.
“The final day, January 23, we’re going to be open to the public — and all artists that want to come work.”
Because GrindHaus is launching in the midst of a pandemic, private tours are scheduled throughout opening day with no more than 10 guests per hour, with 30-minute cleaning sessions between tours. Jet’s also keeping his eye on coronavirus infection rates, which have continued to rise sharply in North Carolina and Mecklenburg County, and is prepared to switch to an online launch if he feels it’s necessary.
It’s been a whirlwind effort for Jet, who first made waves in the Queen City and regionally with his debut album Love Boulevard in 2010. With the collection’s title song, Jet created and launched a genre that he coined electric soul — smooth and tuneful pop that tethers Afrofuturism’s digital pulse to the organic heartbeat of gospel.
Success came swiftly. Jet opened for Anthony Hamilton at the Fillmore Charlotte. Six months after releasing his debut, he garnered accolades including the New York Urban Music Explosion Award and the Carolina Music Award for Best New R&B artist.
Jet also branched out into education, spearheading Young Icons, a series of workshops and summer camps he launched to mentor youth and teach them how to create music and write songs.
It’s this kind of energy and dedication that once prompted R&B artist and Charlotte native Hamilton to call Jet the “next best thing to come out of Charlotte.”
Jet, who turned 34 in July, is continuing his musical and mentoring pursuits, but he has added a new facet to his artistry as owner and operator of his community studio, working steadily to get his new venture up and running
“I’ve been a full-blown construction worker for the last six months,” Jet says with a chuckle.
Welcome to GrindHaus
It’s a crisp Sunday morning in east Charlotte as Jet takes Queen City Nerve on a tour of GrindHaus, which is taking shape amid a buzz of activity. A group of Jet’s friends are tidying a sunny room at the end of a long and narrow arched hallway.
“This is one of my favorite rooms,” Jet says. “We call it ‘the calm.’”
The cozy space is the facility’s podcast room, and it’s getting spruced up before artist and Emmy Award-winning poet and author Boris “Bluz” Rogers arrives to interview Jet for Bluz’s “Poetitup” podcast.
There’s still much to be done before then. Photographer Jess Dailey takes a short break from documenting the studio build and relaxes in a hammock chair suspended in the calm room. Jet discusses construction details with friend and collaborator Cupid Omalari. The two men, along with their construction team, have built GrindHaus from the ground up, Jet says.
“Cupid is the brains behind the design and the curves,” Jet says as he points to the corridor’s arched ceiling. “This tunnel right here, that’s all Cupid.”
Several co-working spaces branch off from the hallway. Just past the front lobby is the gallery, a room designated for small projects.
Acoustic panels line the chamber to baffle sound but otherwise the white walls are bare. Jet hopes to fill empty spaces in this and other rooms with works by Charlotte’s visual artists, making work spaces do double duty as galleries.
Far more fanciful is the jam room, just down the hall. Above a work desk is a framed Chicago Bulls basketball jersey, Michael Jordan’s iconic No. 23. Nearby is a Nintendo console and an old-school cathode-ray tube TV. Soon, the underside of the work desk is going to be lined with neon lights.
“We wanted this room to feel like a 1980s teenager’s bedroom,” Jet says regarding the jersey. “Now I’ve got to get [Jordan] to sign it, don’t I?”
We enter the live room across the hall. “This room is going to be where we cut vocals,” Jet says. The space, separated from a control room by a pane of plexiglass, resembles a studio floor with mic stands and inputs for audio cables. The room is dedicated for live-streaming concerts and is large enough to accommodate a band.
“You see all the online concerts that people are doing? The one thing that a lot of them are lacking is good sound quality,” Jet says.
The live room, designed to be a virtual concert venue, is wired to alleviate that problem.
We head next door, to the other side of the plexiglass, into the control room, which Jet calls the main skybox. All the rooms we have visited are routed back to the skybox and its 64-channel mixer, he says.
“If I wanted to cut a big band, I could put several musicians in each room. They could play at the same time, and we could record it,” Jet offers. “This is where the music happens. It’s the mothership.”
The live room and skybox can also be used for cutting vocals. For the past decade, recording professional-sounding vocals has been a hallmark of Jet’s production style.
That wasn’t always the case. Jet started making beats when he was 10 years old, after his father gave him his first computer and his first digital audio software, Cakewalk Pro Audio. Beats and songwriting came easy, but Jet says vocals were his Achilles heel all throughout high school.
“I was producing music, but I never really trusted my voice,” Jet remembers. “I [didn’t] allow myself to sing freely.”
Then he left Charlotte to attend Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida, where he studied the technical side of music making. Jet’s extracurricular activities involved playing keyboards and singing in two bands. Playing live, he started to build confidence in his voice.
“[The bands] were good,” Jet says, “but I felt like I could do something a little spicier and funkier on my own.”
Jet’s father, who wrote, produced, recorded and released several gospel, R&B and smooth jazz albums as Terrence Jones, encouraged and inspired his son.
“Watching him do [his] albums — that sparked a lot of initiative for me,” Jet remembers.
With his first EP, The Great Escape, Jason Jet further developed his electric soul sound — futuristic-but-organic tunes that suggest the love child of Pharrell Williams and SZA. By 2014, Jet’s smooth grooves made him an in-demand producer.
Out of 20 artists he produced that year, only four or five were cutting songs, but they weren’t releasing the tunes. That concerned Jet. As a producer, and an accomplished pianist, guitarist and drummer, it was easy for Jet to create whatever sound he wished, but it wasn’t what the artists wanted.
“I learned how to figure out what story the artist [is] trying to tell,” Jet says. “What do they need from me to help them tell that story better and clearer?”
A producer creates trust when he listens to what the artist needs and tries to give it to them, Jet asserts. But at the same time, the producer can contribute their own style to the product without overpowering the artist.
Jet cites his recent work producing R&B crooner Dexter Jordan’s two albums, Blue and follow-up Dexterity. While Jet kept the songs’ focus on Jordan’s limpid melodies and velvety voice, he also introduced the singer to different types of vocal harmonies, and created new melodies that hadn’t occurred to Jordan.
“I wanted to hear everything Jordan had to say first,” Jet says. “I wanted him to put himself into it totally, and then I went in and did all the extra stuff.”
Jason Jet will bring his experience to production classes, but says he will not be the only one heading up workshops and seminars at GrindHaus. In fact, until recently, Jet was doing most of his production work in the house where he grew up. Sharing the home with his wife Diyasha, son Asayah and daughter Aniyah, it became clear that it was time to move on.
As the family prepared to sell the house, Jet started looking for a single room to work out of. As luck would have it, he found the future GrindHaus space while picking up product for Say It Ain’t Vegan, his wife’s company located in the building next door on Latrobe Drive in east Charlotte.
Jet fell in love with the space. Even though it was more than he needed, Jet had wanted to open a multi-purpose studio since he was in middle school. He took the discovery as a sign to follow his dreams. The money Jet got from selling his house went toward paying for studio construction.
Paying it forward
The studio’s opening has pushed some of Jason Jet’s other projects to the back burner, but he hasn’t abandoned them completely.
In 2020, Young Icons switched to nonprofit status, but the program didn’t operate over the summer due to COVID-19, Jet reveals. In 2021, Jet will bring the program back.
There will be summer sessions, as well as additional programming throughout the year in which children will learn about production and writing and recording songs. Although Jet would prefer to run the program live because it excites and motivates the children, he’s also prepared to present it virtually.
Although the nonprofit Young Icons and the for-profit GrindHaus are two separate entities, there is some spill-over, Jet admits. Some former Young Icons students are planning to intern at GrindHaus.
“It’s really cool to see them progress,” Jet says. “They’re coming back to pay it forward.”
Jet had also recorded and completed an album that he planned to release in May, before studio preparation ramped up. Now the album is slated for a May 2021 release.
“I think it’s going to be better because I get to revisit the songs,” Jet says, adding that the improved facilities will only mean improved songs.
Jet decided to release one track off the album in June. “Numb,” accompanied by a video shot on Lake Wylie, features Dennis Reed Jr. and Johnny Abraham J. The song addresses how Black men react to rampant racism and violence in America.
“Black men and Black fathers are being numb to society and the way it’s been all these years,” Jet offers. He feels retreat and escape from strife and systemic oppression is understandable, but unhealthy.
The song points to a deeper motivation Jet has for launching GrindHaus. Opening up avenues of expression can help us deal with fractious times, and the ensuing conversations can point to solutions.
Although he wants the GrindHaus concept to grow into a “YMCA for creatives,” housing 15 to 20 workspaces in facilities spread across the country, Jet’s not just spurred by that sort of ambition.
By creating a local space where artists feel comfortable enough to create, Jet feels he’s addressing flawed perspectives and stigmas about the music industry — and Black artists. He plans to make the studio a professional and inspiring facility.
“All the artists I’ve worked with in my home, they specifically came to me because of the energy that I had in my house,” Jet says. “I want to bring that same energy here to a professional space where I can market what I do.”
As long as his heart and mind are in the right place, Jet feels the marketing will be successful.
“In creating a community, we’re allowing creatives to share their experiences and their knowledge,” Jet says. “That makes it a lot more organic.”
And organic things are much more liable to grow.
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