Kevin Richardson hopes others won’t have to follow his path to superstardom.
Richardson left his native Kentucky as a teenager for a job at Walt Disney World before auditioning for an Orlando, Fla.-based group that would eventually become the Backstreet Boys.
Now Richardson, 31, and childhood friend and songwriter Keith McGuffey have opened a music academy in downtown Louisville. Called The Music Workshop, its a catchall for performers, songwriters and producers seeking a career in music.
“When me and Keith were growing up in central Kentucky there wasn’t any real outlet for us. If we wanted to get information about the music industry we had to travel to get any real solid input,” Richardson said in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles.
The workshop will offer classes for anyone wanting to tweak the knobs on a sound board, strum a guitar or even negotiate a sweet royalty rate. McGuffey is a certified instructor for Pro Tools recording software, and will teach classes on digital recording and production equipment.
Eventually, the workshop will include a full recording studio, giving students the opportunity to learn how to record an album and how to get the music in the right hands.
“You’ll learn how to record a demo, how to shop a demo and who you need to get it to,” Richardson said. With an unsolicited tape, Richardson said, “ninety percent of the time it just goes in the trash.”
McGuffey also hopes to teach students how to avoid bad management and lopsided contracts.
“When someone offers you a contract and they say, ‘We’re gonna make your dreams come true, all you have to do is sign this contract,’ who’s not going to sign it,” McGuffey said. “They don’t realize until after they sold a few million albums that they don’t have any money and they’re still driving a beat-up Honda Civic.”
McGuffey, also 31, speaks from experience. As the rapper Trey D, he toured with the Backstreet Boys and played around the country. But he says bad contracts kept him from cashing in on his success.
“We’re trying to prevent people from becoming a ‘Behind The Music,'” McGuffey said, referring to the VH-1 series that documents the rise and fall – and sometimes rise again – of popular music acts.
The workshop was to begin accepting students in September. Classes will run for a few hours a day for between four and 12 weeks and cost $300-$450 per session, Richardson said.
Although the classes will be open to every age group, the program focuses more on teenagers, with Richardson hoping to build dormitories for out-of-state students and, even further down the road, get the courses accredited to count toward a college degree.
Richardson said the workshop will be for new talent rather than established artists, some of which have emerged from Kentucky in recent years.
Acts such as Tantric and the Nappy Roots, who scored a hip-hop hit with “Awnaw,” a funky ode to country living, have proven there is viable talent in Kentucky. R&B singer and writer Athena Cage, a Russellville native, has plans to open a recording studio in Bowling Green.
“Louisville has a budding rock scene right now,” Richardson said.
Richardson is currently starring in the San Francisco stage production of the musical “Chicago” as Billy Flynn, the role played by Richard Gere in the Oscar-winning film. He was in Louisville for the Aug. 1 grand opening of the academy, but will leave day-to-day operations to McGuffey, a Louisville resident.
Richardson will soon be going to London with “Chicago,” but his heart remains in Kentucky. “We don’t think people should have to go to Nashville or L.A. to make connections in the music industry,” he said.