MUS alumna and Urban Knights Radio host on applying what she’s learned
By Erasmo Guerra
Stormy Montana has loved music since she was a kid. “I was a little bit of a ham and a little entertainer,” said the Academy of Art University School of Music Production and Sound Design for Visual Media (MUS) alumna (B.F.A. ’18). In a recent interview, speaking by phone from Dresden, Tennessee, where she was born and raised (and has lived for so long, she joked, “I’m part of the furniture here”), Montana recalled her early start in music: “My great aunt gave me this cheap old toy guitar with steel strings that I played until my fingers bled.” At which point, her aunt said, “This kid needs to know how to do this right.” So Montana started taking lessons at age six and by the time she was nine, she was putting in studio time.
Dresden is a tiny town. According to Montana, it has a population of “3500 on a good day,” and it’s located two-and-a-half hours west of Nashville, three hours north of Memphis. Or, as she summed it up, “the musical armpit of the country.” And while Montana claimed, “I got my dad’s temper and I got my momma’s mouth,” she also seems to have taken some of her mom’s musical flair—or, not. It’s a long-running family joke, Montana said, that she started singing “so that my mom would stop.”
Her mom, in fact, worked in the music industry as a lighting director for a number of legendary acts, working as a roadie for concerts that toured the south, from Texas to Florida. She ran the follow spot for superstar acts such as REO Speedwagon, the Doobie Brothers, Cheap Trick, Sammy Hagar, and Billy Joel.
Montana shared that growing up near the two important music meccas “made it fun for an artist in the field.” As a young musician, she worked on small demos and bigger projects, she played live shows and recorded a full album by the time she was a freshman in high school.
As a result of her budding career, Montana was homeschooled and graduated early. She took a year off from starting college to pursue music. And when it came time to return to her studies, she looked into traditional conservatories such as Berklee in Boston and quickly realized, she said, “No way to play a fiddle about it, I was not going to be doing opera, or Mozart, or Bach.” She had a local option—Belmont University in nearby Nashville—but when she found the Academy, she was drawn by the school’s practical approach. “It wasn’t just reading and theory,” she said. “It was hands-on experience pretty much right out of the gate. You’re actually learning something.”
Montana began classes in the fall of 2012 as a part-time online student. She noted the extensive one-on-ones she had with her instructors (professionals who had worked extensively in the field), and credits them for the way they made her feel welcomed. As the self-described “token redneck” in the class, she said, “They allowed me to be myself.” She added that instructors like MUS Director Brad Hughes and School of Communications and Media Technology (COM) instructor Matty Staudt, have been encouraging and generous. “Anytime there was something I could improve on, they never slapped it down and said, ‘No, this isn’t good enough.’ They learn about their students, where they’re coming from, and give them an informed critique and feedback to help them improve and hit what they’re going for. They invest themselves in learning what each student is trying to do.
Ultimately, Montana said she’d like to become what she called a “one-man wrecking crew”—someone who does it all: writes, produces, and records. For instance, one COM class that focused on podcasting launched an idea that she adapted into an UrbanKnightsRadio.com show she hosted called “In the Round.” Montana spoke about songwriters, their work, and the stories behind the lyrics. The show was based off the kind of live shows that happen in Nashville and Austin, where venues host songwriters who bring in an instrument and take turns performing their songs and talking about the stories behind them. Montana had grown up attending shows like these but had never heard them on the radio. She felt a show like this would give listeners a deeper connection to the music they listen to.
A different COM class turned her on to video production, which she fell in love with, and has since launched her own company, Hicks’ Hollow Productions, where she works with local businesses and independent artists in Dresden to create branding and marketing content. “I take what I learned and apply it to my own career but also to create a business that really helps other businesses in the community,” she said, having produced, shot, and edited content ranging from corporate training videos to wedding shoots.
Montana’s last day of class was in late December 2018, but unlike the year after her high school graduation, she’s taking no time off before enrolling in MUS’ graduate program. “I’ve always loved school,” she admitted. “So long as I’m learning something and don’t feel like it’s just busy work or just for the sake of getting a paper.” She said she loves the experience of being in class—even an online class—“engaging with fellow students, bouncing ideas around.”