PJ Olsson recording ‘Rock Camp’ artists

HOUGHTON – The annual PJ Olsson’s Rock Camp experience stretches out over two weeks in the summer. But if Olsson has his way, it will become year-round.

Olsson is creative director of the annual Rock Camp, which began in 2009 and includes two weeks of practices leading up to a concert.

Now Olsson is branching out into recording original songs by Rock Camp members.

Olsson first recorded the duo of Marya Julio and Daphne Maki. Wynter Bethel had the next session, with Rachel Kauppila to follow. Eventually, Olsson said, he’d like to record all the Rock Camp members who have original songs.

“It keeps Rock Camp fresh and shows that we’ve got a lot of talent around here,” he said. “It’s not just people playing cover music, but as well, these kids write original music and it’s really great. I think it’s really important that they record it and put it out.”

For Bethel’s recent session, Olsson chose “Pink Floyd,” the second song she ever wrote. Though she’s since written about 150, it’s one both she and Olsson really like.

Bethel, a senior at Houghton High School, describes her sound as “organic pop.” She first recorded vocals and piano, using a Steinway on the Rozsa Center stage. They then moved on to percussion tracks, experimenting with different sounds.

“It’s gone by really fast,” she said, listening to drumming on the stage from the control room. “We’ve only been here for four hours. But it’s really fun.”

At that moment, Olsson, who was in the control room, turned to Bethel: “What do you think? Brushes?”

Bethel nodded yes.

Though Bethel had recorded at home, this was her first time in a professional setting. She said she’s also fortunate to work with Olsson, who’s allowing her some control over the process.

Bethel had performed “Pink Floyd” at the 2010 Rock Camp with a vocal and piano arrangement. But the recording session introduced percussion. Without a set idea, they were free to search for what sound they wanted. Sometimes that was accomplished with dialogues from the control room. Other times it meant walking downstairs to the stage to work out the arrangement, with Bethel playing the piano and Henry Ashburn on drums.

“This is when PJ has his idea and I have my idea,” Bethel said. “We talk about it and we decide what’s going to sound best.”

“Sometimes we just guess and see if it works or not,” she said, laughing.

Bethel said she will work through CDBaby, an online independent music site, to release the song digitally. It may also be available on Amazon Music or iTunes.

In addition to recording the songs, Olsson would also like to teach children how to make videos and copyright and register their music.

It fits Bethel, who plans to go to Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., next year to study commercial music. Primarily a songwriter, she’s also interested in engineering, production and even management.

“I think just for me, it’s about the product, it’s about the creative and the technical side,” she said. “As far as the music I create, I’ve always wanted it to be more about the music than myself as an artist or my persona.”

Eventually, Olsson said, he’d like to build Rock Camp into a year-round school for creative development. Children would be able to run their own record label, as well as make movies and documentaries.

“That’s what I really want to do, where a kid can pay a fee and come in every night and work and be let alone, but if every once in a while where they need something to be better, we’re there to help them,” he said.