By DaLyah Jones 
Mentor: Art Levy

Austin is known as the live music capital of the world…for adults.

But where does that leave the underage artist? Meet Melissa Graham, the creator of 18Below, a group dedicated to grooming the next generation of Austin musicians.

18Below teams up with Austin venues to provide a safe environment for underage musicians to express themselves.

“If you don’t have money for a rock camp,” says Graham, “if you don’t have money for a music mentor, you really don’t have anything, and I want 18Below to be for everyone.”


Melissa Graham, executive director of 18Below.

Ariel Herrera, 19, is the singer for the band The Bare Feat.

Voices of 18Below

Gyasi Bonds, 15, drummer and vocalist for the band Charlie Belle: “18Below is great because it allows kids from Austin …  to play where they can’t normally play.”

Kat Whitlock, 16, singer for the bands Pantheon and Gypsy:  “[18Below is] really a no-judgment zone and it really encourages the kids to keep playing their music.”  

Ian McKinney (at right), 16, vocals and guitarist for the band Only Human: “I wouldn’t feel comfortable getting on stage with anybody else if it weren’t for 18Below.”

Nathan West, lead guitar for the band Skyline (pictured second from right): “You can’t just judge [musicians] by how old they are, but by the quality of their music.”

Sullivan Dildine (at left), 17, is the singer and the guitarist for the band Private Vandals: “It’s not so much [18Below is] literally giving me a lesson, it’s just kind of [a] baptism by fire … and that’s the best way to learn.”

Behind the Story: My Next Generation Radio experience

Many people learn lessons through many years of education, work, or even many years of life’s role for them. Out of the many lessons I’ve learned over the course of my 20-year life, I’ve learned this particular one in less than a week. I’ve been blessed enough in life to gain insight from some of the most influential. I honestly can’t tell you why I was chosen for the Next Generation Project, but I can honestly tell you I sent my application in with fingers crossed. I can tell you that when I got a confirmation email stating that I had been selected to participate in the project, I was not only surprised but also inspired.   

My Next Generation experience has exposed me to the many professionals and their vast knowledge of my future career. Of course it’s scary meeting people that you not only want to work for, but also it’s scary because you hope they see the potential that you know you have in yourself. Although these thoughts ran through my head, the most amazing thing happened as the week progressed. These same professionals that I felt apprehensive towards were the same ones who encouraged me to be better. Each of them brought a different characteristic and a different skill to the table that they were more than happy to share. 

It’s refreshing to be surrounded by so much knowledge and so much creativity. These incredible people have given me the ability to see the many ways that I can share the stories of others. To these professionals the mass media world is not just a skill that you can master, but it’s a passion. The passion to not only share a story, but share it in a way that others can connect with. I wish I could read into the lives of all these professionals and find out what drives them in their fields, and I wish I could spend more time learning from them. Although it may sound a little cliché, they have truly reawakened my need and my want to share the stories of others. It was never truly asleep, but they gave it that extra nudge it needed to keep going forward.