On a cold, late November night, young teachers and even younger students of the Neighborhood Art & Music School in Frisco rolled their gear up to the stage of Lava Cantina. Parents began to fill up the seats to watch their children in the band Three at Four, comprised of NAMS attendees, take the stage.
The band opened up the night with a set of heavy-hitting covers as if they had done it a million times before. The rest of the night consisted of sets by local Dallas artists and bands like Bayleigh Cheek, the art instructor at NAMS, and PocketBook.
The mastermind of this whole operation was Levi Austin Bradford, owner of NAMS. Ten years after purchasing the business, the school has taught thousands of students about music, he says. However, it was not always his dream to be an educator.
Bradford’s first introduction to music was in middle school when he took up classical piano. He took lessons for about eight years. Eventually, he made the transition to drumline, which he stuck with throughout high school.
Along the way, he began toiling with guitars and basses in a way that was not so centered on jazz and his classical training.
While participating in his high school drumline, Bradford got involved with a mentorship program the district offered. It led him down the path of audio engineering.
After graduating, he became a studio-rat at The Yellow Room, a recording studio in Athens. He got connected with a man named Steven Patterson who worked at a church in the area. He allowed Bradford to live in an intern property for the couple of years he was there. Along with the keys to where he would be staying, Patterson gave him the keys to the studio.
“Now that whole studio is down in Houston, but that was really a building block for me there,” Bradford says.
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Having graduated in the Dallas area, and knowing he would soon be marrying his wife, Courtney, he decided to move back to Dallas-Fort Worth. Bradford knew a man named Steve Anderson in Frisco who owned a few guitar repair shops. He approached Anderson, who was set up in the current NAMS facility, to see about getting some part-time work in one of his shops.
The previous owners of the school, Matt Gaskins and Giovanni Bassan, happened to be there and asked him to become a teacher in their music education classes. This was an opportunity he had never considered but has proven to be the greatest gifts of life, he says. However, Bradford still had aspirations of becoming an audio engineer.
At 22, he decided to speak to the owners about renting the place to build a recording studio. He began working hard to put together a business plan that would appeal to them. After submitting the plan, months passed as he waited for a response.
Finally, when summer rolled around, he met with the owners to further discuss renting the space. They were talking at a local shop when the conversation took a turn. The owners asked Bradford if he wanted to purchase the business altogether.
“I had to put down my desires of being an audio engineer full-time in order to build up the fruits of music education,” he says. “It was an incredible challenge.”
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In a month’s time, Bradford went from being a freelance audio engineer without a steady paycheck to running his own business. The whole experience has acted as a growing-up mechanism, he says.
In the six years the school has been in Bradford’s name, he has converted two of the facility’s practice rooms into studios, where they have tracked thousands of songs.
The students who come through NAMS are met with a cool, laid-back environment, with an atmosphere reminiscent of a college dorm. The school does not operate on a curriculum-based lesson format. Each lesson is more like a blank slate, which is then made to cater to the student's need and skill set.
“It’s really open," Bradford says. "You can go and learn classical piano from one instructor and jump into the next room and be in a production lesson with a hip-hop producer. It varies a lot, but the core foundation of who is here is what makes this so special.”