The Ultimate Masterclass: A Conversation with the 1500 Sound Academy’s Co-Founders
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KAI BYRD
Larrance “Rance” Dopson's climb to the top might best be described as the quintessential “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” cliché. As the founder and CEO of 1500 or Nothin', a trailblazing musician collective full of the top record producers, songwriters, musicians, and music videographers, including none other than famed producer, singer, and songwriter James Fauntleroy, II, Dopson has helped steer this dynamic organization as they write the new rules for success. In an industry long acknowledged as cutthroat and full of unsavory characters, 1500 or Nothin' stands out in a class all their own.
“If I were to explain 1500, we're like the X-Men when it comes to entertainment and music,” says Dopson. “It's a conglomerate of talented people that grew up together from church that learned a lot of the rules together, and as we got a little older, we learned to break some of those rules.” Fauntleroy remembers the early days of the collective's church band origins at none other than West Angeles COGIC, one of the largest Black churches in Los Angeles. “I sang publicly for the first time when I was 15 years old, and when I saw the reaction from the people, I decided that singing was my life. After that, I went to church and got a lot out of it.”
After visiting a few area churches in Los Angeles County, it wasn't long before Fauntleroy found himself at a West Angeles music event where he met Dopson and the rest of the 1500 crew. During these early days, they had become known as the premier traveling church band, playing at area revivals and church events all over LA. “Larrance asked me to sing background for this [Bobby Valentino, 'Slow Down'] gig, and it turned out to be the first 1500 gig ever.” With five members who desperately needed money, Dopson told Valentino, “You've got to give us $300 each since we're a five-piece band. $1500 or nothing.” From this initial handshake deal, 1500 or Nothin' was born.
Since that 2005 gig, the band has gone on to work with just about everyone in the industry. Recognized for his incredible voice and exemplary songwriting skills, Fauntleroy individually found success quickly. “That first [Bobby Valentino] song was in 2005, and I had a hit song [on Chris Brown's album] two years later. I became the first person in the group to have that level of success.” A heavily awarded musician and director in his own right, Dopson started off playing for Snoop Dogg. “That changed my whole life. I did seven world tours with him.” In the years since, 1500, collectively has collaborated with everybody who's anybody in music: Kendrick Lamar, The Game, Puff, Jay-Z, Roddy Ricch, Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo, Lucky Daye, Saweetie, Ella Mae, Rihanna, Nipsey Hussle, Drake, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, and Beyoncé are just a fraction of the artists that have worked closely with the band. “We're on TV shows now,” shares Dopson. “We just did a Calvin Klein show three days ago.”
For those in the know, 1500 or Nothin' is the go-to resource to take your music to the next level. With dozens of awards under their belts, including 20+ Grammys, they live up to the hype. “We're an acquired taste when you want to work with us. It comes with swag and experience because everybody has their own character on stage,” explains Dopson. “We've been doing this so long we know how to create the right energy with the crowd.” Never one to hoard all the resources and happy to share great opportunities, by 2018, Dopson and Fauntleroy had identified the next step in 1500's steady progression: partnering to create the 1500 Sound Academy.
Headquartered in Inglewood, California, in the same area the band started nearly 20 years earlier, the 1500 Sound Academy is a music education institution that strives to produce passionate sound creators through mentorship, positive mindsets, and professional development. This state-of-the-art music school offers a six-month commitment of comprehensive courses in music production, mixing, songwriting, musicianship, business management, entrepreneurship, and Artist Branding to aspiring professionals. “It's a 35,000 square foot facility, the X-Men School for the best creatives in the world. It's for people that know how to shift culture and believe in themselves,” says Dopson.
Ninety percent of the instructors are celebrities and people who work in the industry daily. With tuition priced at just over $12,000, and scholarships available via Facebook, YouTube, Physio, and Fender, among others, this academy costs a mere fraction of both the time and money a traditional, four-year institution demands, with a much higher rate of success. The Academy has plans to offer free tuition to all its students within the coming months. “I'm really focusing on as many ways, programs, collaborators, and companies as possible to generate opportunities for anybody that's willing to learn and be exposed,” says Fauntleroy.
When designing the course offerings, Fauntleroy pulled on his own experiences to help craft something truly unique. “I had an office at a marketing agency for years where I was studying how they put together their presentation decks and stuff,” shares Fauntleroy. “I had always been interested in web design and design in general, but I was really learning the Adobe Creative Suite, coding, and all these other things that I personally thought were supplemental to the important work we're doing. At that time, I hadn't met another person like me that wanted to take the time to learn all this other software and information to get their ideas across.”
Many students enter the school with one goal in mind before changing their minds after becoming exposed to a world of opportunities they didn't know existed. “Some people go, wanting to be a superstar and turn out to be a coding expert or a music supervisor… the whole point of the school is to teach you how to be unemployable, that the only thing someone can do is license your thoughts,” Dopson shares. “To get to that point, you have to learn the rules and break the rules, understand human behavior, and understand so many other things. While [much of this] has nothing to do with music, you still have to be a bad motherf*er in music,” he says with a laugh. Fauntleroy adds, “Things always look like they just happen, but it really was years of intense study of all this different software to communicate [this Academy] idea.”
Both are thrilled at the success the Music Academy has seen thus far. Multiple facilities are popping up across the country, and the growth is pacing at record speed. Currently, the duo is focused on completing Phase 2 of construction at their Inglewood headquarters. “That's where it's going to be like Silicon Valley. We will have the entertainment business, the NFL, and the NBA all in one building. We will call those students Cultural Coders,” says Dopson. Fauntleroy has yet to see their recipe duplicated. “I haven't seen anybody else today, including my colleagues, who can really design software and have a conversation with me about what's inside. That's what's innovative about what we are doing.”
The goal is to make the industry more accessible to those coming in, and Fauntleroy is proud of the impact they're making. “The Academy is my number one priority and passion because everyone that's in the music business has had such a rough road, so I really am passionate about making it easier for someone else. I want to make it easier for everybody that's considered marginalized, but specifically, people of color and women because of the stuff I've seen…” he shares as his voice cryptically trails off. With roughly 100 students who have graduated from the program in just over two years, Dopson's proudest moment is always graduation day. “They give their testimonials of how it changed their life... three of our students were homeless while they were going to our school and we didn't even know...hearing their stories and seeing where they are now is truly the best feeling.”
The local reception to the 1500 Sound Academy has been nothing short of exceptional. Inglewood has gone so far as to give 1500 a holiday! “We have our official 1500 Day on January 15. The mayor comes out, and we have a big celebration,” explains Dopson. Mayor James Butts selected January 15th to commemorate the famous band, a quiet nod to MLK Jr's day of birth. “We have the whole hood come, from tech people to venture capitalists to just people from our community to gangsters... everybody. This is the one time we celebrate unity and change for the better.” This year, 1500 is planning a massive celebration on Friday, January 14th, at The Novo downtown. “Everybody we've worked with is going to be there. It's going to be like a Summer Jam!” When it comes to the upcoming 2022 Superbowl festivities that Los Angeles will be hosting this winter, Dopson advises, “Keep an eye out on our Instagram!”
In the meantime, when Fauntleroy and Dopson are looking to take a break from their busy Academy and recording schedules, they look no further than their own backyards, since both are LA natives. “I love My Two Cents, so good!” exclaims Fauntleroy. “I love Leimert Park too, everything in there.” He pauses. “I used to go to Project Blowed when I was rapping all the time, rap in the streets, in the middle of the night…” referencing his past love and skills as a battle rapper in his teens and early 20s. “I won every battle I ever had except one.” Dopson concurs. “I actually met James freestyle battling someone, and he was so good! I bet somebody that James would win, and I won my money.” He laughs, “And get this–I hadn't actually 'met' James yet.” When it comes to eating out, Dopson loves the crowd's favorite Roscoe's as well as a newcomer on the block. “Hilltop, that's the new spot. And shoutout to Market Street–I just like being around all the new Black businesses.”
When it comes to long-term goals and the legacy the Academy co-founders want to leave behind, both Dopson and Fauntleroy prioritize uplifting the community over everything else. “I really want people to learn the value of service. You know, everything that's valuable in our world is its value to the person that's experiencing it, so that could be love, it could be art… whatever it is, the value of it is what it does for someone else,” Fauntleroy begins. “Everybody wants to be serviced, but not of service. I've learned that the more you give, the more you get.” Fauntleroy finishes, “Another thing I wish everybody would get into is the value of learning because my whole life, from zero [dollars] to millions to zero, has all been because of learning.”
For Dopson, he's realized his initial bar wasn't set high enough in the beginning. He's now raising that to something higher. “My goal was to have 100 millionaires within the next two years, and I think it's gonna happen because we're doing very well helping people.” Dopson continues, “Now, I want everyone to know to understand their inner selves. When you crack that code, that's when you can really do anything and find happiness every day. I'm living proof of God's work.”
1500 or Nothin’ Recommended Reads:
- The Bible
- The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Al Ries and Laura Ries
- The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout
- Conversations with God, Neale Donald Walsch
- The Master Key System, Charles F. Haanel
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
- Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
- Harry Potter, complete series, J.K. Rowling