In September, on a night when the rest of his classmates were preparing for their first day of Grade 11, Branson Gudmundson received an email that changed his life.
The 16-year-old musician, who goes by Goody (a childhood nickname and riff on his last name), found out that he had scored a deal with Los Angeles imprint Bananabeat Records. At the end of February, Goody left his home in the RM of St. Andrews for the bright lights of the City of Angels to began an intensive 10-day stretch of recording -- and, if he has it his way, launch his career.
"Tomorrow, I move my whole life to a different country," Branson tweeted the night before his flight. "Never imagined I'd leave everything I know at 16 & have a record deal, life's crazy."
Of course, despite how newspaper articles might make it sound, things like this don't happen overnight. Gudmundson has been singularly focused on his goal of pursuing music from a very young age, encouraged by his supportive mom, Tammy. He was four when he started playing piano; five when he picked up the guitar. By 13, after discovering hip hop, he began recording original tracks on GarageBand music software.
"I started making rap music for fun, for me and my friends," he says.
He began posting just-for-fun videos to YouTube -- but it wasn't long before buzz started building. Goody started performing in Winnipeg, even scoring an opening gig for Kid Ink, a Los Angeles rapper, at the Garrick Centre. "But then I started to kind of get bored of the music I was making," he says. "I started incorporating guitar and writing songs like that, more than the rap stuff."
In February 2013, at the behest of Virgin 103 morning man Ace Burpee, Goody entered his song Right Now into a songwriting competition hosted by Astral Radio. He emerged as the regional winner and got to represent Winnipeg at the national finals in Toronto. "He didn't think there'd be any chance being his age," Tammy says. A showcase at Canadian Music Week in Toronto followed.
He recorded Right Now with Minnesota rapper Mod Sun, whom he hooked up with via Twitter. Gudmundson found out that Cisco Adler -- owner of Bananabeat Records and former frontman of tabloid-target rock band Whitestarr -- worked with Mod Sun, as well as another one of his hip-hop idols, Malibu rapper Shwayze. Gudmundson got in touch with Adler, again through Twitter. (If anyone needed proof that social media is where networking happens, look no further.)
"I got the vouch, I said I knew Mod Sun -- and they were really close -- so we started talking lots and I started sending him stuff."
It didn't go over well, initially. "He didn't really like my music. It was my older stuff. That kinda bummed me out."
Gudmundson was undeterred. He viewed the criticism as constructive. Besides, he'd gotten better at his craft. He holed up in his home studio, and spent hours writing and recording, shaping new songs to send to Adler.
When summer rolled around, Gudmundson and his mom decided to take a trip to California. The ever-enterprising Branson decided to message Adler to see if he'd be available to go for coffee; after all, the worst that could happen is that he'd say no. He agreed to meet, and Goody got his first taste of life in a music industry centre.
"I got to roll with Mod Sun's crew and we were in Huntington Beach with (rapper) the Game," he says. "And then, in Long Beach, we all opened for Capital Cities -- who none of us knew at the time. By the time we came back to Winnipeg, they had the biggest song in the country." (That would be Safe and Sound, the hit single from the L.A. pop duo.)
Gudmundson came back to Winnipeg refocused and inspired. He kept sending songs to Adler, before receiving that fateful email on the day before he was due to start his Grade 11 classes at Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive Secondary School.
He'll be finishing school independently, hitting the books between meetings and recording sessions. "They're excited for him," Tammy says of her son's teachers and classmates.
Burpee, one of Goody's earliest champions, thinks the young artist has what it takes to carve out a career. "Goody is a beauty," Burpee says. "There's something about him that says 'star,' but at the same time he's super-chill and humble. Anybody who still brings his mother to a meeting is cool with me. I love the guy."
As for mom, she's going to miss her son -- but she says she's proud of his drive.
"I'm excited for him," she says. "It's his dream. It's his goal. He's always been in love with music. It's going to be harder for me to be back home here, but it's what he needs to do and where he needs to be."