Photo Credit: Brandon Dickerson

Program Directors: Kelley McRae and Matt Castelein

Kelley McRae called New York City home for many years, cutting her teeth in the vaunted singer/songwriter scene and honing her craft at legendary clubs like The Living Room, The Rockwood Music Hall and the Bowery Ballroom.

In 2011, McRae teamed up with guitarist Matt Castelein, and the duo traded in their Brooklyn apartment for a VW camper van and hit the road full time. The duo has played hundreds of shows across America and Europe, taken the stage with sold-out shows at the Bluebird Café in Nashville, performed at major festivals, and were named New Folk Finalists at the Kerrville Folk Festival. They’ve been featured on NPR, Billboard, and Paste Magazine. Their latest album, The Wayside, debuted at #7 on the Euro-Americana charts and hit #4 on the Roots Music Reports Top 50 Contemporary Folk chart.

Kelley McRae is the Music Program Director for the School of Creative and Performing Arts in New York City, where she helped found the program in 2013. She spearheaded the addition of a Los Angeles program in 2015, and her songwriting curriculum was approved for college credit in 2017. Matt Castelein joined the teaching staff in 2016, and together they worked to create an inspiring space for their students to hone their craft.

Kelley’s ability to break down and communicate the core elements of songwriting combined with Matt’s musical dexterity make them an extraordinary team, able to connect with and inspire students of all skill levels, across genres. Kelley and Matt create a safe and fun environment where students are encouraged and challenged.

-Rebecca Jordan, Teacher & Recording Artist | Written for Kelly Clarkson and Prince

Working with Kelley was one of my most inspiring experiences as a young songwriter. As opposed to just lecturing us on how she writes, Kelley took the time to understand and enhance each student’s creative process. She was able to teach the craft of songwriting, while honoring and preserving our unique voices.

-Annika Bennet | Sony Records Recording Artist



This is a program dedicated to the craft of songwriting. Students are given new lyrical and musical tools in morning lectures and are encouraged in the practical application of those tools through songwriting assignments each afternoon.

Our days are generally split in two: The mornings are for the discussion of creativity, inspiration, song structure, the elements of a song, lyrics, theory, music business, etc. The afternoons are for in-class time to work on songwriting assignments and for the exploration of music history.

The afternoon time spent on songwriting gives us the opportunity to work one-on-one with students and to better meet individual needs. We also use the afternoon for the presentation of and feedback on student’s original songs.

In the evening, students work on additional collaborative projects, enjoy performances and Q+A sessions with local Austin musicians, and are given additional time to work on their individual songs.

In the second week of the program, each student will record one original song in a professional recording studio.

Our time together culminates in a public showcase where each student performs an original song for their peers and family.


  1. CREATIVE FREEDOM: Establish a safe creative environment so you can break through blocks and write with courage.
  2. CRAFT: Explore the elements of songwriting and apply new ideas to your creative practice immediately.
  3. DO THE WORK: We can talk all day, but the real work happens when you sit down and do the work of turning your ideas, experiences and passions into songs. We will give you writing assignments and song prompts and encourage you to do the work.
  4. HAVE FUN: If we’re not having fun, we’re missing the point! We want you to meet other campers who share your love of music and for you to write together, play together and learn from each other.


Although it is helpful to come with some experience on an instrument, it is not necessary.

We will have some classroom instruments available, but we highly encourage our students with easy-to-transport instruments (guitars, ukuleles, electric keyboards) to bring them.