When MTSU alumnus Torrance Esmond, who produces under the name “Street Symphony,” was in the studio producing Lecrae’s “Messengers,” he knew they had made something big.
“We needed a kind of big record that would be a game-changer in Christian music,” Esmond said in a phone interview last week. “The night that we did it, we all looked at each other and we’re just like ‘This joint’s gonna win a Grammy.’ We were joking about it but in the back of our minds, I think we really knew we had something special.”
Esmond and company’s predictions came true when the song, which features guest vocals from Christian pop duo For King & Country, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Performance/Song at last month’s Grammy Awards. For Esmond, the award was his largest accolade to date and signified how far he’s come from his early days in Music City.
“For me to be from Nashville, and being in L.A. winning a Grammy for being a writer on a song that’s a song of the year, it’s huge,” Esmond said. “It’s a dream come true for any songwriter.”
The producer’s career began when he chose to attend his father’s alma mater, MTSU. Surprisingly, when he entered the university in 1997, his major wasn’t music business or audio production but mechanical engineering.
“In the back of my mind, I really had the recording industry (program),” he said. “I got down there and I was like ‘I don’t wanna be a mechanical engineer, I really wanna do this music thing.’ I mean, it’s one of the best schools to do it, so I changed my major and went into the RIM program.”
While at MTSU, Esmond used his connections as a member of the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi to book gigs and start his producing career with student rap group Playerway. One of Playerway’s members, Starlito, would go on to be one of the biggest names in Nashville’s hip-hop scene and one of Esmond’s most frequent collaborators.
After becoming established in Tennessee, he then migrated to Houston and ultimately ended up in Atlanta, where he currently resides. His work with former MTSU student Lecrae began there with Esmond producing a track on the 2010 album Rehab. He went on to serve as executive producer on Lecrae’s 2012 release Gravity, which won Best Gospel Album at the 2013 Grammys and Best Hip-Hop/Rap Album at the 2013 Dove Awards.
In addition to continued work with Starlito, his recent output includes contemporary Christian songs with Lecrae, collaborations with Memphis-natives Yo Gotti and Don Trip and a track with radio mainstay 2 Chainz. While these projects all fall on different parts of the hip-hop spectrum, Esmond aims to create a diverse body of work saying that “a good song is a good song at the end of the day.”
Follow John Connor Coulston on Twitter at @JCCoulston.