Then settle into a simulated sound booth to record, mix and master a song.
The Grammy Museum, which opened in December, is more than just a glorified Hard Rock Cafe-style collection of music memorabilia. The $34 million facility boasts three floors of exhibit space filled with artifacts, sound stations and interactive, video-driven elements that invite deep exploration of how music is created, recorded and consumed.
"We don't use objects and artifacts as the primary way to tell the story," said museum director Robert Santelli. "You're going to see artifacts around here, and many of them are iconic and important to the story, but they're not the drivers of the story. The real way that you learn and experience and have fun at the Grammy Museum is to go and get your hands dirty, so to speak."
The first stop for hand-dirtying (admission: $14.95) comes on the top floor, where museum visits begin. Guests are welcomed by wall-sized video screens and the "Crossroads Table," a touch-sensitive digital display that shows how different music genres interrelate. Interactive maps highlight the musical legacies of various American cities, and short video series delve into emerging music styles from the past five decades and how they correspond with pop culture.
For example, the 1960s brought protest songs and music festivals that fueled the counterculture movement. The '70s gave us corporate rock and its antithesis: punk. The '80s ushered in gangsta rap and MTV, the '90s were all about grunge and the new millennium brought the iPod and digital downloads. The custom-made videos are among 30 films created just for the museum.
"What we've tried to do, in a very large snapshot, is give you an overview of the depth and diversity of the great music that this country has created, and other countries, too," Santelli said.
One floor is dedicated to songwriting and the recording process. Profiles of producers and industry-shaping executives fill the walls, while eight simulated sound booths beckon visitors to try their hand at rapping, singing, mixing songs, building beats and mastering recordings. There's also a Grammy-centric display, complete with photos and footage of the show's most memorable moments, along with actual Grammy trophies from 1958 to the present.
Another floor hosts special exhibits - like the current one highlighting music and politics - and a 200-seat theater for lectures, meetings and intimate performances. More than 100 events are already planned for 2009, Santelli said.
Though artifacts aren't the focus of the museum, unique bits of history are sprinkled throughout. Look for a 1943 poster touting Frank Sinatra's appearance at the Hollywood Bowl (general admission: 75 cents), Elvis Presley's guitar, Miles Davis' trumpet, Stevie Wonder's harmonica and handwritten lyrics to Eminem's hit song, "Stan."
The Grammy Museum is the latest addition to the L.A. Live! complex, which includes the Nokia Theatre, the site of Wednesday's Grammy nominations show. The awards will be presented across the street at Staples Center on Feb. 8.