1995-2005 The CEO Years

Beginning in 1994, LiaBraaten became the most popular figure on the Iron Range to call for private music instruction and piano gigs.  The LiaBraaten studio soon had satellite locations in Grand Rapids, Hibbing, Eveleth, Virginia, Gilbert, Soudan and Ely MN and LiaBraaten taught as many as 150 voice and piano and organ students per week.

Soon mining companies like Iron Mining Association, U.S. Steel and Cliffs Natural Resources and Keetac and Hibbing Taconite and LTV and Mesabi Nugget and Essar Steel and supporting companies like L&M Radiator, DOMEX, Iracore International and Malton Electric and Minnesota Discovery Center all hired LiaBraaten to provide professional services. And families began asking LiaBraaten – while he was in town – to teach their children piano and voice lessons.

All this led to the formal incorporation of Living Water Music into LWM, Inc. in 1995, a multi-faceted business that put an estimated 50 Iron Rangers to work for 20 years. Some workers focused on production and public performance, some on publication and maintenance of dozens of entrepreneurial websites, some on classroom instruction and one-on-one mentoring, some on the fine arts school, some on the youth center, some on graphic design, and some in customer service and customer care.

In 1995 one of LiaBraaten’s most talented and hard-working proteges, Emily Shackelton of Biwabik Minnesota (now Emily Shackelton-James), captured the Grand Prize on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” Nationwide Talent Show at the tender age of only ten years old. Shackelton beat professional adult group acts for the prize, singing “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas as coached by her mentor LiaBraaten.

Protege Shackelton has since gone on to graduate from Berklee College and have her original song “Dream Big” sung to 92million viewers on the final night of American Idol when David Cook was crowned the winner.  Shackelton also captured the John Lennon BMI Songwriting Contest, collecting a $10,000 check from BMI in Los Angeles for her song “Goodbye”.  Shackelton currently resides in Nashville where she worked first for Bug Music and is now a commissioned songwriter for Liz Rose / Warner-Chappell.  Shackelton recently penned songs for Norah Jones, Sara Evans, Wynonna Judd and Cassadee Pope.

Many of LiaBraaten’s other prodigies and mentees have gone on to great success in a number of professional and medical fields, due in part to the kind of leader and teacher LiaBraaten is.  One who teaches life lessons, not just music lessons; who, to the best of his ability and devotion, lives his motto: “The Best Teacher is a Good Example”, putting others first, leading and motivating and inspiring his colleagues, employees and students to dream big and to reach for the stars.

During this time LiaBraaten directed the East Range Chorus and founded and led the Iron Range Chorale, both Iron-Range-wide volunteer groups which enhanced the class and culture of the area. LiaBraaten also created and endowed the LiaBraaten Studio Recital Awards, and from 1994 to 2015 LiaBraaten personally funded more than $225,000 in performance-based scholarships, awards, tuition stipends, and professional demo awards for Iron Range youth from cities and towns such as Bigfork, Grand Rapids, Bovey, Coleraine, Nashwauk, Keewatin, Hibbing, Cherry, Chisholm, Zim, Mountain Iron, Virginia, Eveleth, Gilbert, Biwabik, Aurora, Tower, Soudan, Embarrass, Ely, Cook, Orr, International Falls, Cotton, and Duluth Minnesota. LiaBraaten made a point to sacrifice and give back to the communities he came from in order to motivate young musicians and singers to gain valuable life lessons to encourage their future success in any field.

LiaBraaten’s devotion to non-profits was felt deeply on the Iron Range through his donation of more than $30,000 to the American Cancer Society “Relays for Life” in Hibbing, Aurora, Duluth and St. Cloud Minnesota, through his unique fund raiser for Minnesota Food Share, which raised more than $35,000 for the Hibbing Food Shelf and resulted in LiaBraaten receiving a plaque acknowledging this unique gift of time, talent and treasure.  LiaBraaten also gave a series of concerts and music marathons, with all of the proceeds going to Jerry’s Kids of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. LiaBraaten also volunteered for Iron Range Youth In Action, for AAUW, for Mesabi Range College Foundation, for Craig Holgate’s Morning Show on WTBS Radio, PsalmFM in International Falls, KAXE Community Radio in Grand Rapids, WELY in Ely, for the Hibbing Rotary Club, Virginia Rotary Club, Virginia Servicemen’s Club, Ely Slovenian Hall, Chisholm Ironworld USA, Hibbing Elks Club, Hibbing Moose Club, and many Iron Range nursing homes, churches and schools.

LiaBraaten also devoted seven years to volunteering at the local hot spot he founded for kids of all ages on the Iron Range – the Matrix Youth Centers in Hibbing MN and Virginia MN.  These facilities offered safe places for kids to be kids, to chill with their school mates, to play pool and foosball and Xbox and dance Friday nights away with state-of-the-art sound and lighting. LiaBraaten not only founded the Matrix Youth Centers, but he paid the rent and utilities for seven years to keep the place open for Iron Range Youth. It is notable that, after the Matrix became unsustainable and was closed, incidents of youth vandalism and chemical abuse rose exponentially on the Iron Range among teens and children.

LiaBraaten also founded and funded the “Iron Range Idol” singing competition. Past winners have included Iron Rangers Brandon Monson, Cassie (Cassandra) Wenberg, and Rachel Eastman. Winners received CD demo recording packages valued at $1,000 each.

One major undertaking during the CEO years was the production of “Twin Ports Idol”, a regional singing contest encompassing all of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Corporate sponsors of the event were Mix 108 Radio (Clear Channel), Holiday Inn Harbor View, KDLH-TV, and Grandma’s Sports Garden, all of Duluth MN.

LiaBraaten founded and funded this competition’s prizes, which awarded more than $25,000 in scholarships and recording awards to winners ages 15 through 28.  Grand Prize for “Twin Ports Idol” went to Larissa Flint from Wisconsin due to the original winner Brittany Lee AKA Brittany Aultman of Eveleth MN being unable to fulfill her obligations. Young Teen Winner was Elise Olson from Wisconsin, Adult Winner was Dustin Hagen, with honorable mention in the older adult category, going to Frank Befera of Duluth MN.