Music & Youth Initiative outfits remote studio setups with Focusrite interfaces
Distance learning programs thrive during lockdown.
Music & Youth Initiative is a Boston-based nonprofit that offers resources to organisations including Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs and others to outfit their spaces with music facilities and curricula, with the goal of using music as a vehicle for youth development. Currently a total of 20 programs are served by Music & Youth Initiative — mostly in Boston, with satellite programs in metro Atlanta and Ft. Worth. Recording studio setups are the centrepiece of the organisation’s initiatives, and these have taken the form of Clubhouses, which have in-facility staff and equipment; Mobile Studio rigs, which serve programs that don’t have their own equipment and, most recently, Home Studio setups for select students to take home.
With the on-site programs on hold due to COVID-19-related closures and restrictions, the Home Studio setups have allowed students to remained focused on their music making, as David Bickel, Associate Executive Director at Music & Youth notes. “The Home Instrument Program (HIP) gets equipment — acoustic guitars, digital pianos, drum pads and sticks, beat-making tools and Focusrite recording bundles (featuring a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface, condenser microphone and professional headphones) — to the students who are really thriving, for continued learning at home. To date, we’ve been able to help outfit over 50 students with these at-home studio bundles. The programs have been getting creative with how to engage the students at home. It grew from a lot of ‘one-way-street’ programming assignments, to something much more interactive, with lessons through Zoom, beat-making sessions, two-way screen-sharing and more. Despite social distancing, the music from these students has continued without an issue, and that’s something we’re really proud of.”
Focusrite has been at the heart of the Music & Youth Initiative for some time, long before the pandemic forced major changes in the way organisations interact with their participants. David Bickel recalls, “In 2016, we started with the first iteration of this kind of solution. We called it the iPad Workstation, and it involved a Focusrite iTrack Dock, where we could use an iPad with the interface and keep the unit charged, plugged in and secure. So that was our starting point for diving in with Focusrite gear. Since then, we have upgraded to Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interfaces across the board, and from there we decided to take it on the road with the Mobile Recording Studio.”
The setups are designed with the students’ interests in mind: “Because the Music Clubhouse is a free program in an amazing facility where they have video games, sports, gyms, pools and academics, they can choose whatever they want to do,” notes Bickel. “So it’s our job to help these programs keep the music aspects as engaging as possible. The students tend to listen to today’s pop, hip-hop and R&B music, so we encourage them to pursue those styles. They might not have a lot of interest in playing an acoustic guitar, but they do want to learn how to make beats, layer textures, and record sung and rapped vocals. So these interface setups, based around touchscreens, are really perfect for that approach.”
Bickel sums it up: “At the end of the day, we don't measure our success on how many kids learn notes on a page, or know their scales or can play chords in such a way. It’s more about how music is having an impact on their entire life, how they’re interacting with their peers, how they're interacting with adults and how their academics are going. So the Music Clubhouse staff become big brothers and big sisters to these young men and women. And it’s just as much, if not more, about those life skills that they’re learning through music than it is the music itself.”
Eventually, these programs will be able to get back to business as usual. “Once facilities reopen, we’ll shift our approach back to expanding our Music Clubhouse, Studio Clubhouse and Mobile Studio models to serve even more kids,” Bickel notes. In the meantime, with the help of Music & Youth’s partners, they’ve curated a list of helpful resources for music educators, particularly those working in an after-school setting.
These resources are free for anyone to access/download and are available on Music & Youth’s Music Impact Network website here: https://musicimpactnetwork.org/resources-for-virtual-music-programming.
For more information on the Music & Youth Initiative, head to their website: https://www.musicandyouth.org/