Flint, MI— On the second floor of the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, an organization that offers after-school programs to Flint youth, rapper Jason Crutchfield, aka Lato, bobs along to a new track. He motions something to the sound engineer Jujuan Thorn, who also teaches music production at the center. Thorn seems to understand.
He makes three clicks on his iMac and the tone deepens, giving it an enriched, fuller feel. The tweak was exactly what it needed.
Entering the studio, outfitted with multicolor mood lights, sound-absorbing walls and an old-school soundboard (which Thorn said is really for “looks” because recording music is a digital process nowadays) is a jolt of modern luxury within the 100-year-old building.
It was designed by East Lansing native Glenn Brown, who created recording studios for Eminem, Kid Rock, and the Ford Family—the kind of high-end spaces Executive Director of SBEV Maryum Rasool envisioned when she knew she wanted a recording studio for students.
The idea began in 2018 after Rasool saw how motivated music students were to share their work.
“I felt like the kids were developing skills that are bigger than being an artist or making beats. It was helping their self-perception and (enabling them) to talk and explain something really intimate to them,” Rasool said.
She worked with community partners to raise funds for the project, as well as with donors including Paris Jackson, Michael Jackson’s daughter; Jaden Smith; and Fender Guitars for equipment.
“I didn’t want any studio. I wanted a learning studio…I wanted top of the line. I wanted an environment that was conducive to learning, which is different than a regular studio,” Rasool said.
Though the studio opened at the beginning of 2020, the pandemic slowed down the official launch, but classes have been ongoing.
“I have a lot of fun with them. But also, I’m kind of on them pretty tough,” Thorn said about the way he teaches music production. “Once you get into adulthood, people are going to expect you to be good at this for real. So, I’m trying to get them in the mindset of like, ‘Yo, you got to take this serious right now.’”
Thorn is a self-taught musician. He plays the piano and the organ and has learned how to DJ and produce music. It’s how he “pays the bills,” and he encourages students to think about the art alongside the business of music production.
“DJs make really good money… No matter what picture we try to paint to the kids, the entertainment industry is a real thing… There are functioning people in this industry. It’s a billion-dollar industry,” Thorn said.
Fourteen-year-old Armonie Roland has been taking music production classes for over year. He said he hopes to become an audio engineer one day.
“It’s fun to get to get to learn stuff. You already know, ‘Hey, I did this when I was here, I can do it,’” Roland said
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation granted SBEV $36,500 in Oct. 2019 to assist with the build.
“We do a lot of arts and culture related grant making and we’re always looking for projects and programs that engage young people in creative endeavors,” Program Officer for the Mott Foundation Jennifer Acree said, adding that the program allows children to explore a wide variety of musical career paths.
Also in partnership with Mott, the curriculum at SBEV mimics that of Mott Community College’s music production program.
“We’re looking to place students into their production program… Our kids have everything it takes to be in that program, an easy transition,” Rasool said.
The recording studio fills a music education gap in Flint, Thorn said.
“It’s sad because in the Flint community, they don’t teach music really anymore. There’s not really much of a music education, at least a quality one.”
While the SBEV works to develop more programs, music therapy is next on the agenda.
“The kids, they really, really respond well to it. They’re engaged. Like I said, self-perception is a big challenge now with our youth. Just everything they’re dealing with and COVID on top of that, it doesn’t help much. And we want to give them an outlet to express themselves and kind of take some of this stress that they’re carrying off,” Rasool said.
Community members can reserve the studio for a donation of $50 per hour. The session includes a sound engineer. For more details, visit SBEV’s website.