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From Beats To Business: Local Students Create Songs And Learn About The Music Industry

Monique Hines (left) teaches Janiaya Hubbard and Taniah Woods the basics of music production. November 6, 2019
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio
Monique Hines (left) teaches Janiaya Hubbard (middle) and Taniah Woods (right) the basics of music production.

For the past couple of months, 10-year-old Gregory Boyce, a fifth grader at North Side Community School, has gladly stayed after class — to learn the basics of music production.

Using music production software, Gregory has been experimenting with drum patterns. He hopes to add vocals to the mix soon.

“I like how it’s smooth,” he said of the tune he’s working on. “But sometimes you got to concentrate, and focus.”

That kind of attitude is exactly what the music professionals from Mentors In Motion are looking for.

They’re giving 87 students from seven St. Louis area schools a taste of what it’s like to be a musician — and tips on what they’ll need to know to have careers.

The students are taking part in the Awareness Lab, a 12-week extracurricular club where elementary, middle and high school students are taught the fundamentals of music, including how to create melodies, hooks and beats for the music they make. 

The program is run by Mentors In Motion, a local nonprofit that offers science, art, math and reading resources to students in the St. Louis area. 

It’s attracted as teachers professionals like Monique Hines, a St. Louis native who has co-produced songs for "Saturday Night Live" and Rihanna. Hines wants the students to have a good grasp of music history.

“I introduced the African polyrhythms, then I also introduced the Western thought of music,” she said. “Put the two together, and you have 20th-century music; you have modern music.”

Hines also is teaching music production to fifth graders at North Side Community School. Once the students learn the foundation of music, they’re taught how to use FL Studio, a computer program professional musicians use to create songs.

Hines said she teaches the students how to make their own drum patterns and to create a song by the end of the course. Students then participate in beat battles.

The program also aims to help students pursue careers in music. The Awareness Lab also teaches students basic information on the importance of copyrighting songs.

Mentors In Motion founder and CEO Alandon Pitts said the program’s high school and middle school students learn how to use professional music distribution services such as TuneCore and SoundExchange. The services allow artists to upload their own music online and receive royalties. 

“If I’m a kid, and my dream is to produce for a top-100 music artist — if I’m not educated on that, somebody could just take my beat, use it, and I don’t have any paperwork to back it up,” Pitts said.

The professional mentors talk to students about what happens when musicians use another artist’s work without permission and how money is distributed.

Pitt hopes the Awareness Lab helps motivate students in their school subjects, particularly in reading and math. He said students need to realize that success in the music industry starts in the classroom. 

“Our goal in increasing literacy is through the performing arts,” Pitts said. “We’ll show them a nondisclosure agreement or some type of educational reading through music, a contract: What does that look like? Can you read it? If you can’t, this is why going to English class, on time, raising your hand to get answers corrected is important.”

Pitts said he hopes to expand the Awareness Lab to more St. Louis area schools in the next year.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.