Playback: Spotify Gifts Kealing Middle School
After the SXSW carnival leaves town, Kealing Middle School will have something to show for it – thanks to Spotify
Every March, the spectacle of South by Southwest rolls into town like a carnival caravan: building stages in parking lots, erecting towering shrines to brands, transforming taverns into tech studios – an installation here, an activation there, magnification everywhere. Then, nine days later, exit the extravaganza and what's left? Besides millions of greenbacks in tourism dollars, that is.
Spotify, the streaming platform that's either revolutionizing music consumption or lowering the minimum wage of artists (depending on who you ask), has made plans to leave Austin a thank-you present after SXSW. The company will recycle materials from its Spotify House, a popular annual attraction that features performances by Chvrches, Vince Staples, and Kacey Musgraves this year at 1501 E. Sixth, to build a recording studio at nearby Kealing Middle School.
With the help of volunteers from DPR Construction, Acoustic Spaces, and Rebuilding Together Austin, Spotify will remodel a large classroom inside Kealing, equipping it with three separate recording spaces. The project, a first for Spotify, is scheduled to be completed by the end of spring break.
"We're not paying a dime, so this is huge," Kealing Principal Kenisha Coburn says of the donation, which was set into motion in December after Spotify and local educational nonprofit Mindpop approached the Rosewood Avenue school. "There are always grant opportunities, but I've never experienced a company coming to campus and doing something of this scope. Usually you have to ask and beg and write."
Asked why Kealing was chosen over other area schools, Spotify's Director of Social Impact Kerry Steib pointed to the institution's unique makeup, both a magnet school and a comprehensive academy, and how those two systems come together through creative collaboration. Principal Coburn confirmed that while Kealing's core classes are mostly separated between programs, the music electives serve both student bodies.
"One of the places where our kids are connected across economic and racial lines is music," she asserts.
For Spotify, a major factor was whether the school could utilize a studio with music programs that are already in place. Such a question brings to mind the fine arts: orchestra, choir, classical piano. Kealing has more modern applications.
"I've been making trap songs ... or trying to," smiles seventh-grader Tobias Chanow, who counts RL Grime amongst his favorite artists. Chanow has taken Kealing's Songwriting and Music Production 1 and 2 classes, often merging material from both courses into EDM tracks. "I'm looking forward to being able to use a studio for recording lyrics. Then I'll mess around with them, with effects and sampling, to make electronic music."
Eighth-grader Yeshuah Walker-Brown, who favors recent chart-topping rapper Logic, agrees that the studio will add another element to their in-class productions: "After we make our own melodies and add beats to it, sometimes there's not a level that we can go higher to make our audio even better," he says, adding that once the studio is set up, he'd like to experiment with rapping over his beats.
Music Production teacher Aragorn Eissler envisions the studio as a "destination" for his students. Once they've laid the groundwork for their tracks on premier DJ software Ableton Live using midi keyboards or the Ableton Push controller, they can take the song into the studio and finish it off with additional instruments and vocals. Assignments in his project-based class include making ringtones and remixes, but the coursework remains flexible to allow students to make songs exploring their own music interests. Now, with microphones and mixing boards at their disposal, a whole new world opens up.
"Some of these kids are on fire," he says. "Even if they have no prior music training, they'll still have that spark, and it's going to be special to see what they can do with a studio."
Spotify's Steib offered a poignant rationale for the gift, one specific to SXSW.
"It just makes sense to be able to take the experience that we have at the Festival and make sure the impact lasts beyond just the moment we're there," she said.
Ball's in your court, Pandora.
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