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

Photo by John Anderson

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.

Half Notes

President Barack Obama adds to the SXSW convergence on March 11 with an appearance at the Austin Music Hall for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser. The event, costing $250 for the cheap seats, promises a yet-to-be-announced musical guest. Even with both Willie Nelson and Gary Clark Jr. on the road that night, he won't have to dig deep.

Agony Column singer Richie Turner married his fiancée Jules Bryant onstage at Sidewinder last Saturday night. The metal screamer didn't don a tux for the occasion, but he did keep his T-shirt on. After the ceremony, officiated by funny friend Clay Allison, Agony Column unleashed a set of satirical, violent, redneck metal – how romantic!

Ty Segall crowdsurfed up to the balcony of the Mohawk last Saturday as fans in the pit bounced him to the upper deck. Mohawk general manager Cody Cowan reckons that's the first time a performer's executed the multi-level crowdsurf at the venue. Segall's new band, the Muggers, finds him settling down into the guitar and embracing the antics of a lead singer.

Quin Galavis completes his episodic Beerland residency, "Four Cycles of Atrophy," this Friday with a final chapter: "Desultory." Each week, the Dead Space/False Idol frontman performs new solo songs intertwined with scripted drama performed by actress Cassie Fitzgerald – who worshiped a candlelit altar and taunted Galavis' artistic aspirations during last week's gutsy performance.

3TEN Live, a new 350-capacity venue below the Moody Theater on the Second Street side, opens next month and will be an official SXSW venue. Owners Stratus Properties recently refinanced Block 21 – on which both venues sit – for $150 million with Holliday Fenoglio Fowler. The venue is expected to host around 200 shows annually and will be booked by ACL Live's in-house staff and the local promoters they already work with.

Stretford's Carl Sephton needs your help. The 51-year-old leader of Austin's favorite Brit-punk band, a Buzzcocks-influenced gang that were local favorites throughout the Nineties, has been physically decimated by stomach-related health problems, but hopes to turn it around with a new medical treatment regimen. A GiveForward page under his name is currently collecting funds from fans and friends.

Big Bill, Austin's hottest gender-bending New Wave curios, christen their new "Weird Walk" 7-inch with an in-store at End of an Ear Sunday at 5pm. "Playback" inquired with supremely nasally frontman Eric Braden what's the symbolism of his prosthetic unibrow. "The unibrow is my way of tapping into my internal caveman, which is the quintessential Big Bill narrator," he replied. "The person I am onstage is a little dumber and angrier than I am in real life, so when I put on the unibrow, I start to feel more like that character. I also wear a lot of dresses, which taps into a kind of feminine iconography, so the unibrow maybe balances that out." Accordingly, choice B-side "Mainly Manly" parodies masculine stereotypes.

Chronicle Music Editor Raoul Hernandez interviews Runaways guitarist and anointed "Queen of Metal" Lita Ford on Saturday at BookPeople, 6pm, in conjunction with her new memoir, Living Like a Runaway. Ford was last in town at the Cedar Park Center in 2012 with Def Leppard and Poison – right around the time an Internet hoax reported her untimely death by jet ski.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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Spotify, Kealing Middle School, SXSW Music 2016, Agony Column, Quin Galavis, Lita Ford, Big Bill, Stretford, Ty Segall

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