A small recording studio in Central California is attracting big sponsors with its youth recording program. This groundbreaking community activity combines the energy and talent of teenagers with professional recording equipment and staff. Guitar Center, Sonnox Oxford, 7up, and Target Stores have donated equipment, software, refreshments, and money. The program charges youth just $15 an hour to record and $20 per song for mixing (editing after recording). This is about half of the usual cost; the balance is paid for with donated monies. Reasons for recording vary but usually include some need for success. For example: stand-up bass player, Jessica Jones, needed a CD to audition for the State Honor Band, and guitar player Raymond Covarrubias' band, The Skits, recorded to get work playing shows.
Modesto Sound located in Modesto, California is a non-profit youth recording studio. It was founded by Brenda Francis who through her unique marketing has attracted more than 340 budding young musicians. One of the ways she reaches out is by visiting area schools and giving free presentations. She taylors the presentation to the grade level and what the teacher needs. Recently at Downey High School the music teacher asked her to bring her interesting mix of music and lecture to all of her music classes to meet the states' requirement of a day of music and careers. Another school in the valley assembled the entire Junior High into the cafeteria for a music and technology presentation. Brenda plays a variety of music throughout the presentations to drive home points and keep interest peaked. Area teachers are supportive: Joanne Neuffer the Director of Band and Orchestra at Downey High School exclaimed, "It is great to have this opportunity in the community!" and Lance Underwood a music teacher at Roosevelt Junior High School commented, "It will be good for young people to get the experience of how long it actually takes to record a song."
The studio opened in 2005 but just recently held its first fundraiser. An upstart internet networking company blablive.com donated money after hearing a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about the upcoming fundraiser. Modesto Sound used the money to help support the live sound reinforcement costs. This tied in nicely with the recent training of six young sound engineer interns who got to help run the sound system and coordinate stage changes for 8 bands that performed during the fundraiser. Lead engineer and producer of Grandaddy fame, Lucky Lew, provided the sound crew training. Money from Target Stores was used to pay Lucky. The young adults in the sound crew are already getting work at nearby clubs, including a gig at the plaza of the Gallo Center for the Arts (the area's newest full size concert venue).
Studio founder, Brenda Francis, a graduate from nearby University of the Pacific's MBA program discovered recording to be her passion when it was a required course for her undergraduate degree. It was then that she developed a plan for having a successful studio and working with teenagers. "This age group is fun and I enjoy being around them", she says. Feedback has been positive, Jim Ayala a singer from a teen rock band sent a thank you e-mail saying "I just wanted to thank you again for the wonderful job you did on our first demo. We really enjoyed coming into your studio and laying down some tracks with you. It was an experience we surely will never forget." Another teen from nearby Patterson, JP Ragasa, announced, "I just thought we were coming into record. I didn't know it would sound this nice."
Besides recording the bands, updating the modestosound.com web site is where Brenda spends a lot of her time. The site is getting over 5000 hits a day. Why so many, she isn't sure but she does try to use coding, such as "alt tags", to give it the extra push to be found by search engines. She likes to take photos of each artist and post the pictures on her website along with a description identifying the artist. She says, "I like to keep it fresh and everything working. I am a bit stretched for time and even though there are interns that come in once a week, I tend to be the force behind the web site strategy. Youth are not as advanced at some aspects of technology as I expected they would be, so it forces me to learn everything so I can lead them effectively. Even those that don't sing or play an instrument are welcome to intern at the studio. I like to stress at the school presentations that you can find a job working around musicians even if you are not that good at playing an instrument." At the Modesto Sound studio interns record their voice to introduce songs for radio shows, podcasts and PSAs which the local media has embraced. Making the announcements for community organizations is a great way to include area non-profits in the effort. Recently they recorded PSAs for an organization that is devoted to keeping rivers clean, a senior talent show, and Modesto's Farmer's Market.
People tend to be surprised about Brenda giving out all her studio secrets. She does that because she encourages others to open studios in their neighborhoods. She has a page on modestosound.com devoted to how to get one started on a shoestring budget. She says the plan is easy if you know someone with recording equipment that will be the engineer, or let you use their equipment. She adds that due to the decrease in recording equipment costs there is an abundance of equipment and sound engineers (both experienced and novice). Whether each neighborhood can start one of the these studios is yet to be seen. However given the broad sponsor support Modesto Sound has received, and keen interest of teens in music, having a community studio does make sense.
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