What with budget cuts depleting funding for arts and music programs statewide, traditional student bands in California’s public schools are getting fewer and farther between. But that doesn’t mean students have stopped making music. In an innovative after-school program, West Oakland’s McClymonds High School has found a relatively cost-effective way to teach music theory and immerse students in the arts. Instead of forming a band, students involved in the Bay Unity Music Project (BUMP) run their own micro recording label.
BUMP was founded by co-directors Patrick Huang and Matthew Meschery, who began working as a substitute Spanish teacher at the high school and noticed that there wasn’t a music program for students. A trained sound engineer with recording industry experience, Meschery began volunteering his time to develop BUMP.
First, Huang and Meschery set up a digital music production lab for students and began teaching them how to compose their own digital tracks. It was an instant hit with the high school kids. Raised on hip hop and R&B, the kids were eager to combine their newfound skills with rapping and lyric composition. Meschery then brought in hip hop industry professionals as vocal coaches to work with the students on techniques ranging from freestyling to beatboxing. Later, the program became a part of Youth Sounds, an Oakland-based media and arts organization serving low-income teens that merged with the Bay Area Video Coalition in 2006.
Three times a year, 15 to 20 students audition to participate in the program, which produces two CDs annually. Proceeds from sales of the CDs fund student field trips to recording studios and offset program costs. Students are responsible for everything from producing the music to packaging and promoting the final product. They learn to use standard industry software for digital music composition and recording. Along with real-world technical skills, BUMP participants come away with the knowledge that they have the creativity and confidence to create their own music and follow careers in the entertainment industry.
“It’s great to create a product where [students] are like, ‘Oh, wait, I can do that. I can do the same thing’ as this artist or that artist they hear on the radio,” Meschery tells Spark.
In 2006, BUMP released “True 2 Life, Vol. 2” and produced a CD-release concert to showcase the record label’s work.