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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

New recording studio in Milwaukee school helps students find their voice

Emily Files
Sixth grader Damila Davis has been learning to play the drums at the Milwaukee Notes for Notes studio.

A brand-new music recording studio opened in Milwaukee recently. The state-of-art facility isn't for professionals — it's for students to explore music production and performance.

It is housed within the Milwaukee Academy of Science charter school in the Avenues West neighborhood. The studio is a collaboration between the school, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, and a national nonprofit called Notes for Notes.

Notes for Notes runs more than 20 recording studios that youth can use for free in cities like Nashville and New York. This is the first one in Milwaukee.

Davonte “Dae” Hill is the lead producer at the Milwaukee Notes for Notes studio. As a Milwaukee musician and a youth mentor, the job allows him to combine his passions.

"I feel like this position came to me, versus me looking for it — it found me," says Hill "And hopefully we inspire the next generation of producers, artists, engineers and so forth."

Emily Files
The Notes for Notes studio in the Milwaukee Academy of Science has instruments and recording equipment students can use for free.

This summer, Hill is running an afternoon program for Boys and Girls Club students at the Milwaukee Academy of Science. When I visit, several middle schoolers are there.

"Alright so for breakouts today, you want to do drums? You want to do studio? What do you want to do today?" Hill asks.

The colorful space is equipped with drums, pianos, guitars and recording booths.

"It’s pretty much — we allow youth to come into this space, kind of let them play around to see what they’re drawn to, whether it be an instrument, whether it be vocals, production, engineering," says Hill. "And we assist them in that area."

Most of the students in today’s group are interested in vocals.

Emily Files
Dae Hill (left) and students react as Byron Moore (middle, white shirt) freestyles.

"I want to sing!" sixth grader Byron Moore says.

Hill takes the students to the production room, where he plays a beat he created. Byron starts freestyling to the awe of the other students. I ask Byron later where the inspiration for the freestyle came from.

"I’m a really good person," he says. "I’m smart. I can make up things in my head."

Byron says he’s always been interested in music.

"When I was young, I used to love to sing and rap and wanted to be famous," the sixth grader explains. "And my future is going to be a singer and a rapper."

Hill tells me it was only Byron’s second day coming to the Notes for Notes studio.

"And it’s like, I don’t know, he was possessed by the talent ghost I guess," Hill says. "Because he came in right away and tried to assert himself and show he had skills and he had talent. It was just a magical moment because that inspired other youth to get on the song as well."

Byron’s song, called Day One is about the first day of school. He’ll work on the lyrics over the next few days.

"We gave him the beat we completed today to take home with him, so he’s able to actually take some of the things he has in his head and write them down and structure them properly," says Hill.

Emily Files
Sixth grader Byron Moore sings in the Notes for Notes studio.

Day One will be the second song recorded since the summer program started at the Notes for Notes studio in June. The first song is called Goin Crazy and features sixth and seventh graders Rashyia Gooch, Marzeriah Smith and Deaysia “DD” Robertson.

The girls say Hill made them record their tracks over and over to get it right.

"You can mess up a lot of times, but then when you finally get it it’s like 'yes!'" says DD, who wants to keep making music. "It help you take out your stress and your anger, when you’re banging to the music, bowing your head – it makes you like excited when you hear the song. Like yes, I like that."

When the new school year starts, even more students will be able to use the Notes for Notes studio as an outlet for expression.

Hill says the Academy of Science plans to utilize it for music classes during the school day. It will also host Boys and Girls Club afterschool programs at the charter school.

"Just being able to have a safe space for them to express themselves, have some fun and being able to let them create things that’s going to inspire them to find their purpose in life," Hill says. "Because not everyone can throw a football or make a three-point shot like Steph Curry. So we have to open up different lanes for them. And music has been taken out of public schools for over the past 10 years, so having a space like this kind of counters that."

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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