AIR Labs brings music production technology to teens
Inside a quirky little stone building on South Broad Street, with a door framed by Steve Terlizzese’s mosaic art, a young web developer is hatching a project to teach kids in Chattanooga how to use professional grade music-making technology.
In the tech world, Seun (pronounced “shone”) Erinle is a unicorn, having both design and coding skills. At 32, she is also a three-time startup founder. Grid Principles is her graphic design and web development firm, with clients inside and outside Chattanooga.
Several years ago at CoLab’s 48 Hour Launch, she created Blerd Nation, a networking site for black nerds (or “Blerds”) that launched but is currently on hiatus while other projects take precedence. And AIR Labs is an after-school program that teaches web development, graphic design and 3-D modeling.
AIR Labs grew out of Seun’s experience teaching HTML and CSS at the DevDev code camp for kids at the Chattanooga Public Library. After that experience led to more teaching and tutoring gigs, a friend encouraged her to build a business around her love for teaching tech.
A little over two years ago, she started Grid Principles for commercial design and development work, and AIR Labs for teaching and tutoring.
She says AIR stands for Aspire, Imagine and Reason, “the three qualities I feel like you need to be successful in anything in life. You need aspiration, you need imagination, and you need reasoning skills. I think with that foundation you can achieve quite a lot.”
AIR Labs’ latest project is Rhythm Lab, a music production class that gives high school kids access to MPC (music production controller) hardware, instruction in how to make music, and open lab time to create. The free class started October 17, after an Indiegogo campaign raised enough to buy six machines for AIR Labs’ 12-station setup. The campaign—igg.me/at/rhythmlab—will continue, aiming to raise funds to finish out the classroom set of 12 machines and help fund more classes.
“There’s so much these kids can do. Our goal is to get them more familiar with the structure of music: how to make it, how to edit it, mix it down, things like that,” says Seun. “We’ll get into the meat of making a song from scratch, from an idea in your head to sounds for other people’s ears. We want them to come out with a couple to a handful of songs.”
Seun’s Maschine Studio unit—the same model she teaches kids—has big lighted square buttons that give it a candy-colored toy vibe at first glance, but it’s a serious piece of equipment, used by professional DJs and musicians for creating beats.
First developed in in 1988, these multi-function devices have come a long way from their origins as, basically, electronic drum machines. They come loaded with a variety of instrument sounds and pre-recorded sequences, and can receive input from other electronics or recorded samples. The software allows complex layering and even live performance using the MPC as an instrument.
Seun took up the MPC as a creative outlet and found other locals using the same software and hardware.
“We started getting together and giving each other challenges of how to make different types of songs, different types of samples. Also teaching each other tricks and tips that we’ve learned over time,” she says. “One day we said ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do this for the kids in Chattanooga?’”
Seun splits her time about 50- 50 between web development and teaching but hopes to tilt a bit more toward teaching. She bristles at people who keep their knowledge to themselves.
“I’m not one to hold in all my knowledge and information and die with it. I want somebody to do better than me,” she says. “It’s almost like how your parents raised you and they want you to do better than them. I want people in my community around me to do better and to expose them to perhaps different areas of learning that they’ve never been exposed to.”
Rich Bailey is a writer, editor, and PR consultant. He led a project to create Chattanooga’s first civic website in 1995 before even owning a modem. Now he covers Chattanooga technology for The Pulse and blogs about it at CircleChattanooga.com