by Payton Bruni
Grace Weber’s Music Lab, forged from collaboration between music artist Grace Weber and 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, is a free, monthly music and arts education program aimed at teaching high school students across Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about music and the entertainment industry. Music professionals, whether they be renowned musicians or producers, are brought in as guest hosts to lead the music labs. Each lab is held at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee’s studio, and a 30-minute guest interview is recorded then followed by open mic sessions for lab participants.
Project Goals: 88Nine Radio Milwaukee on-air programming staff member Tyrone Miller said, “The main goal is to connect high schoolers from all different parts of the city.” He said Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the country and students from different sides of the city rarely have the opportunity to collaborate on music together. Weber said the focus of the music lab is on music education, bringing students together, and encouraging self-expression.
Tools and Technology: The studio where the music labs are held is a fully equipped concert hall that can house up to 300 people. The space comes complete with a speaker system and concert lights. The guest host interviews are recorded and posted on the 88Nine website and Facebook page.
Impact: Weber said the impact of the music lab lies with the lasting effect left on the students of Milwaukee. “I think the two biggest things that students walk away with are a better sense of community and a better sense of themselves and confidence,” she said. Weber added that the music production skills and knowledge of the industry that students gain are major takeaways. An average of 60 students attend each music lab, and notable guest hosts who have taught at the music labs include producers from Pixar and The Social Experiment. Miller said working with other youth organizations throughout Milwaukee has contributed to a sense of community that is shared between 88Nine Radio, its listeners, and high school students who have attended the lab.
Organization Background: 88Nine Radio Milwaukee is one of the largest radio stations in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The station is supported by members, donors, underwriters, community partners and volunteers. For 2017, the organization reported total revenues of $2.9 million.
Project Resources: Miller said he works on connecting with Milwaukee-based contacts for the music lab while Weber handles the national contacts. Miller said the biggest resources to have are staffing – at least three or four people working on organization and advertising – and the space to hold the music labs.
Here’s what worked
1. Face-to-face audience building
Miller said that – rather than advertising on air or through social media – going in person to high schools in Milwaukee has been the most effective way to drum up excitement and find participants for the music labs. “I think the biggest thing is connecting with other youth organizations that work with kids on a day to day basis,” he said.
2. Eliminating barriers to connections
“I think we’ve been successful in bringing students together and not making such a big deal of it,” Weber said. “Once the doors of the music lab open, we’re all the same.” At every music lab, a point is made to refrain from identifying which high school each student is from. Weber said this prevents driving a wall between students who attend the lab from different parts of Milwaukee.
3. Diversifying guest hosts
Weber said, “One thing that’s worked really well is the format of the lab as far as having a guest mentor come in every month.” A variety of guests are brought in to expose students to all aspect of the music industry. “It’s really good for the students to get access to all of these different musicians and industry people from around the country,” Weber said.
Here’s what could work have worked better
1. Fund raising
Initially, it was a challenge to raise funding before the music lab was widely known. Weber said, “We learned we needed to do a better job of establishing the lab first so people could really see what it was they were getting behind before they would donate.”
2. Audience building
Depending on the notoriety of the guest host, Miller said it could be difficult to have a consistent number of attendees at each music lab. “If you bring in somebody who isn’t popular but is still very active in the music industry, there isn’t going to be as much of a turnout,” he said. “A creative director from Pixar is amazing and he can talk so much about the music industry, but his name just isn’t well known.”
3. Scheduling in advance
Weber said she would like to improve scheduling by booking out the music labs a whole year in advance, but working with the availability of guest hosts could get complicated. Weber said, “Some people are a little more hesitant, understandably, to commit so far out. I think as the profile of the lab grows it will be easier to lock people in.”
Here’s what else you should know
- Instruments ready: The music labs are equipped with a guitar, bass, drum set and soundboard that students can use for their open-mic performances.
- Reaching high schoolers: Weber said the music lab has a knack for breaking down that defensive wall high schoolers tend to put up. “I was surprised to see students who haven’t become fully self-conscious be willing to shed layers and be unafraid to open up at,” She said.
- Mobile app: 88Nine Radio Milwaukee has its own mobile app that allows listeners to send direct messages to the radio station in addition to tuning in to 88Nine music.