Photo by Rachel Watson
Music is a powerful medium for youth expression, identity and social change. Young people, who rely on music as a way to channel a range of emotion, rarely find opportunities in the adult world to produce, write, and record original music.
“Rock camp changed my life” is a quote I have heard from several 8-18 year old girls from sites in Brooklyn, NY, Chicago, IL and Portland, OR. The rock camp movement now includes 15-20 sites in the U.S, as well as Japan, Britain, and Canada.
Just as youth media programs across the U.S. are redefining mainstream media, youth-created music is changing the face of music. Youth music is enabling underrepresented groups to take leadership in shaping the industry. Specifically, teaching young women to find voice in writing original music and performing in all-girl bands mirror the mission of many youth media organizations to encourage young people to come to voice and power.
Despite these similarities, music as a medium is often left on the periphery of the youth media field. Music is an effective medium to engage young people and should be incorporated in the youth media field as strongly as video, print or radio.
Youth music is youth media
Youth-created music is media. Youth music programs introduce and teach young people an instrument, get them to work together in bands (diverse in age, class and ethnicity), write original music as a group (negotiating between different levels of musical capability), share leadership, practice, and perform live at the end of the program. Youth music relies on adult allies to support young people through their creative journey. Embedded within youth music programs are workshops on media literacy, building networks and allies, and using music as a means of expression.
Common elements of youth music include:
• becoming media literate and aware
• gaining confidence and voice
• sharing leadership
• developing kinship
• constructing a network of allies
• sharing access and perspective across differences
These elements are not only comon amoung youth music organizations, but, not surprisingly they are the same elements found in most youth media programming.
The Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls: A case study
As a large network of similar non-profits, the rock camp movement—which speaks to the many camps that have launched individually since 2001—have formed from a desire to encourage young women to gain a skill, self confidence, a network of allies, a creative approach to combat stereotypes, and a channel to voice an opinion—even if it is through shouting lyrics in a band, rocking on guitar, or banging on drums. Rock camp is not just about the music. It is about empowering girls.
The program is founded on the proposition that music can serve as a powerful tool of self-expression and self-esteem-building for girls and young women, and can help combat racism and stereotypes by building bridges of communication and shared experience among girls from diverse communities. Like many youth media organizations that focus on teaching youth video, print or radio, the increase in youth voice in a medium is a major part of the end goal.
Becoming media literate and aware. Rock camp engages young women with hands-on media and critical analysis in order to spur creative understandings of identity, the self, society, and community. Embedded alongside instrument instruction and band practice, media literacy workshops, zine pages, and hands on classes with technology (sound boards, mixers) support young girls to develop critical questions on mainstream media’s audience, messages, and how to combat oppression creatively. Youth media programs also incorporate—and in some cases rely upon—media literacy to support young people as they connect their work with the “bigger picture.”
Gaining confidence and voice. Rock camp exists beyond the medium it teaches (instrument instruction). Sarah Dougher, a writer and musician living in Portland, who has volunteered at the Portland camp for a number of years, described seeing girls (Oregon Humanities Fall 2002), aged 8 to 18, “find the strength to resist injustice and prejudice through musical composition and collaboration, where everything they did in their lives could be about their song writing and about their music.” For some girls, Dougher stated, this is the “first time they have played an electric instrument, and for nearly all it is a life-changing event.” Rock camp provides a platform for young women to be recognized, come to voice, and express themselves outside the constraints imposed by other institutions using media as a tool. In the same exact manner, youth media programs create environments to amplify youth voice and support their creative expression using media, just like rock camp. Set against the mainstream, rock camp encourages young women to question sexism and the music industry, much in the same ways that youth media questions youth inclusion in society overall.
Developing kinship. Kinship is shared equally among campers and counselors and across age differences. At camp, everyone is expected “to be real” and leave their titles (or privileges) at the door. Run by un-paid female volunteers who want to be a part of a supportive environment that they rarely experienced in their lives as teens and/or female musicians, the atmosphere of camp is compassion for youth and passion for music. In essence, rock camp is run by mentors that are young (between the ages 19-35) and learning as they go, investing in a common interest (in this case, rock n’ roll). Many youth media organizations are staffed with young people and educators, some who work for free, and many (if not all) who are passionate about the young people they serve—an exact parallel to rock camp.
Sharing leadership. A few camp organizations have a youth advisory board, and many alums apply as interns, band coaches, band managers, and instrument instructors after the age of 18. The experience in playing in a band among peers is a space for young people to define leadership, work as a team, resolve conflict, respect differences and listen to one another. The campers and alums are in a position where what they learn from the program will one day lead the program. Patrick Johnson, a graduate turned employee of Youth Radio in Oakland, CA, remarks in a previous article published in YMR that the organization provides “a visible line of leadership.” Youth media values youth leadership, where adult allies and mentors encourage young people to share positions of power like the volunteers at camp who share the power to rock.
Constructing a network of allies. Organizers of the Portland, OR rock camp called for a Girls Rock Camp Alliance last year to share best practices, curriculum, and dialogue across camp sites (many of which are their own, separate non-profits). These educators are dedicated to keeping each camp’s mission unique but in line with the overall goal of empowering young women through music and bands. Such networking, sharing, and dialogue is exactly what Steve Goodman and Diane Coryat call for in their OSI article, “Developing the Youth Media Field.” If rock camp answers the call that leaders in the youth media field raised in 2004, youth music is directly in line with the youth media field.
Sharing access and perspective across differences. Like the youth media field, rock camp does a fantastic job at providing under resourced youth access to technology and expensive equipment. Approximately 25% of the campers report annual household incomes under $20,000, and more than half of campers receive partial or full scholarships (full tuition for the 2005 and 2006 sessions was $500). The camp reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S., with more than half of the campers identifying themselves as African-American, Latina, Asian-American or multiethnic/multiracial. Similarly, youth media programs across the U.S. aim to serve under represented youth that often, do not have access to media or media programs. Many youth media organizations come at low or no cost in an effort to reach their target audience. Youth music is not common to youth media, it is youth media.
Youth Music intersecting with Youth Media
While efforts like rock camp exist across the country and around the globe, the youth media field has not turned its attention to this work. Similarly, rock camp has not reached out to the handful of youth media organizations that focus on girl-empowering video, radio, or print programs. Though in the future, these perfectly-suited collaborations and partnerships will eventually occur, to date they remain untapped.
There are, nevertheless, a few points of intersection between youth music and youth media. Some youth media organizations are recognizing youth music as youth media, incorporating music production in their programming within recent years, such as BAVC and Youth Radio in the Bay Area. Even some organizations have made partnerships with youth music. For example, Youth Media Records in Oakland, CA—a youth-directed label based on principles of justice and social engagement—partners with local youth media organizations, such as Conscious Youth Media Crew, to provide music to video pieces and vice versa. These partnerships have found that using youth-produced music is a viable method to bypass copyright laws that come with using mainstream music in video and on air. These musical opportunities are spaces for youth to meet, share different perspectives, and work on creating multi-media as a team.
Scattered within the youth media field exists youth music programs but they remain in the shadow of video, radio or print. For example, in Portland, OR, Ethos Music Center is dedicated to music-based education for youth in underserved communities. Similarly, Music4U in the U.K. brings musical opportunities to young people in communities with high levels of poverty, particularly those living in geographical isolated rural and urban estate communities. The mission statements and drive for many youth music programs are right in line with youth media. Mainstream music is arguably more dominant in young people’s lives than film, television, or radio, which carries with it, the same loaded messages as these other mediums. Young people need the tools to deconstruct, question, and create music in their own terms, just as they have done so powerfully in video, radio and print. It is time for the field to fully embrace and collaborate with youth music.
From rock camp to youth-directed record labels, music is perhaps, one of the most important mediums accessible for youth expression, voice, and desired change. As such, youth music should not be on the periphery of the youth media field.
Music is media. If the field continues to simply intersect with music, it will only fraction and weaken the field. Music must be embraced as part of the youth media field. When youth media educators talk about youth media it must be all inclusive, incorporating music, video, radio, print and technology equally. The field is, after all, bigger than we think.
Ingrid Hu Dahl is a founding member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, a guitarist in the all girl band Boyskout, and a scholar in Women’s Leadership. Dahl is also the Editor of Youth Media Reporter and a member of AED’s Youth Engagement Team.