Songs and games: designing careers with Music Monsters and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis

Kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis are becoming paid game designers through a new partnership involving the Music Monsters app.
The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis has embraced the somewhat-worn "teach a man to fish" philosophy and created a truly novel method of increasing employment among Memphis' youth. The organization is ensuring young people can find and retain a job through its Technical Training Center--the only one of its kind in the United States.

Now kids at BCGM are utilizing a new game-based mobile app called Music Monsters as a way to earn money and learn valuable job skills at Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center.

This innovative approach to career building is a trademark of the Technical Training Center; the Center's programs all engage Club members ages 16 to 21 with hands-on training that will, hopefully, help them land a job. Aside from learning work ethics--from punctuality to teamwork--inner-city youth hone skills important in three of Memphis' most important industries: logistics, automotive care and culinary. Members are also coached in interviewing and resume writing while acquiring on-the-job experience.

For the past three years the center boasts a 100 percent placement rate thanks to strong relationships with local companies like UPS, FedEx, Williams Sonoma, Nike, the Memphis Redbirds and the local farmers' markets.

The Center regularly partners with industries and advance training programs that provide full-time, long-term career employment opportunities for high school graduates at the completion of their technical training. The newest bright idea to get kids ready for the job market came from a partnership with Music Monsters. The kids design rhythm-based games that accompany songs made by unsigned, independent artists.

"The kids have really enjoyed it, and they've liked being able to work at their own pace and do something they love, because so many of them are already involved with music-affiliated hobbies," says Crystal Caulfield, career prep director at the Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center, which opened in 2006.
 
Through the fun music marketing app, music artists get (for a fee) the completed game app with their song to post to their Facebook page and users can then download the app, play the game's many levels, hear the song and hopefully decide to visit the artist's merchandise page or iTunes to purchase the song.

"Most people are not necessarily aware that there are about three million unsigned independent artists that have a Facebook page and are trying to promote their music on Facebook,” says Bobby Wells, CEO of Huntsville-Ala.-based Music Powered Games, LLC. "The idea is to use the game content and the fun of the gameplay as a motivator for people to buy the artists' music."
 
"Our business model called for finding a pretty large number of entry-level people to do game development for us to create game content for songs that independent artists would put into the game, so it clicked with me that there was a great opportunity to create a training program and some software that the kids could use to actually create the game content for all of these songs, literally providing potentially hundreds of jobs," says Wells, who became involved in gaming after building war game simulations for the U.S. Army.
 
Aside from building a game, the kids are building a bright future through their hardwork at the Training Center. Wells estimates that the workers will be making in excess of $20 per hour for their work. "The kids have a video game job in the palm of their hand," Wells says. "We actually have kids from The Boys & Girls Club who are getting paid today. It's their first paychecks for producing content for us."
 
Once the kids sign up to participate through one of the clubs, they are considered part-time employees of Music Powered Games.
 
"With the technical front coming through, this gives them a really good insight into that industry, and it gives them another hard skill that they can fall back on if they do not end up going to college," says Caulfield, who estimates that the center has touched 150 kids so far this year and that roughly 20 are involved with Music Monsters.
 
Ultimately Wells hopes to replicate the program at Boys & Girls Clubs across the country. Caulfield expects to roll the program out next at the John Dustin Buckman Boys & Girls Club and the Bernal E. Smith Sr. Boys & Girls Club.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
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