Free recording and production studio trains young Memphis musicians

A national nonprofit has opened a branch in the Berclair neighborhood to workshop the next generation of Memphis musicians and producers.
A special area of the Berclair branch of the Boys and Girls Club opens up into a large live room with two drum sets, a DJ booth, and numerous guitars, amps, and keyboards lining the walls.  The hallway, which features a small podcast recording station and several more guitars lining the the wall, leads to two more musical treasure troves, a mixing and production suite with two separate workstations as well as a roomy vocal and instrument isolation recording booth appointed with quality microphones. 

All of these recording rooms and musical equipment are available to over 80 kids currently participating in a free music education program.

Notes for Notes, a national non-profit that seeks to provide free instruction in music performance, production and business for underprivileged kids, set up in September its first music workshop in Memphis. The mini-music studio is located the at the Ira Samelson Jr. branch, 894 Isabelle Street, of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis.

Founded in 2006 as a single teaching facility in Santa Barbara, CA, Notes for Notes has expanded into running 16 separate music education programs in 14 different cities during the last decade.

To run its Memphis program, Notes for Notes tapped a young, up-and-coming local musician and producer named Chris Franceschi.

“I was actually considering leaving Memphis at the time,” said Franceschi, a native Memphian.  “I actually had a nice job offer in Charlottle, North Carolina.  But then I heard about the opening here with Notes for Notes and read their mission statement.  It was a no-brainer. I had to stay.”

The mission statement that inspired Franceschi to take the job speaks very broadly about music as the universal language of mankind and its power to transcend barriers and unite people of different backgrounds, which is all well and good. 

But as stirring as the words of any mission statement might be, actually seeing the music studio that the kids get to learn and work in is even more enlivening.

Through the program, several kids have produced their own tracks and podcasts. One band, formed out of the Notes for Notes studio, played a mini-set at Napa Cafe.

“There are no requirements or fees associated with the program,” said Franceschi.  “We encourage the discovery of personal identity through music creation and exploration while empowering youth to learn and produce high quality content.”

Part of that empowerment process is the structured instruction program, led by Franceschi and his staff of three volunteers.  Mondays and Wednesdays are dedicated to instrument lessons, Tuesdays and Thursdays to music production and podcast recording while Fridays are left open for student recording sessions and project work.

“I was looking for something new to get involved in, and this opportunity came up,” said volunteer instructor and local music producer Sunny McKinnon. 
“Seeing that these kids can do the things that I do at their age, it’s amazing.  I couldn’t do that stuff when I was younger.  I’m here to pass on everything I’ve learned.”

The launch of the local Notes for Notes program has been a huge success, and Franceschi still has big plans for growth and improvement in the near future. 
For starters, the studio is currently only open Monday through Friday, but eventually he’d like to be open on weekends as well. 

He’s also planning a private lessons course and a special summer program with guest instructors from different facets of the Memphis music industry.  And, of course, he’d love to take on more kids from the Boys and Girls Club center into the program.

“I only have the capacity to handle about half of the kids who signed up to participate,” said Franceschi.  “There’s a long waiting list to get in.”

According to Franceschi, his biggest problem is a lack of volunteer staff.

“Don’t get me wrong, the volunteers I have are great and do great work,” he said.  “But I need more.  We recently lost our guitar teacher and need a new one desperately.  We need all the hands we can get.”  

One thing, however, is clear.  The program is an unmitigated success.  In fact, it has been so well-received by the kids and parents alike at this location, the Notes for Notes organization is already considering expansion within Memphis.

“We’ve done so well they’re talking about opening up two more,” says Franceschi.  “It’s great to see.”
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Read more articles by J.D. Reager.

J.D. Reager is a musician and freelance writer from Memphis, TN.  His second solo album, It's Dangerous to Go Alone! Take This, was released in 2014.  He lives in Midtown with his beautiful wife and two cats.