Published in the San Jose Mercury News
January 17, 2015
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In a culture where music piracy is the norm, how do you get teenagers to care about the music industry and how piracy affects the artists?

You put them in the middle of it all.

Future Youth Records is a new nonprofit based in the Bay Area that is teaching 12- to 17-year-olds exactly what it takes to make it as a musician.

The brainchild of Jason Wall--an active recording artist, performer and educator in the Bay Area--Future Youth Records is a full—service record label dedicated to helping youth write and release original music.

Founded in 2012, the company wants to give kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to explore writing and recording music, while at the same time learn the value of supporting recorded music.

Record labels historically took their revenue only from the sales of recorded music, and artists would retain all of their touring, merchandising and sponsorship revenue, according to Wall. These revenue streams were the only real ways an artist could make a living in the music business since the record label took so much of the recording revenue.

Now labels take percentages of all revenue streams that artists earn, known as the "360 Deal." As a result, less money is put toward discovering and developing new talent, and the ones that do get the opportunity will likely have to give up much of what they earn to the record label.

"A lot of the positions in the recording industry that were once held by top music veterans are now gone or have been filled by inexperienced people whose only concern is for the record company's bottom line," Wall said. "Many new artists today still have to pay the costs of recording, manufacturing and promoting their music, only to have to give it away for free or at a significant loss."

Wall and a band of close friends in the industry agree; this hardly motivates young artists to pursue their passion, not to mention it has greatly jeopardized the future of recorded music.

"What Bob Dylan did during the Vietnam era or the Beatles--they were tremendous storytellers--who's doing that today? No one," Wall said. "We have the monumental task of saving the music industry."

By taking the profit out of recorded music, Future Youth Records aims to build an entirely new business model for youth to record, discover and support recorded music. The goal is to restore the integrity of quality recorded music performed by quality musicians--starting with the kids.

At no cost to the kids, Wall and his partners held a recording session in San Francisco's Studio Trilogy with veteran recording engineer Willie Samuels at the helm in early 2012. For this session, Wall recruited his good friend and music collaborator Raliegh Neal from Michael Franti & Spearhead to help mentor the kids through the experience, teaching them how to perform at their best in the studio. Future sessions will feature different mentors.

"The recording day was the single most fun day I've ever had," said Melissa Leimer, a 17-year-old Sunnyvale resident and student at Pinewood School in Los Altos Hills. "It's an opportunity that not everyone gets and I'm not going to let that slip through my fingers.

"It was definitely a lot of work, but well worth it. I learned a lot about the business end of the industry, so it wasn't all playtime, even though it seemed like it."

Melissa, a beginning drummer who considers herself more of a visual artist and graphic designer, even has a trademark pending for the logo being used on the record label.

For Mountain View's Quinn Foster, 16, the recording session was an experience she'll never forget, and she looks forward to more.

"I wrote my first song completely by myself from start to finish, and I showed it to them and we just kept working on it," Quinn said. "Then Raliegh Neal began playing my song. It was amazing. I'm really proud of it. Music is the one thing that genuinely makes me happy. I don't want to stop."

As much as students draw inspiration from their mentors, it's the students' passion that also serves as fuel for the mentors.

As a recording artist, Wall continues to work on various projects for producer/keyboardist "Dr. Fink" of Prince and the Revolution and with songwriter/producer Gary St. Clair (All 4 One, David Hasselhoff, Nu Flavor) just to name a few.

But it was his time working with young musicians at Soundwall Music Camps for kids at UC-Santa Cruz that really shaped his desire to create opportunities for the new talent he was interacting with on a weekly basis.

Through word of mouth, about eight students are coming from all over the Bay Area to hone their skills in songwriting, instrument playing or even sound engineering. Wall hopes to eventually help 100 a year.

"If this is what they are passionate about, recording music, then they should be able to do that and learn about paying it forward," Wall said. "We have to do our parts to teach these kids we are all products of people who have helped us along the way."

With connections to the music industry, Wall is really hoping to build a legacy for young musicians through the help of famed Bay Area entertainment attorney Ned Hearn along with the label's board of directors. Together, they help the label by connecting it with successful music industry veterans and N.A.R.A.S, the sponsor of the GRAMMY Awards.

Future Youth Records has a staff of three, an advisory board of two and a five-person board of directors. One hundred percent of all costs associated with the recording and distribution of the music is covered by the label, which also takes care of 100 percent of education and artist development costs.

"I wanted to level the playing field; I wanted kids with all types of backgrounds to be able to participate," Wall said. "These kids are getting the chance to work with some of the best people in the industry. You can't put a price on that.

"Kids are always the future; they are the ones still finding their way in the world," he added. "We called it Future Youth Records because what we are doing doesn't just benefit them now, but it benefits future youth. They get to leave behind this legacy."

To learn more about Future Youth Records, visit futureyouthrecords.org or check out the group's page on Facebook.

 

by Alia Wilson | awilson@community-newspapers.com

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