A Nonprofit Provides Music Education That Won't Get Your Kid's Ass Kicked

Boredomfighters Foundation
Tyler Manning, creative director of the Boredomfighters Foundation.
The Boredomfighters Foundation is a nonprofit on a mission to bring music studios and instruments to 1,000 underserved communities in order to enrich the music education of children ages eight to eighteen. And while there are many organizations trying to further adolescent music education, those groups generally do it with recorders, violins and traditional school-band instruments — which may result in your kid tuning out or being labeled a nerd.

Boredomfighters decided to shake things up. Instead of introducing traditional instruments to schools, the group is initiating programs that allow young people to learn instruments and musical stylings they won't be ashamed of. Instead of being the band geek, participants can learn music production, guitar, lyric writing, rapping, beatboxing and more.

Using contemporary music education, Boredomfighters is also reimagining traditional summer camp, with an upcoming sold-out retreat for kids eight to sixteen at Camp Shady Brook in Deckers. Camp Boredomfighters will include traditional summer-camp activities such as archery, kayaking and rock climbing in addition to the music.

Although the camp is sold out, the group is currently offering a scholarship to send unregistered kids to the session that starts July 4, with a package that also includes three meals per day, a laptop, $1,000 in music software, headphones, a microphone, and an instrument of their choice.

Westword caught up with the group's creative director, Tyler Manning, to talk about the foundation's aspirations, hurdles and philosophies, and how forward-thinking musical education can impact underserved communities in ways that traditional programs cannot.

Westword: This seems to be a pretty novel concept. When most people think of music education, they think of school band, recorders and violin lessons, not production equipment, guitars and beatboxing. What do you think has been the biggest hurdle in getting parents to understand the importance of these mediums?

Tyler Manning: Aside from just not being as familiar with music production as they are with bands, it seems that a majority of parents,  especially in rural communities, still don’t see electronic music and hip-hop as “real music.” That said, instrument empowerment is a big part of our programs still, but it’s all anchored in music production and letting the kids guide the education based on what they want to learn.

Have people turned you down because of the stereotypes that surround modern music?

Yes, and a lot of it comes from cold outreach to school administrators in rural communities when offering them our programs. Even when offered for free, there is hesitation to open up the dialogue about digital music when they are still having trouble funding and coordinating consistent band programs.

How have you alleviated these concerns?

We’ve been trying to navigate the language we use when explaining to parents what this is about to make it feel like more of a broad approach. Stuff like “music empowerment” seems to get more response than terms like “making beats” and “music production.”

In underserved communities that have adopted this program, how have you found the reception to be among students? Do they seem engaged, or are they acting like it’s just another class they have to take?

Oh, yeah — kids get so activated when they see us taking the barriers and expectations down from how music is “supposed to sound.” Time and time again, we start a workshop with a group of shy kids, and we end with the quiet ones up in front of people, belting out the realest emotions and feeling the freedom of being in the studio.

What skills do you employ to keep kids engaged?

We move really quickly from thing to thing and just try to give everyone a chance to be heard. Just like being in the studio normally would go, we don’t get caught up on one layer for hours and hours. We just capture the energy of the raw moment and clean it up as we go. Thankfully we have some really efficient producers on our roster who can line stuff up and arm the mic, all while guiding a class of people. That’s truly the most valuable thing we have and need to keep adding to when it comes to the in-person workshops.

Boredomfighters uses Soundtrap, a free digital audio workstation that’s owned by Spotify. How do you think free tools like this will serve lower-income neighborhoods?

Plain and simple: It’s free. There’s a paid version, of course, but the free version is as simple as going to a website and pressing some buttons. This takes the barrier of entry away from anyone thinking about playing with music production and makes schools more accepting of trying it out. The paid version is also super intuitive for the classroom and linking teacher with student followup and assignments.

You are giving away a scholarship for the upcoming camps, including future camps, that includes a week at camp, a laptop, music-making software, and hardware. What are the requirements for applying?

The requirements are only to be of age for the camp — eight to sixteen — and to be interested in music. For time's sake, this camp scholarship for 2021 is being offered to Colorado kids just to make travel logistics more realistic. But we are open to flying kids out from anywhere in the U.S. for next year's camp and invite everyone who might possibly be interested to apply for this, as they will be considered for future programs and updated with more offerings we’re giving away.

No organization is an island. There must have been some help from other organizations. What companies have seen this vision, what have they contributed, and what kind of sponsors are you still looking for in order to make this a reality?

We’ve got a lot of support from Take Note Colorado, first and foremost. They have been such a big help to us, and totally see the need for digital expansion in existing music programs as well as for schools with no programs. They’ve put so much work into finding the schools that need music. We got a grant from them for us to finish our virtual curriculum and get it plugged into more schools, as well as tons of connections.

Advocates of Change is another organization that deserves light for recognizing us and giving us a grant during COVID. On top of that, a ton of smaller orgs from within the electronic-music community have been finding ways to support us.

Subverted Entertainment is donating a Funktion-One rig rental to our camp for the kids to play on. Elev808 Designs donated a percentage of their Daft Punk jersey sales, and Subciety and SharedViews have been throwing benefit events for us left and right. It’s incredible.

Furthermore, what we need most right now is studio equipment partnerships and representation from producers. We need to build up our team of fun producers that enjoy working with kids so we can take on the growing demand for our workshops and have more brains behind our digital programs.

Plus grants. We could always use more grants to pay for the people and materials we need to find the kids that need us. Marketing gurus, producers and permanent studio installations will help us get to the point where an organization in the middle of nowhere could shine a Boredomfighters light into the sky, and we can send a producer to provide a workshop in person and leave the community with a free studio buildout to continue education afterward.

To apply for the Boredomfighters scholarship, fill out this form. Applications roll over into future camps.