In 2019, non-profit organization Department of Sound was founded in Sacramento, CA by musicians and entrepreneurs, John Hamilton and Tyler Garnett. The foundation was established with the goal of providing affordable music education to the city's youth through its robust after school programming in an effort to endorse the arts. Since then, the non-profit has powerfully committed itself to helping children understand the many multifaceted benefits of an arts education.
Offering music and podcasting workshops, the Department of Sound strives to ignite a passion for arts and music while empowering young people to pursue creative endeavors. The organization believes that the arts can provide a powerful outlet for self-expression, sheer enjoyment, and perhaps even an eventual career route.
With the advent of 2020, the organization began to take a different route. Earlier this year, the Department of Sound made a leap to the digital world with its virtual course offerings. In partnership with Soundtrap, a Spotify company, Valley Producer Program, formerly known as Summer of Sound, now delivers free, self-directed virtual podcast and music production courses. Course schedules are ongoing and fluid so you can sign up at any time.
In this exclusive interview, co-founder John Hamilton opens up about his work with Department of Sound. Discover below how this incredible organization is changing the face of music education and empowering creativity amongst today's youth.
Magnetic: Can you please tell me more about the initiative behind Department of Sound and how it first got started?
John Hamilton: In 2018, our co-founder Tyler Garnett and I thought about how we could make Sacramento into a music hub. We recognized that teaching and supporting young music producers was the best first step, so we began providing free essential educational resources for music and podcast production. Our vision is to provide access to sound as a community utility, rather than a luxury.
Magnetic: You are currently involved in a strategic partnership Spotify's Soundtrap. How do you believe technology plays a role in the future of music education?
John Hamilton: Up until recently, music production required expensive software and hardware, which made the barrier of entry high and left out most students across the country. Even if a student had access to studio equipment at school or an after school center, they would almost never be able to hone those skills outside that location. With Soundtrap, we now have a DAW (digital audio workstation) that can run on low-cost computers and mobile devices, including school-issued Google Chromebooks that many students currently have.
On top of that, Soundtrap is cloud-based, so a student can log into their account from any device and have all their projects saved on their account. This allows them to pick up where they left off. Soundtrap and other similar tools are drastically lowering the barrier of entry to music education for students of all backgrounds - an incredible result of technological innovation.
Magnetic: With the challenges facing teachers and students' arts programs, what gap is Department of Sound looking to fill?
John Hamilton: When COVID-19 hit back in March, Department of Sound already had spring and summer programs planned for in-person classes. Despite the challenges, we quickly pivoted our program offering to a distance-learning approach. We learned that many schools were struggling with how to engage students with music education online and in some cases didn’t have the necessary tools to do so. We then created a series of school curriculums in order to aid teachers in pivoting their music education to online.
Magnetic: How do you see this impacting the future of Department of Sound's programming?
John Hamilton: As we continue to expand our integration into school districts, we are refining our programming to be more impactful and efficient. This new online focus has exponentially amplified our ability to reach more students, and we don’t see our growth slowing down as we continue to build this community.
Magnetic: What are some programs that differentiate you from other online music learning platforms?
John Hamilton: As a non-profit organization, our goal is to provide opportunities to youth through music. We are able to subsidize programming in order to offer it to students and their families for free, whether directly online through programs like our Valley Producer Program, or through their school with the curricula we create. There are many online music education platforms that are behind a paywall, and we’re trying to keep everything freely accessible to everyone.
Additionally, we are focused at teaching a holistic approach to music and podcast production, supporting students as they explore their talents while providing them with the knowledge to pursue business ventures in the music industry.
Magnetic: What are some benefits that music has on mental health and well-being?
John Hamilton: Music provides a positive form of expression and a creative outlet, which is very therapeutic for anyone. Music production boosts students’ self-esteem and cognitive function, and overall can increase their confidence. Students engaged in music education have also shown to have higher test scores than students not engaged in music education. And as important now more than ever, it can provide an escape for students and allow them to immerse themselves into something fulfilling, all while learning communication skills and tools for self-expression.
Magnetic: What has been the greatest success of Department of Sound to date? What has been the biggest challenge?
John Hamilton: Our biggest challenge thus far has been COVID-19. We have had to restructure our entire organization and what we do. However, our new approach has led to our ability to reach so many more students: we are currently slated to have over 5,000 students enrolled in our program by the end of this school year.
Magnetic: What's the best piece of advice you would share for a student coming into your program?
John Hamilton: Be prepared to create. Making music and podcasts are attainable for anyone. Don’t be intimidated by the process - we will provide you with support and guidance along your journey and a safe space for creative expression. Your voice should be heard, and we’re excited to help build the foundation for you to share your art with the world.
Magnetic: Anything else we can keep our eyes and ears out for?
John Hamilton: We will be relaunching our Valley Producer Program in early 2021, which will feature multiple levels of music and podcast production, music business fundamentals, artist adviser interviews and more. Stay tuned!