How to Keep Making Art in Pandemic Times
The global pandemic is limiting how creatives can collaborate, learn and network in person. In small and radical ways, we’ve had to shift how we cultivate and share creative experiences. Those of us tasked with making space for imagination and supporting others in producing and practicing art have had to exercise creativity ourselves as we figure out how to craft learning experiences that are both meaningful and remote. This DIY offers accessible best practices for how to use social platforms to build programs that resonate with young people as well as build skills in art-making and culture-creating.
We offer a look into how we’re keeping our arts community thriving with engaging programming through a cycle of music-based projects called the Type Beat Challenge. Every two weeks since shortly after lockdowns started, YR Media has released an inspo playlist and soundpack, inviting emerging producers to create and submit their best beats based off the pack and specific creative techniques we’ve shared on IG Live and Twitch. In this DIY, you’ll get access to our Type Beat toolkit, which outlines how to create a space for music creatives and future entertainment execs to collaborate, network and build community. You’ll walk away from this DIY tool able to adapt each of the four steps in our learning process for your own unique group size, artistic practice and experience levels.
STEP ONE: OUTLINE THE MATERIALS + PRIME THE PROJECT
A huge hurdle that we’re getting over as we go through this remote learning period is getting students the materials they need to play, create and feel supported even as we work with students with varying degrees of access to art-making tools. A few best practices in terms of materials are:
- If physical materials are needed for the projects you’re creating, release the list as early as possible, clearly noting the date by which the students will need the materials
- Give several options and alternatives in case they have trouble finding or purchasing particular materials
- Notify young people about where the materials can be found and keep this location as consistent as possible (for example, use the same drive, make sure everything is clearly labeled, choose a selection of local stores)
WHAT WE DID FOR TYPE BEAT:
We released a series of audio resources (Motifs, Loops, Drum Sounds) for each challenge at the same time and on the same day every other week with notifications for the release sent out via RYL’s instagram channel. This file, containing different beats at various keys and BPMs, would be our learners’ materials for the duration of the project cycle. Students could use any Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to arrange audio files from the soundpacks to make unique compositions. This modular format allowed for flexibility in how makers could create their final products.
WANNA TRY IT?:
Here’s a link to one of our favorite soundpacks: “Emotional Trap Cords” by YR Media’s DJ Edel, so you can play around with it yourself. You’re seeing exactly what our students would be seeing when we release the link to the materials for our latest Type Beat Challenge.
STEP TWO: ALLOW STUDENTS TO GET FAMILIAR WITH THEIR MATERIALS
As soon as students have access to the materials, it’s time to give them a chance to explore what they are working with. Here are three ways this can look. Each option offers a different degree of structure for this exploration phase:
OPTION ONE – HIGH STRUCTURE: Provide detailed instructions or templates
OPTION TWO – MEDIUM STRUCTURE: Provide parameters
OPTION THREE – LOW STRUCTURE: Give students free reign over their process and the outcome of their project
Different art practices are conducive to different formats. The trick is to have enough structure that students are engaged, but not so much that they feel as if the entire process is prescriptive.
Regardless of how students will be working with their materials, it’s a great idea to include some guiding questions for students to consider. Examples of these questions include:
- Have you used these materials or similar materials before? What kinds are projects are these materials best for?
- Do these materials remind you of previous works of art that you’ve seen?
- What questions do you have about these materials?
WHAT WE DID FOR TYPE BEAT:
We went with option three. While we established a regular meeting schedule for the same time and place each week, students were welcome to start making their beats as soon as the challenge was launched. Emphasis was placed on exploring the materials and paying attention to what questions come up when you work with the materials. Platinum-selling music producer and RYL instructor Kuya describes the process as giving students a model house (in this case, the soundpack) and allowing them to paint the walls any color they want.
We found that students who are slower starters have room to work at their own pace and ask specific questions later.
WANNA TRY IT?
Okay, time to start mixing. There are a variety of DAWs you can use to make your composition, so we outlined a few of the most popular ones and their perks:
Logic Pro — Interested in mixing/engineering audio? With great “Out the Box” sounds, Logic is the ideal plug-and-play DAW. Perfect for auditory learners.
Ableton — DJing as well? Ableton offers a superior sequence window/audio processing. The ultimate DAW for auditory and visual learners.
FL studio — Drum Programming Heaven. Step sequence drum programming is a kinesthetic and visual learner’s ideal format.
Reason — Interested in Sound Design? Reason’s Instant Vintage offers a replica analogue rack window. Perfect for visual and kinesthetic learners.
Make sure to keep track of any questions you have about the platform or any of the materials in your soundpack.
STEP THREE: ESTABLISH A TOUCHPOINT & ANSWER QUESTIONS
Again, a touchpoint can take various forms and will depend on how you invited students to explore their materials. Here are a few options:
Office hours: Create a spreadsheet with a link to a video conferencing platform and have young people sign up for time slots. When their scheduled time comes around, they’ll join you for a chat to ask questions or tap your guidance. This works particularly well for smaller groups with a variety of different projects, so you can provide one-on-one attention.
Optional or mandatory demo: Give students the opportunity to opt into a scheduled demo where you go over how to use the materials. If possible, explore the range of ways in which the materials can be used so that students have a sense of each material’s versatility.
If particular students have a good grasp on the materials, you can rely on a peer-to-peer teaching model in which students lead demos and show how they used their supplies to create their project.
WHAT WE DID FOR THE TYPE BEAT CHALLENGE
We invited our students to tune into a live demo of how to use the soundpack on Twitch, a live-streaming platform with chat features. We used this time to invite local music producers and highlight our in-house youth producers. Students were welcome to bring questions and get advice from the RYL producer host.
Attendees leave this demo with templates for how to arrange musical loops. Those that were feeling stuck in step two can use these templates to spark new ideas or as building blocks for their final product.
A note on platforms: make sure you are mindful of emotional and other forms of safety on the platforms you choose, opting for places where adults can monitor and customize privacy settings.
WANNA TRY IT?
When we got everyone together for a Twitch demo, they had questions like: How would you use this sound? What effects should I add to this chord?
We shared this example of how we have arranged the audio files to offer a bit of support to anyone who was craving more structure for making their beat.
STEP FOUR: SUBMISSIONS + HOST A SPACE TO SHARE FINISHED PRODUCTS:
Creating works of art is a huge labor of love, so it’s important for students to see how their works are received and how their peers may have taken their projects in different directions.
This can be as high-touch or hands-off as you like. Options include:
- A shared drive such as a Google or Box drive
- A class critique where students share projects one-by-one and receive feedback
- A video-conferencing event where students can invite friends and families to see their work
The best option will depend on your class culture, what skills you’re trying to build in your students, and, of course, what art form you’ll be sharing.
WHAT WE DID FOR TYPE BEAT:
When you finish your typebeat at the end of the two weeks, you are invited to participate in a live showcase where we will share out beats from the challenge participants.
We also give all participants the option to submit their beat from that current challenge cycle to firstname.lastname@example.org with their name in the title of the beat before that final Friday of the two-week cycle. Our followers, partners and local artists are also invited to come listen to the beats, share ideas, network and discover new producers.
WANNA TRY IT?
You’re welcome to share your beat with us too! In fact, there are a few ways for you to join our network.