Program offers students lessons on music and life

By Julian March
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

By early October, about a dozen high school students in Durham will be selected to participate in a student-run record label.


Sandy Wiley stands outside NCCU’s Edwards Music Building, where students will meet. Wiley says “music can put a smile on people’s faces” and hopes the students will learn and have fun. (Photo by Julian March)

Over the next few months, they will churn beats, rhythms and rhymes into records to be marketed locally. And, if Sandy Wiley has his wish, over the next several years, the students who come through the free after-school program will be college-bound.

“It’s about music, but it’s bigger than that,” said Wiley. He is managing the Durham program for P’Tones Records, a national nonprofit aimed at exposing inner city youth to the world of music and production.

P’Tones is the brainchild of Oren Rosenbaum, a junior at the University of Southern California. Durham is one of four cities P’Tones selected to launch their program. Rosenbaum is also working to get programs in New Orleans, Miami, Memphis and other cities.

He’s found people are excited to support the project.

“People want to help,” he said. P’Tones has received grants, but it also relies heavily on support from universities for space and equipment.

Wiley is working with the music department at North Carolina Central University. The department is letting the program use a classroom and lab space. Several students at NCCU will also be selected as interns.


Sandy Wiley stands inside a music classroom where the students will learn about the music industry. Lesson plans include research, industry trends and applying lessons locally. Staff photo by Julian March.

“It’s an opportunity for interns to learn along with the students,” Wiley said.

Dr. William Smith, who teaches music industry courses at NCCU, says it is important for a university to be involved in community schools.

“That’s pretty much a responsibility,” he said.

He said that high school students should not think working with a major artist is out of reach.

“It has that air of mystery around it— working with equipment and people who are in the industry,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for them.”

Wiley has gotten big name producers with Durham ties to sign on to the project. The high school students will hear from 9th Wonder, who has worked with Jay-Z and Destiny’s Child, and Black Jeruz, who has worked with G-Unit.

“They’re coming from the exact same community that these kids are coming from,” Rosenbaum said. Wiley mentioned the platinum records the producers have worked on.

“Their role is to play master mentor,” Wiley said. “A lot of young folks are looking at TV and are impressed by whoever it is that’s hot at the moment. They think they’re not human.”

But Wiley hopes that the teenagers will learn a more about different types of careers in the music industry. He wants to bring together students interested in music and singing, but also those interested in art, business and promotion.

The students will work to record music and beats and then put the tracks on CDs they will market.

Wiley hasn’t picked a specific number of students yet, but he expects there will be between 10 or 15. He will choose them based on recommendations from teachers and an interview.

He is looking forward to turning them loose on a project and seeing where they take it.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that in three years, these kids will be doing big things,” Wiley said. “It all started from this.”

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